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Jacksonville State wins first bowl game in overtime

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jacksonville State coach Rich Rodriguez was beaming from a recently concluded locker-room celebration when he sat before a microphone to take questions and glanced down at a printout of the final statistics from the New Orleans Bowl.

“I don’t know if I even want to look at these stats,” said Rodriguez, whose career as a head coach has included stints at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona. “I’ve done this a long time and this is one of the most improbable games I’ve ever been a part of.”

Zion Webb completed a fourth-down pass to Perry Carter for an 18-yard, tying touchdown with 1:46 left in regulation, freshman Garrison Rippa converted the second field goal attempt of his career from 27 yards in overtime, and Jacksonville State capped off its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 34-31 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.

Ron Wiggins rushed for 126 yards and a score for Jacksonville State (9-4), which had to overcome four turnovers — three of which were returned for touchdowns — just to force overtime.

“They never panic. They’ve got a great attitude,” Rodriguez said. “They kept playing all the way until the end.”

Safety Jalen Clark scored touchdowns on a 46-yard fumble return and a 16-yard interception return for Louisiana-Lafayette (6-7).

“It’s good that I did that, but it’s not the best because we didn’t get the W,” Clark said.

Fellow safety Tyree Skipper had a 43-yard interception return for a score that gave the Cajuns a 31-24 lead in the fourth quarter.

ULL quarterback Chandler Fields ran for 1-yard TD —- the only time the Cajuns ended an offensive possession in the end zone.

“I don’t feel like I did my job good enough,” said Cajuns coach Michael Desormeux, a former ULL QB who oversees the offense. “That’s the worst part.”

Kenneth Almendares kicked a 33-yard field goal that tied the game at 24 in the fourth quarter, but missed a 43-yarder when ULL opened overtime with the ball.

That gave Rippa — called into action when first-stringer Alen Karajic entered the transfer portal — the chance to win it. He’d made all four of his extra point kicks and a field goal in regulation, and said he felt prepared — and not that nervous — for what amounted to a history-making kick for Jacksonville State.

“He might not have been nervous, but I was nervous as hell,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “I don’t care what the distance is or where the ball’s at, he’s got to execute.”

JSU fullback Cole Fuller ran for short touchdown and reserve quarterback Logan Smothers scrambled for a 10-yard score in the second half after Webb was briefly sidelined while awaiting X-ray results from a painful hit to his shin late in the second quarter.

A factor in JSU’s success this season has been Rodriguez’s offense, which runs plays as quickly as any in college football. JSU ran 109 plays, which Webb called “crazy.” But he added that the Gamecocks’ offense is built to operate that way.

“We go so fast, they got to keep up,” he said.

Rodriguez joked afterward that he was suffering from decision fatigue, but added that he didn’t have to think too hard about whether to grant his players’ request after the game to stay another night in New Orleans and celebrate — instead of taking a six-hour bus ride home after the game as originally planned.

Rodriguez had fond memories of living in New Orleans when he was the offensive coordinator for an undefeated 1998 Tulane team that played its home games in the Superdome at that time.

He also figured his players had earned it after accomplishing something that had never been done previously at their institution.

“That’s special,” Rodriguez said. “It can never be taken away from them.”


Jacksonville State: Because the Gamecocks were in the first season in the top-tier FBS, they would not have been offered a bowl bid if there hadn’t been a shortage of six-win teams to fill all of the bowl spots. They proved they belonged, outgaining seven-time New Orleans Bowl participant ULL 510 yards to 247 in regulation and converting on five of six fourth-down plays.

Louisiana-Lafayette: The Cajuns punted on their first six series — nine times in all — and also settled for a field goal after having second and 1 from the JSU 16 — then throwing incomplete passes on second and third down. If not for its defense producing turnovers and points, ULL might have had trouble staying in the game.

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