Southeast visits OVC leader in finale

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Take a quick look at some statistics and it's no surprise that Jacksonville State heads into the final game of the regular season having clinched at least a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title and having wrapped up the league's automatic Division I-AA playoff berth.

The Gamecocks (8-1, 6-1) have been that dominant as they prepare to host Southeast Missouri State University (3-7, 3-4) in a 2 p.m. kickoff today in Jacksonville, Ala.

"They're really good," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "They've only lost one game for a reason."

In national Division I-AA statistics, JSU ranks fourth in scoring offense (39.8 points per game), fifth in rushing offense (272.9 yards per game), eighth in total offense (451.8 yards per game) and sixth in rushing defense (94.9 yards per game).

JSU leads the OVC in all of those categories, in addition to being first in scoring defense (19.4 points per game) and third in total defense (327.3 yards per game).

"They're the best team in the conference, no question about it," Billings said.

The Gamecocks also proved to be the top team in the OVC last year during their first season in the league, as they lost just one conference game, although Southeast gave them quite a battle in the finale.

JSU came to Cape Girardeau needing a victory to wrap up the championship and the league's automatic playoff berth. A loss would have forced a tie for the title and sent Southeast to the playoffs. The Gamecocks held on for a 22-17 victory.

"Last year it went down to the wire. We had a few plays that gave us the opportunity to give us the win," JSU coach Jack Crowe said. "This really is a case of showing them last year's film. They threw us around like rag dolls up front, and it's not that much different of a football team. We know how fortunate we were to win."

The Gamecocks need to beat Southeast in order to nail down their second straight undisputed OVC title, and Crowe said his squad is not intent on simply sharing the crown.

"They don't feel like the job's finished," Crowe said. "But I think we're going to be challenged in every way, and I think it's going to require us to play as good as we're capable of playing to get this win and get what comes along with it."

Picking up momentum

Southeast, which has won two of its last three games, will try to slow down a run-oriented JSU offense.

JSU is led offensively by tailback Oscar Bonds, the nation's 13th-leading rusher who has gained 1,019 yards while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Bonds also ranks second nationally in scoring with an OVC-leading 17 touchdowns.

But the Gamecocks, while not a big passing team, are effective enough through their air to keep defenses honest. Quarterback Maurice Mullins, also a running threat, has completed 62.4 percent (68 of 109) for 1,055 yards, with five touchdowns and just two interceptions.

"They run the ball really well, and they throw the football good enough," Billings said. "They just give you so many problems with their offense. You have to kind of pick your poison.

"They've got the best defense in the conference and they're really good on special teams. They're just a really good football team."

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