Jacksonville State coach John Grass gathered his crew right into a free huddle inside Doak Walker Stadium late Saturday evening solely moments after they’d pulled off arguably probably the most gorgeous upset of the younger soccer season, beating Florida State 20-17 in Tallahassee. Down 10 factors firstly of the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks got here roaring again, profitable on an inconceivable 59-yard landing go as time expired.
The little FCS program from North Alabama had lastly accomplished it. After years of punching above its weight and arising wanting taking down the Goliaths of school soccer, JSU had not solely crushed an FBS crew, however a Energy 5 program as nicely.
As a substitute of heading into the dressing room to have a good time, gamers and coaches stayed on the sphere, soaking within the historic win. There have been hugs and tears throughout. And within the midst of all of it, Grass spoke up, telling his gamers how proud he was of them.
Then athletic director Greg Seitz busted in.
“Hey!” he shouted. “We simply beat Florida State! They usually needed to pay us $400,000 to get that L!”
If you wish to speak concerning the spirit of school soccer, this was it. There have been pleasure and pettiness and heartwarming tales sprinkled all through. JSU did not pack up and board a constitution flight house that evening, which is commonplace amongst extra well-funded applications. As a substitute, the gamers, coaches and employees returned to their lodge, watched highlights till the wee hours of the morning and loaded onto buses to make the 5½-hour drive house.
They stopped someplace in Georgia and obtained lunch — pizza and sub sandwiches. Teammates handed a cellphone across the bus when a reporter known as, every particular person attempting to make sense of the unimaginable finish to the sport.
First on the road was the quarterback, Zerrick Cooper. Clemson followers will bear in mind him as the previous four-star prospect the Tigers signed again in 2016. Two years later, he transferred and was all however forgotten. On Saturday, he turned JSU’s all-time main passer.
Cooper laughed as he recalled his profitable landing go. The factor is, he stated, he did not really see the ball cross the top zone. He noticed his go get caught by Damond Philyaw-Johnson across the 20-yard line, however then he seemed up on the big video display screen and watched the clock expire. Dejected, he figured the Gamecocks had come up brief.
“The remainder,” he stated, “is a miracle.”
Subsequent to get handed the cellphone was Philyaw-Johnson, who performed his a part of that miracle by catching Cooper’s go and working the remaining 20 yards to pay filth due to a key block from teammate Ahmad Edwards. Duke followers will bear in mind Philyaw-Johnson as their former receiver/return specialist. After graduating, he entered the switch portal. Coincidentally, the college he needed to go to popping out of highschool after which once more after getting his diploma was Florida State, nevertheless it by no means confirmed critical curiosity.
Philyaw-Johnson selected to go to Jacksonville partly as a result of it was near his house in Pensacola. His mother, a lodge housekeeper, had by no means been capable of see him play a school recreation in particular person earlier than Saturday evening. The 11-hour drive to Duke was too far and cash was at all times too tight. However she was there in Tallahassee, crying as her son turned the hero of the evening and earned a measure of vindication in opposition to the crew he rooted for since he was a baby.
“I felt like I needed to show one thing to myself and them so far as why they need to have taken me,” he stated.
Final on the road was Edwards, the receiver who threw the important thing block for Philyaw-Johnson. Like a number of gamers at Jacksonville State, Edwards was ignored popping out of Thompson Excessive Faculty in Alabaster, Alabama. He did not have a single Energy 5 provide and performed sparingly his first two years at JSU earlier than creating right into a second-team all-conference choice final season.
Edwards’ dedication confirmed in the course of the closing play in opposition to Florida State. Lots of receivers would have stopped the second the ball did not come of their course. However Edwards noticed Philyaw-Johnson catch the go 11 yards forward of him in addition to the 2 Florida State defenders poised to make the sort out. Edwards instantly ran of their course, throwing a shoulder into the chest of a defensive again to clear a path for Philyaw-Johnson to the top zone.
Requested which play he loved extra — the block or his landing catch earlier within the fourth quarter that made it a one-possession recreation — Edwards did not hesitate.
“I am gonna say the block,” he stated, “as a result of I am a crew man.”
You need to speak about hustle, Grass stated, and that is Edwards in a nutshell. When Grass goes to show younger gamers about why they need to by no means hand over on a play, that clip of Edwards’ block shall be closely featured, he stated.
However if you wish to speak about one thing particular, Grass stated, that is Philyaw-Johnson. Grass obtained a lump in his throat as he recalled seeing Philyaw-Johnson and his mother embrace after the sport. It could not occur to a greater child, Grass stated.
“That’s faculty soccer at its greatest,” he stated.
A yr in the past, Jacksonville State went into Tallahassee and gave Florida State all it may deal with for 3 quarters earlier than working out of steam and shedding by 17.
Solely every week in the past, the Gamecocks misplaced to UAB 31-0, marking a not-so-triumphant return after playing two seasons in a calendar year.
Grass stated his crew was devastated after each of these losses, and on Saturday they responded and completed the unthinkable.
“They rose to the problem,” he stated. “We performed our butts off and I am very, very happy with the best way guys battled.”