December 02, 2015

Familiarity hasn't bred contempt between Jacksonville State and Chattanooga, but it has produced some very close and exciting games.

The intersectional rivalry gets a second chapter this season when the teams meet in the second round of the FCS playoffs Saturday.

The Gamecocks (10-1) rallied for a 23-20 victory at Chattanooga on Sept. 5, with Miles Jones scoring from 1-yard line for the winning points with 2:41 to play. It was the third straight victory for top-ranked and top-seeded Jacksonville State over the Mocs (9-3) - each by three points - in the last four years, so Gamecocks coach John Grass has good reason to be confident heading into this contest.

"We were on the road in a big game and I think we handled adversity on that drive," said Grass, whose team marched 79 yards after Montrell Pardue raced 55 yards to give the Mocs a 16-13 lead after recovering a fumble by Troymaine Pope. "We showed a lot of poise on offense and we made plays when we needed to make them."

That poise was evident on a pair of late fourth-down conversions in that series. Pope had 175 of Jacksonville State's 298 rushing yards as the Gamecocks extended a trend during their winning streak over the Mocs, having gashed Chattanooga for 804 yards on an average of 5.8 per carry.

"You can scheme all you want defensively, but eventually, you have to block them, which is really hard to do," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "We're going to have to block and tackle a lot better than we did the first time."

The bye came at an ideal time for the Ohio Valley Conference champion, with Grass noting his team is "as healthy as we have been all year long." That bodes well for Jacksonville State, which ranks fourth in the FCS in total offense at 503.0 yards per game and eighth with 37.5 points a contest.

Eli Jenkins has been under center for the last two victories over the No. 7 Mocs and has been efficient, throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown while running for 115 and a score. He had a winning 13-yard touchdown run in the Gamecocks' 26-23 overtime victory at Chattanooga in 2014.

"I feel like it will be a great game between two good football teams," Jenkins said. "We are just going to go out there and have a great game in front of a big crowd."

Pope has proved to be a handful in the three wins, topping 100 yards twice and racking up 329 while averaging 9.1 yards per rush.

Jenkins has another threat in wide receiver Josh Barge, who has career highs of 75 receptions and 11 touchdowns to go with 887 yards. The versatile Jenkins was second on the team with 640 rushing yards and accounted for nearly half of Jacksonville State's 54 TDs, running for eight and throwing for 18.

Chattanooga counters with the Southern Conference's three-time offensive player of the year and similar dual threat in Jacob Huesman. He rushed for 129 yards and threw for 211 and three touchdowns as the Mocs rolled past Fordham 50-20 in the first round last Saturday.

Huesman, one of two FCS quarterbacks with at least 1,000 yards both rushing and passing this season, has topped 100 on the ground in his last four games against FCS teams. However, he and Derrick Craine - who added 154 rushing yards against Fordham - were held to a combined 109 by Jacksonville State in September.

"Their defensive line plays well with their hands," said Craine, whose 1,156 rushing yards are nine more than Huesman's. "Their linebackers fly around. When you're out on the field it's one of those games where you better bring your best because they're going to hit you whether you're ready or not."

The Gamecocks, fifth in total defense at 277.1 yards per game and eighth in defensive third-down conversion percentage at 28.0, have bottled up Huesman well the last two years. He's been held to 61 rushing yards and a touchdown and 124 passing yards without a score while getting sacked eight times.

Huesman did have 345 total yards and three touchdowns in Chattanooga's 27-24 loss in 2012 in which Jacksonville State won on a field goal as time expired. The senior has done an excellent job extending drives as the Mocs are third in the FCS converting third downs at a 51.5 percent clip.

The winner will face eighth-seeded Charleston Southern or the Mocs' conference rival, The Citadel, in the quarterfinals Dec. 11 or 12.

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