Sports

FCS Game of the Week: Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois

(STATS) – Third-ranked Jacksonville State might be the last FCS team to get flagged for an unnecessary celebration.

Maybe that helps explain the focus of the Gamecocks, who have won a record 27 straight Ohio Valley Conference games and are challenging for a fourth straight conference title.

“We try our best to not be an emotional team and we try to be who we are on a daily basis and we have done a pretty good job of playing the game the way it is supposed to be played,” coach John Grass said. “Our guys do a pretty good job of getting themselves ready to play and we are not one of those that do a lot of talking before the game in what I call ‘false emotion.'”

Jacksonville State’s OVC streak began one week after the Gamecocks lost 52-14 at Eastern Illinois on Nov. 16, 2013. They head back to Charleston for EIU’s homecoming on Saturday and are looking up at the Panthers by a half game in the conference standings – 4-0 to 3-0. Incredibly, the Panthers have won five games (including against Indiana State out of conference) by a combined 12 points, including two in double overtime.

In the last 14 meetings, the JSU-EIU winner has gone on to claim the conference title. Saturday’s showdown is the STATS FCS Game of the Week.

“We’re excited about this opportunity. We’re excited about where we are in the conference,” EIU coach Kim Dameron said.

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FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=

The Matchup: No. 3 Jacksonville State (5-1, 3-0 Ohio Valley) at Eastern Illinois (5-2, 4-0)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET at O’Brien Field (10,000) in Charleston, Illinois

Television: ESPN3

Series: Jacksonville State leads 8-6 (last meeting: Jacksonville State won 47-14 at home Oct. 29, 2016)

The Skinny: First place is on the line between the OVC’s two unbeaten teams, and only one other team (Austin Peay or Southeast Missouri) will have one loss by the end of Saturday’s action. The visiting Gamecocks feature one of the nation’s better defenses, led by 6-foot-3, 242-pound DE Darius Jackson (51 1/2 career tackles for loss and 23 1/2 sacks). Although QB Bryant Horn has played well recently, the No. 1 offensive option is RB Roc Thomas, who rushed for 115 yards in JSU’s win over Eastern Illinois last year. Kicker Cade Stinnett is 6 for 6 on field goals this season and 19 for 26 over his career. Injuries have moved the Panthers to their third quarterback, but redshirt junior Bud Martin has played well the last game and a half. RB Isaiah Johnson is coming off a breakout game with 236 rushing yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, while WR Alexander Hollins has caught six TDs this season. DE David Johnson leads the Panthers in tackles for loss (six), sacks (three) and QB hurries (four).

Prediction: Eastern Illinois’ wins are against teams with a combined 8-25 record, so it will take a lot to end Jacksonville State’s OVC win streak. Jacksonville State, 30-17.

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