The hours leading up to the kickoff of the 2013 Gamecock football season and the debut of new head coach Bill Clark was like the calm before the storm, only, it was a storm. The 5:00 kickoff time was delayed just over an hour and a half as heavy rain and lightning moved across the Montgomery area.
The game was sloppy early on as teams battled both first game jitters and a wet and slick artificial playing surface. Neither team seemed to take control until Jacksonville State came out hot after halftime.
The Gamecocks pulled out to a 15 point lead in the third, but a fourth quarter rally drew the Hornets back within two late. As the final minutes ticked off the clock, ASU was driving deep inside JSU territory and into field goal range for a chance to win the game late.
That was until senior linebacker Brenton Tolson ended the late threat when he intercepted ASU’s Daniel Duhon with 48 seconds remaining, ultimately sealing the win for the Gamecocks.
The only fireworks of the first half came in the pregame show as the two teams combined for five first downs in the first quarter and went to halftime with ASU leading 6-0 following two second quarter field goals.
The much anticipated answer to the question everyone wanted to know, who would start at QB for the Gamecocks, was answered in the form of Birmingham native Eli Jenkins, who played most of the first half.
Coach Clark’s halftime speech obviously lit a fire under the Gamecocks as they came out ready to go for the final 30 minutes. Max Shortell was in at QB now. He marched the Gamecocks back down the field on a touchdown drive that was capped when Troymaine Pope found room around the left side on a two-yard rushing TD.
ASU would respond with a strong drive of the own, but the Gamecock defense, which seemed to be the strong point all night, made a stop and forced a chip shot field goal.
Midway through the third, Shortell threw his first career touchdown pass for Jacksonville State as he hit Anthony Johnson from 23 yards out. After the defense forced a quick turnover less than a minute later, Shortell connected with Telvin Brown for a 45-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive. Jax State took a 21-9 lead.
Griffin Thomas would add what would turn out to be a huge field goal late in the third as jSU went to the fourth up by 15.
Two highly critical turnovers in the fourth by JSU gave the Hornets life as ASU put up two touchdowns after taking over inside JSU’s ten yard line. The later score was an eight-yard TD pass that made it 24-22 with 7:33 remaining. ASU went for two to tie the game but a soft toss just over the goal line fell to the turf for an incompletion.
Jacksonville State was unable to move the chains enough to run the clock out so a punt gave the ball back to Alabama State late with the home crowd as lively as ever.
The Hornets moved fast and with just over a minute remaining, ASU was on the JSU 33 yard line and closing in on field goal range. One play, 13 yards later the Hornets were on the 20 and officially in the red zone. However, ASU stumbled from there with a delay of game penalty pushing the Hornets back to the 25 before the would be hero stepped up on the final two plays.
From the 25 ASU dropped back to pass when Tolson, assisted by Ketrick Wolfe, brought down the quarterback for another five yard loss back to the 30. The following play Tolson would prove key again with his interception that allowed JSU to take over and melt the final 48 seconds.
Shortell finished 13-23 for 216 yards and two TDs while the groud game was taken care of by Pope and DaMarcus James who combined for 104 yards. Jenkins went 4-7 in tough conditions early and managed to rush for 21 yards. Brandon Bender and Jermaine Hough led the defense in tackling, but Pierre Warren’s two huge pass breakups can’t be overlooked.
Coach Clark won his collegiate coaching debut and now brings the Gamecocks (1-0) home to face the Jacksonville Dolphins this Saturday.