JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — The Jacksonville State Gamecocks (10-1) are making another playoff appearance for their second year in a row. They received the first round bye and will face the Sam Houston State Bearkats (9-4) from Huntsville, Texas in the second round at Burgess-Snow Field in Jacksonville on Saturday, December 6 at 1 p.m. CT.
Last season, the Gamecocks made it all the way to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-FCS playoffs and lost to Eastern Washington 35-24 in Cheney, Wash. and faced Samford in the first round and McNeese State in the second round. This Saturday, the Gamecocks look to start on the right foot to continue the road to Frisco.
Jacksonville State finished out the 2014 regular season at 10-1 and captured their fourth Ohio Valley Conference title with an 8-0 conference record. The only loss was to Michigan State at the beginning of the season. 18 players were named to All-OVC teams for the 2014 season which was a school record and Head Coach John Grass was named OVC Coach of the Year. Defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler was named as the OVC Defensive Player of the Year while offensive tackle Justin Lea was named OVC Freshman of the Year.
Sam Houston State finished out the 2014 regular season with an overall record of 8-4 and finished first in the Southland Conference with a 7-1 record claiming their third conference title in the last four years. They are coming off a NCAA Division I-FCS first round win over Southeast Louisiana 21-17. The Bearkats had nine players named to All-Southland teams and Freshman defensive end P.J. Hall was named Southland Freshman of the Year.
JSU is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins who has a total of 1,417 passing yards with eight touchdowns on 104 completions of 182 attempts and has thrown only six interceptions this season; he also has 107 carries for 631 yards and five touchdowns rushing. Along with Jenkins, Senior running back DeMarcus James leads the Gamecocks in rushing with 175 carries for 933 yards and 11 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Josh Barge leads the Gamecocks in receiving with 51 receptions for 831 yards and four touchdowns and also leads the team in punt returns with 13 for 82 yards.
Sam Houston State ranked fourth in the Southland Conference and 22nd nationally with 458.4 average yards of total offense per game. Senior running back Keshawn Hill leads the Bearkat offense inrushing with 1,035 yards on 151 carries. Sophomore quarterback Jared Johnson leads the team in passing with 2,363 yards with 15 touchdowns on 205 completions of 376 attempts and has 11 interceptions on the season. Redshirt freshman Yedidiah Louis leads SHSU in receiving with 57 receptions for 660 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively wise for the Gamecocks, senior middle linebacker Ben Endress leads with a total of 91 tackles with 43 solo tackles, assisted in 48 tackles and has 9.5 tackles for loss for 31 yards. The Gamecock defense has a total of 692 tackles, 79 of those tackles were for losses with a total of 324 yards along with 25 sacks for 167 yards.
Defensively for Sam Houston State, senior safety Michael Wade leads the Bearkat defense with 101 total tackles with 59 of them were solo and 42 of the tackles were assists. SHSU has a total of 1,090 tackles on the season with 127 of those tackles were for losses for 387 yards along with 31 sacks for 203 yards.
Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State are no strangers to one another. From 1997-2002, JSU was a member of the Southland Conference. The series is tied between the two squads with a record of 4-4.
JSU is making their 15th NCAA playoff appearance and making their fifth appearance since 2003. This is the second time the Gamecocks have earned a first round bye since the 2010 season. JSU’s all time record in 30 NCAA playoff games is 17-13. JSU has only one national championship and that was in 1992 when they were an NCAA Division II team and a member of the Gulf South Conference. JSU got the win over Pittsburg State 17-13 in Florence, Ala. to win the NCAA Division II National Championship game.
Jacksonville State is the No. 3 seed and ranked No. 2 in the FCS Coaches Poll. Sam Houston State is ranked 19th in the FCS Coaches Poll.
The Jacksonville State-Sam Houston State contest will be broadcasted on the Jacksonville State Gamecock Sports Network with Mike Parris and Ray Hammett providing the play-by-play and can be heard in East Alabama on WLJS-FM 91.9, WVOK-FM 97.9, TuneIn Radio app search WLJS and online at www.jsugamecocksports.com.