JACKSONVILLE --- Tennessee State fought back from a 35-7 deficit, but defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Jacksonville State was able to hold back the Tigers and claim a 49-35 victory Saturday night.
Trailing 35-7 at halftime, the Tigers pulled to within 35-21 and had another scoring opportunity stopped deep in JSU territory. Held scoreless for only the third time in a period this season in the third quarter, JSU was able to add to two fourth-quarter TD's to build back the advantage, to 49-21.
TSU again did not give up, adding a pair of fourth quarter scores of its own, including a TD on the final play of the game to account for the final margin.
"Our guys kept battling and that was a good sign," said TSU head coach James Reese. "You have to take your hat off to (JSU) Coach (Jack) Crowe and his staff. They come out and run it right at you. We still have a lot of football remaining, beginning with a talented Samford team next week."
The loss spoiled a record-setting offensive play for the Tigers in the opening period. Pinned inside their 1-yard line, Tiger receiver Fred Burnette broke behind the JSU defenders and was on the receiving end of a Riley Walker pass. Burnette outran the Gamecock defender, resulting in an OVC record 99-yard scoring play.
"We called play action and we knew if the safeties came down we would have the cornerbacks in a man situation," said Walker. "We took a chance on a first down play and we wanted to see what we could get out of it and it worked to our advantage."
Walker, making his first start of the season, completed 27-44-0 passes for 381 yards and a career-high four TD's. Burnette also had a career night with his 185 receiving yards and two TD catches.
All-American running back Charles Anthony rushed for 131 yards on 25 carries and scored two TD's. Jacksonville State was the only team last year that held Anthony to less than 100 yards in a game.
The two teams combined for 1,072 yards with TSU getting a season high 487 yards and Jax State compiling 585 yards. Both teams had 28 first downs.
Jacksonville State got out of the gates quickly on its first possession of the game. Oscar Bunch scored on an 11-yard run to conclude a 59-yard march. Gavin Hallford first of five first half PAT's gave the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead at the 10:58 mark of the opening period.
The Tigers then struck back with the record-setting play to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:26 left in the opening period.
However, Jax State regained the lead marching 73 yards in eight plays. Clay Green scored on a 2-yard run with 34 seconds left in the opening period.
JSU was able to add to its lead with three second-quarter touchdowns. Bonds picked up an errant pitch and got loose for a 67-yard scoring run. Quarterback Maurice Mullins kept for a 20-yard TD run. Raynood concluded the first half scoring with a 4-yard run with 46 seconds remaining.
TSU came out in the second half and scored on its first possession, going 73 yards in nine plays. Charles Anthony scored on a 10-yard run and Joey Hudak's PAT made the score 35-14.
The Tigers Aaron Mars recovered a fumble on JSU's 17-yardline and got as far as the eight, before being stopped on downs. The Tigers did not waste their next opportunity early in the fourth period as Walker and Burnette hooked up again, this time from 24 yards out.
Jax State then came back with its two TD's in a span of just more than a minute. Raynood Zeine scored on a 35-yard run. TSU turned the ball over at its 23 yard line on a fumble and JSU scored two plays later on a 15-yard pass from Matt Hardin to Josh Moten.
TSU's last two TD's came on two more scoring passes from Walker. The first was a 10-yard pass to Ivan Burley with 5:31 and Jarrett Morrow scored from 15 yards out as time expired.
The Tigers 487 yards of total offense surpassed the previous season best by 132 yards. TSU had 355 yards in the season-opener against Alabama A&M.
Charles Anthony now has rushed for at least 100 yards in a game in 16 of the last 18 games.
Junior Fred Burnette had 12 catches for 113 yards coming into the game. He had eight catches for 185 yards in the Jax State game.
Jamar Landrom followed up an 18 tackle performance in the Circle City Classic with a team-high 10 tackles in the JSU game.
TSU was playing its first ever game in Paul Snow Stadium. A near capacity crowd of 14,722 was on hand for the game.
The Tigers will play at home for the first time in five weeks when they host Samford next Saturday. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m.