It may not have been prevalent in the media leading up to their Week 0, especially with all the drama on the other side, but there was a lot of pressure on Stephen F. Austin to win in Montgomery, AL on Saturday. Between having one of the FCS’ top players on their team in receiver Xavier Gipson and being ranked as highly as they were going in (No. 10), the expectations are higher than they’ve been in a long time for the Lumberjacks.
To prove they were worthy of such a preseason ranking, it almost felt like SFA needed to win, especially against a team that’s beginning its move to the FBS. The Gamecocks had beaten them last year to boot so a victory this time would be a sure-fire way to prove their legitimacy in the FCS landscape.
Instead, though, Jacksonville State ran through SFA and dominated in most every aspect of the game. The Gamecocks certainly looked FBS ready on Saturday afternoon and the Lumberjacks are now left facing a myriad of questions heading into Week 1.
As the game got underway, though, it didn’t seem as though that much was going to faze SFA. Eight minutes into the game, the Lumberjacks D had already produced two turnovers and JSU quarterback Zion Webb was on the wrong end of both.
Trae Self and the SFA offense didn’t take long at all to cash in. Self hit receiver Derryle Simmons for a one-yard touchdown on fourth and goal.
Jacksonville State, though, didn’t buckle and they put together a fast-paced 13-play drive to knot things up. Pat Jackson pushed into the end zone from a yard out and one thing was becoming clear: for as good as the SFA defense had been playing, the up-tempo offense was going to be a problem.
In the second quarter Gipson did what he does best. From midfield he snuck behind the JSU secondary and Self dropped in a bomb. The 50-yard touchdown cemented Gipson as SFA’s all-time leader in receiving yardage and put the Lumberjacks on top again in an emphatic way.
@SFAFootball 14, Jacksonville State 7, 2Q— The Western Athletic Conference (@WACsports) August 27, 2022
Trae Self goes up top to Xavier Gipson for a 50 yard TD! Gipson sets a new SFA record for career receiving yards on the play!
https://t.co/jQRQCtaJIx#WACfb | #FCSKickoff pic.twitter.com/ohkZaB4YEI
What started as a rocky day for the Gamecocks only got worse when team captain and center Zack Cangelosi went down with an injury and would not return. It was about then that a series of unfortunate plagued JSU. First-year head coach Rich Rodriguez made a questionable decision to go for it on fourth and 18. It expectedly came up short. Then, after driving the ball all the way down to the SFA 4-yard line, kicker Brenton King had his 21-yard field goal try blocked.
Still, in spite of the misfortune, Jacksonville State wouldn’t fold. Webb connected with Sterling Galban for 73-yards to set up a touchdown. After the JSU defense forced a punt on the ensuing drive, Webb orchestrated another drive and topped it off with a scoring run of his own.
Just like that, JSU led 21-17 at halftime.
SFA was having problems with the ground game. By the break they had already surrendered 203 rushing yards. Head coach Colby Carthel was left with adjustments to make but he didn’t seem to make them.
On their first drive of the second half, the Gamecocks rushed for 27 more yards and Webb scampered into the end zone again. In a game that SFA had once led 17-7, they now trailed 28-17. Momentum was entirely on JSU’s side and they were rolling.
The nail in the coffin came just a few plays later when Self overthrew receiver Jeremiah Miller and was intercepted by Deco Wilson. Webb once more capped off a long scoring drive with his third touchdown run of the day. It was too much for the Lumberjacks to overcome and JSU cruised to a 42-17 win.
The game ended prematurely due to weather complications with about 12 minutes to play. Odds are, though, that the outcome would have remained the same.
Rodriguez couldn’t have drawn it up much better for the offense. In total, JSU rushed for 285 yards with 59 of those coming from Webb. Running back Anwar Lewis eclipsed the 100-yard mark and Matt LaRoche was right behind him with 88 and a touchdown.
Meanwhile SFA struggled in many key areas. Outside of the defensive woes, the offense turned the ball over two times and the line gave up three sacks. Overall, there’s a lot to improve for Carthel’s squad moving forward.
Jacksonville State returns home next week to face Davidson while Stephen F. Austin hits the road to take on Alcorn State.