MONTGOMERY – No. 5 Jacksonville State University used a heavy dose of Roc Thomas and swarming defense to post a 27-13 win over No. 12 Chattanooga in the 2017 Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff in front of 12,952 fans at the historic Cramton Bowl in the season-opener for both teams.
Thomas, who transferred to JSU from Auburn in 2016, finished with 190 total yards and one touchdown in the win. He ran the ball 19 times for 122 yards, including a 76-yard TD jaunt in the first quarter that put the Gamecocks ahead to stay. He also caught three passes for 68 yards.
Jacksonville State (1-0) also brought a stout defensive effort. The Gamecocks recorded 27 plays for zero or negative yards, and recorded 11 pass breakups, five tackles and forced two turnovers in the win.
Senior linebacker Jonathan Hagler iced the game with a 58-yard interception return to give the Gamecocks a 20-6 lead in the third quarter. Junior linebacker Quan Stoudemire led the team with nine tackles.
The teams traded first quarter field goals before Thomas ripped a off a 76-yard TD run to give JSU a 10-3 lead with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
Chattanooga (0-1) cut the lead to 10-6 on Victor Ulmo’s 31-yard field goal in the second quarter.
JSU broke the game open in the third quarter with its defense. The Gamecocks held UTC to two rushing yards in the stanza and iced the game with Hagler’s 58-yard interception return to put JSU in front 20-6.
JSU quarterback Bryant Holt found Shaq Davidson with a 59-yard TD pass with 9:44 left in the game to extend the lead to 27-6. Holt completed 14-of-20 passes for 182 yards and one TD in the win.
Chattanooga put together an impressive late drive that resulted in Nick Tiano’s 4-yard TD pass to Joseph Parker that made the final 27-13.
Tiano completed 23-of-43 passes for 218 yards with one TD and two interceptions. He completed seven of eight passes for 89 yards on the Mocs final drive.
Both teams will have a week off before returning to action on Saturday, Sept. 9. JSU takes on Georgia Tech at historic Grant Field in Atlanta, while Chattanooga faces LSU at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
The 2018 Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff will be held on Saturday, Aug. 25. Jacksonville State will play a yet-to-be-named opponent next season in Montgomery.
CHATTANOOGA HEAD COACH TOM ARTH:
“First of all, I would like to congratulate Jacksonville State. They played a great game. They’re an outstanding team. They’re extremely well coached and they certainly deserved to win that game. For us, just too many errors early on, missed opportunities.
“The big thing for us going forward is going to be our ability to learn from this, to learn from our mistakes and to realize that we’re right there. You’re right there and you’ve got great opportunities. You’ve just got to take advantage of them. When you have penalties and you make some silly mistakes against a team of that caliber, it’s just magnified and we just had a little too much of that tonight.
“I’m proud of the way our defense fought through the entire game. With the exception of a few plays, we played very well on that side of the ball. Offensively, it was great to see coming back in the fourth quarter and getting a chance to work a two-minute situation, going down the field and scoring a touchdown. I think that says a lot about the character of the group and just not giving in and not quitting. We know we can be better. We will be better, but it’s a start for us and we know what we’ve got to do going forward to be the team we’re capable of.”
JACKSONVILLE STATE HEAD COACH JOHN GRASS
“The venue, being able to play nationally televised on ESPN, tonight was a great night for our university and our football program. What a way to start the season off. That was a playoff caliber-type game. That’s probably a second round, quarterfinal-type atmosphere with that type of performance. Chattanooga is always a real talented team, really well coached, so we’re fortunate to come away with a W.
“Number one, you look at it in an opening game and it’s how are you going to gel together and play with extreme effort and play physical, and I thought we were able to do that tonight. There’s a lot of things that we have to go back and cleanup of course, but I thought we beat a good football team pretty good tonight. They had a hard time running the football, so we knew they were going to throw the football a lot. I felt like our defensive line, we played a lot of guys up front and they didn’t get tired. We were able to pressure the passer most of the night. Special teams wise, I thought we played well. We had a couple issues on coverage with kickoffs. Other than that, I thought our kicking team was very clean. We made all our PATs and field goals. Offensively, I thought we were very patient and we just continued to get better as the night went on getting a hat on hat in protection and in the run game. We had some balls that we had to punt that was less than fourth and a yard or two. We’d love to have gotten some more in the end zone when we got in the red zone. We had an interception down there that was a drop tip. I thought Bryant (Horn) played really well for his first game protecting the football. He probably made one bad throw tonight that he forced over the middle with a tip and an interception, but the other one was just a drop.
“Overall, I thought we played really well. I thought we were able to run the ball as the game went on. It’s a good night to be a Gamecock and a good way to start the season off. We can kind of catch our breath a little bit and have an off week next week and get ready to go on to the task of going to Georgia Tech and playing. Thank you again for Montgomery and the Guardian (Credit Union). This game was excellent. Good thing for our university. Montgomery did a great job of hosting us. I just take my hat off to the classy way the whole event was handled. We appreciate it. Like I said, it was great to be in a nationally televised game and just a good night overall.”