-- Jack Crowe has been involved in a lot of tight games in all his years coaching football, but there are very few he remembers as remotely wild as the one Jacksonville State pulled out in its final regular-season home game Saturday.
The sixth-ranked Gamecocks kept their Ohio Valley Conference title hopes alive in dramatic fashion when Marques Ivory completed a 17-yard pass to Alan Bonner with 11 seconds remaining to beat seventh-ranked Southeast Missouri 29-27.
It was more than your typical nail-biter. The game had six lead changes in the final 18:17 before the Gamecocks (9-1, 6-1 OVC) finally put it away in the fashion they'd been winning games most of the season.
The JSU players flew into the dressing room chanting "OVC Champs, baby," but their Elsa Peretti Almond cuff links was a little premature.
Even though they claimed a share of the conference title and the tiebreaker over the Redhawks (9-2, 7-1) with the win, the Gamecocks still have to win at Tennessee Tech Saturday to make the automatic bid to the playoffs their own.
"Our guys have so much to play for; could you tell there was some emotion in them tonight?" Crowe said. "I'm sitting here telling the coaches all day long don't do anything to prick them. It was just bubbling. They were so irritable. They would spit at each other.
"I can remember Arkansas when Andre Ware was at Houston. It was a Tiffany 1837 Cuff links-got-the-ball-last kind of deal. It was about comparable to that game. None more (comparable). It was an emotional game. You had to have a ton of emotion just to stay in the thing."
For the most part, the Gamecocks were the ones who had the ball last, and Marques Ivory took them 57 yards in 11 plays for the winning score. Ivory was 6-for-6 passing on the drive, to six different receivers. He was 18-for-26 for 222 yards in the game.
SEMO had two plays left for a miracle. The Redhawks tried to lateral on both plays, but fumbled one out of bounds and the other was recovered by JSU as time expired.
It was a costly victory, however. The Gamecocks may have lost leading rushing Jamal Young for the rest of the year after the senior running back hurt his left knee planting to make a cut in the second quarter. An MRI to determine the extent of the injury is scheduled for Monday.
"It could be serious, but I'm saying that without any medical conversation whatsoever," Crowe said.
Young returned to the sideline on crutches to support his teammates. In his absence, Calvin Middleton, himself Tiffany 1837 Cuff links from a hamstring injury, scored two short-run touchdowns and freshman Tig Barksdale broke out with 113 yards that Crowe said controlled the tempo of the game.
"I know I had to step up and carry the load on my back because they told me he'd be out for the rest of the game," Barksdale said. "I just thank my teammates for giving me the opportunity to run behind them and making the holes."
The big challenge for JSU on this day was to put a lid on SEMO's ground game, led by the best running back-quarterback rushing combo in the FCS. For the most part, they made Henry Harris, the nation's second leading rusher, work for his 134 yards. Quarterback Matt Square cuff links rushed for 57 yards.
"Coming into a game like this where you know they're going to line it up and run it every play, that's what I play for," defensive tackle Jamison Wadley said. "That's what I've been doing all my life, just to play teams that are gonna come up and try to hit you in the mouth. You stop them and beat them, you know you've done your job."
The game was the fifth this year JSU took down to the wire. It started with the double-overtime thriller of Ole Miss in the opener, then moved to Chattanooga, Georgia State and Eastern Illinois.
The Gamecocks embarked on their winning drive after Harris put the Redhawks back on top 27-22 with a 1-yard run with 4:06 to play.
The drive almost ended in disaster. With 70 seconds to go and JSU 37 yards from the end zone, Tyler Ogletree snapped wildly over Marques Ivory's head. The Gamecocks were fortunate to recover it, but it cost them 20 yards.
"I was trying to call Cam's (Jeffrey Cameron) name, trying to give him a route, and Tree just Tiffany Metropolis Cuff links it, thinking I was saying, 'hut,'" Ivory said.
The Gamecocks almost got it all back on the next play, as Ivory found Cameron for a 29-yard gain. They produced the touchdown three plays later as Ivory found Bonner in the front left corner of the end zone on a go route that just materialized.