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An improbable comeback attempt on a record-setting Saturday afternoon fell just short for the Jacksonville State football team, who fell 49-47 at UT Martin.
Senior Alan Bonner caught a school-record five touchdown passes on a day in which senior Marques Ivory tossed a school-record six touchdown passes, but it was the Skyhawks' Derek Carr and Quentin Sims would come out on top in a shootout to stay in the running for the Ohio Valley Conference title. The Gamecocks drop to 5-4 on the year and 4-3 in OVC play, while UTM improves to 7-2 and 5-1 in conference play.
Carr threw seven touchdown passes, five to Sims, on a day that saw the two offenses combine for 1,126 yards of total offense. Sims and Bonner tied the OVC record for touchdown catches in a game, while Bonner broke Joey Hamilton's JSU record for the same category.
Bonner padded his career stats in the game, catching 10 passes for 235 yards, both the second-most in school history, for the record-setting five touchdowns. He moved into fourth in school history with 109 career catches, and second in the school record books with 19 career touchdown catches. His 1,872 career receiving yards move him past James Wilkerson into third place in school history.
Ivory completed 17 of his 36 pass attempts for 323 yards and the school-record six touchdown passes. It was the second-highest passing yards total in his career and just the second 300-yard game of his career. His six scoring tosses are one more than Montressa Kirby's previous record of five from 1997 and doubled his previous career high and two shy of the OVC record.
Sophomore DaMarcus James, in his first game back from an injury, ran for 128 yards on 22 carries, his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season and of his career. Senior Washaun Ealey ran for 57 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. His touchdown was the only non-passing score in a day that saw a combined 14 touchdowns scored.
Carr was 28-for-43 for 402 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Skyhawks offense. His seven scores were the most against the Gamecocks in JSU's Division I history. Sims caught 10 passes for 137 yards and five scores, also tying UTM's school record. Tevin Barksdale ran for 120 yards on 20 carries.
Defensively, three JSU sophomores recorded at least 10 tackles, with Rashod Byers wrapping up a career-best 15, eight more than his previous high. Ben Endress and Pierre Warren each had 10 tackles in a game that saw five of JSU's top six tacklers playing in the backfield.
Martin took just 121 seconds to get on the scoreboard, orchestrating a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard pass from Carr to Quentin Sims and gave UTM a 7-0 lead with 12:59 left iin the opeing quarter. A little over seven minutes later, Carr found Sims again from eight yards out to give the Skyhawks a 14-0 lead.
The Gamecocks cut that deficit in half with a quick strike from Ivory to Alan Bonner, a 66-yard scoring pass that was the Gamecocks' second longest play from scrimmage this season. The play made it a 14-7 game, but Carr found Kevin Barfield from 38 yards out and then Quentin Sims from 33 yards to jump out to a 28-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Gamecocks cut their deficit in half again, this time on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ivory to Trey Smith with 10:30 left in the first half. The 11-play drive went 72 yards and took just over four minutes off of the clock.
After Carr's fifth touchdown pass of the day and his fourth to Sims gave the Skyhawks a 35-14, lead, UTM gift wrapped a JSU scoring drive that cut the Skyhawks' lead to 35-21 just before the half. Three personal fouls gave the Gamecocks 45 of their 72 yards on the drive. Ivory found Bonner for the second time in the game, this time for a 15-yard score that cut JSU's deficit to two touchdowns at the intermission.
JSU took its momentum into the second half and cut UTM's lead to 35-28 on the opening drive of the half. Ivory's fourth touchdown pass of the day and the third to Bonner came from 34 yards out with 13:25 left in the third quarter.
After a defensive stop, Ivory got the ball back and tied the game, this time with a 35-yard strike over the middle to Bonner. The record-breaking catch for Bonner came with 7:34 left in the third and tied the score for the first time since it was 0-0 in the game's first two minutes.
Carr and the Skyhawks answered with just under three minutes left in the third quarter, when he found Sims in the end zone for the fifth time to put the Skyhawks back on top by a touchdown, 42-35 with 2:55 left in the third.
The Gamecocks answered on their ensuing possession with Bonner's fifth scoring catch, a one-handed grab of a 12-yard Ivory pass with 13:48 to play. Griffin Thomas missed the extra point, however, his first miss of the year, leaving UTM up by one. The Skyhawks mounted their longest drive of the day, a 15-play, 88-yard one that gave them a 49-41 lead and the Gamecocks the ball with 5:31 to play.
Ivory drove JSU down the field and into the end zone with 41 ticks on the clock to cut the score to 49-47, but Washaun Ealey's two-yard touchdown run, the first rushing score by either team, wouldn't be enough. Ivory's two-point conversion attempt found Bonner, but his foot was just out of bounds in the back of the end zone. Thomas' on-side kick attempt hit a JSU player one-yard too soon, allowing the Skyhawks to run the clock out.
The Gamecocks will play their final home game of the season on Saturday, when they host Austin Peay at 3 p.m. at Burgess Snow Field.