The Jacksonville State University Gamecocks, a 41 point underdog to 6th ranked Auburn, traveled to the Plains and took the Tigers to overtime before falling 20-27. The almost victory over the highly ranked SEC school vaulted the Gamecocks to the #1 ranki
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January 07, 2016

FRISCO, Texas (STATS) - Jacksonville State coach John Grass keeps telling anybody and everybody how Saturday's FCS Championship will be decided by the play of the offensive and defensive linemen.

Oh, is it sweet music to the Gamecocks' big boys in the trenches.

Or it's like funnel cake. Quarterback Eli Jenkins is smart enough to keep his offensive linemen supplied with it.

"That's great," said offensive guard Blake Burks said, who tends to eat more than anybody else. "You wake up knowing that you do your job, we're going to win the national championship. That's the best feeling in the world right there. Stone cold truth."

"That's what we want up front, we want it to be on our back," defensive end Chris Landrum said. "We're defensive linemen, we're supposed to be physical - that's our job."

A big reason that third-seeded North Dakota State (12-2) is in position to capture the FCS title for the fifth straight year is its linemen, who manhandle opponents in allowing the Bison run the football as well as stopping the run. Out-of-conference foes are usually even more overmatched.

But the Bison's strength is also one of the key reasons top-seeded Jacksonville State (13-1) is making its first appearance in the FCS title game. The Gamecocks' offensive line has paved the way for the No. 3 rushing attack in the FCS and the defensive line has outstanding size and athleticism, something that concerns even a Bison offensive line that averages 6-foot-5½, 308 pounds among the starters.

"I think it holds true to what the officials said after the Sam Houston (State semifinal-round) game, 'Get ready for an NFL offensive line,'" Grass said. "Their offensive line kind of overshadows their D-line. Their D-line is ready good - really talented, play hard. They're strong up front (on) both sides of the football.

"But we feel like that's where the strength of our football team is, too. So that's going to be a battle in the trenches, for sure."

On Jacksonville State's offensive line, left tackle Justin Lea, left guard Adam Wright, center Casey Dunn and Burks, the right guard, claimed four of the five offensive lineman spots on the all-Ohio Valley Conference first team.

"Our bond's so tight that there's times that you have to make a call, but you know the guy next to you, you can depend on him to already know the call you're going to make," Wright said, "so sometimes making a call is not even necessary."

Jacksonville State has overcome injuries on its defensive line to lead the FCS with 130 tackles for loss while posting 40 sacks. End LaMichael Fanning, a second-year transfer from Alabama, didn't make it back from injury, but tackle Devaunte Sigler, the 2014 OVC defensive player of the year who transferred from Auburn, did after being limited by a high ankle sprain and sprained ankle.

Landrum, another Auburn transfer, moves inside and outside with abandon and his 17 1/2 tackles for loss trail only end Darius Jackson's 18 1/2.

"Our defense is a lot like a puzzle," Landrum said. "When it all works together, it's a beautiful thing."

"You can game plan all you want," Sigler said, "but, at the end of the day, the more physical team will win the game."

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Notes - Jacksonville State will be the visitor and North Dakota State the home team at Toyota Stadium. ... Both teams are former Division II programs. North Dakota State has five D-II national titles to Jacksonville State's one crown (1992), but the Gamecocks have won the only two meetings in the playoffs - in the 1977 semifinals and the 1989 quarterfinals. ... Jacksonville State is looking to join North Dakota State, Montana State and Delaware as programs which have won both Division I FCS and II national titles. ... The Gamecocks are the reigning winner of the OVC's academic award in football, posting a grade point average of 3.0955 in the 2014-15 academic year, and led by Lea and wide receiver Dalton Screws with perfect 4.0s.

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