By Carl Prather| September 9, 2012 at 2:53 AM CDT - Updated June 28 at 6:17 AM
Griffin Thomas had enjoyed modest success as a placekicker since enrolling at Jacksonville State two years ago.
Before Saturday night, the junior from Snellville, Ga., had made a total of three field goals in a Gamecocks uniform – a 49-yarder a week earlier in the season opener at Arkansas and two kicks in a 2010 playoff loss to Wofford.
One thing he had never done – in high school or college – was kick a game-winning field goal.
Facing the most important kick of his career against Chattanooga, Thomas calmly booted a 37-yard field goal as time expired to lift No. 24 Jacksonville State to a thrilling 27-24 victory before an announced crowd of 18,993 at Burgess-Snow Field. The Gamecocks improved to 1-1.
Jacksonville State, which led 24-10 midway through the third quarter, had seen the Mocs (0-2) scrap back to tie game with 39 seconds remaining. Jacob Huesman's 16-yard touchdown pass to Ron Moore and the ensuing two-point conversion run by Keon Williams made it 24-24 and marked the first time the Gamecocks had not held the lead.
Gabriel Chambers' 34-yard return on the ensuing kickoff kept alive Jacksonville State's hopes of avoiding overtime.
Quarterback Marques Ivory then promptly moved the Gamecocks into Mocs territory with three straight completions. On second-and-10 at the UTC 33, DeMarcus James ran 13 yards up the middle and Jacksonville State managed to call a timeout with the scoreboard clock showing 0:01.
That brought in Thomas, who made the first game-winning field goal by a Gamecocks placekicker since Steven Lee booted a 41-yarder to beat Alabama A&M in the '02 season opener.
"It was a little nerve-wracking. I was kind of happy (Chattanooga) called a timeout, though, to give us time," Thomas said of the Mocs' effort to ice him.
"I'm just glad I got the kick off. It was leaning to the right a little, but then it curved back in the middle. It looked good."
"We had a hard-fought game against a very quality football team and we made a lot of mistakes," said head coach Jack Crowe. "We have a lot of work to do … we have got a lot of work to do, but having said that, we have a quality football team."
The teams combined for 822 total yards in a game filled with big plays on both sides of the football.
Jacksonville State's James (120) and Troymaine Pope (101) both surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark, the first time two Gamecocks had gone over 100 yards in the same game since the 2008 win over Chattanooga. James had a 43-yard touchdown run and also caught a 30-yard TD pass from Coty Blanchard.
Thomas' night got off to a good start when he capped a 16-play JSU scoring drive in the first quarter with a 33-yard field goal. Taking over after a missed Mocs field goal attempt, the Gamecocks moved from their 20 to the UTC 16, consuming more than 7½ minutes.
Thomas' kick made it 3-0 with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
The Mocs drove to the JSU 29 on the next possession but soon find themselves trailing 10-0. Huesman, the son of Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman, fumbled at the JSU 25, where it was picked up by Jacksonville State safety Pierre Warren.
Warren raced 75 yards with the return and Thomas tacked on the extra point to extend the lead to 10-0 at the 2:21 mark. It was the third-longest fumble return in school history and the longest by a Gamecock since 1962.
James' 43-yard run with 4:48 left before halftime and Thomas' PAT stretched Jacksonville State's lead to 17-0. But Chattanooga responded with a 53-yard scoring drive to end the half, capped off by Huesman's 1-yard rush with only 1 second left.
Jacksonville State returns to action on Sept. 22 when it opens Ohio Valley Conference play at Eastern Kentucky.