By Carl Prather| September 16, 2013 at 3:48 AM CDT - Updated July 11 at 1:45 PM
The renewal of the rivalry between Jacksonville State and North Alabama after a 10-year hiatus didn't feature the offensive fireworks of past meetings.
But the one-time Gulf South Conference rivals still managed another classic in their 45th meeting before a crowd of 20,834 at Burgess-Snow Field Saturday night. Senior Griffin Thomas kicked a school-record five field goals and Division II UNA's upset bid ended when Lions kicker Michael Schuster missed a 37-yarder as Jacksonville State escaped with a 24-21 double-overtime victory.
Thomas booted field goals of 26 and 20 yards in overtime to go with kicks of 50, 44 and 42 yards during regulation. UNA had forced overtime by driving 70 yards in 11 plays late in the fourth quarter, tying the game at 18-18 on Luke Wingo's five-yard pass to Lee Mayhall with 13 seconds remaining.
Schuster's 26-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime gave the Lions (1-1) their only lead. Thomas answered with a 26-yard kick on Jacksonville State's first series to send the game to a second overtime period tied at 21-21.
Thomas set a school record with his fifth field goal in the second OT. UNA advanced to the 20, but Schuster – who had missed from 32 yards as time expired in the second quarter – was wide right, setting off a raucous celebration on the JSU sideline.
"The overtime was pretty nerve-wracking," said Thomas. "We were already down there in field goal position, so you know you're going to get a chance to kick it – you're obviously ready for that."
Jacksonville State has won its last five overtime games and is now 5-4 all-time in OT games.
"I thought the defense played outstanding tonight," said first-year Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark. "Special teams were obviously outstanding with Griffin Thomas doing the things he did. If we would have kept North Alabama out of the end zone at the end of the game, we wouldn't have ended up in overtime."
Jacksonville State ran its record to 3-0 for the first time since 2010. The Gamecocks play Georgia State next Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.
The Gamecocks led 10-0 after the first quarter. Running back Troymaine Pope's first pass as a collegian went for a 53-yard touchdown to Markis Merrill on the JSU's first offensive play and Thomas added a 50-yard field goal five minutes later as the Gamecocks appeared poised to turn the game into a rout.
UNA closed to within 10-2 with a safety on the first play of the second quarter when Eli Jenkins was sacked in the end zone by Shaquille Smith. But Jacksonville State's Thomas capped a short drive set up by a UNA fumble with another field goal for a 13-2 halftime lead.
Jacksonville State's offense, which had 190 yards in the first two quarters, struggled to find its rhythm after halftime.
Schuster's 49-yard field goal capped a 10-play drive late in the third quarter that saw the Lions close the gap to 13-5. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, managed just 23 yards in the third quarter and 44 yards in the fourth, allowing UNA to stay within striking distance.
Wingo engineered a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive to start the fourth quarter and capped it with a 1-yard run with 11:04 remaining. The Lions, trailing 13-11, opted for a two-point conversion attempt, but Wingo's pass fell incomplete.
Hamish MacInnes' punt on the ensuing JSU possession pinned UNA at its 1. A poor snap resulted in a safety for the Gamecocks, making it 15-11 at the 8:25 mark.
Thomas' field goal with just over three minutes remaining pushed JSU's lead to 18-11.
The teams were penalized a combined 30 times, with Jacksonville drawing a school-record 17 flags for 159 yards. The Gamecocks have only been penalized eight times for 60 yards in wins over Alabama State and Jacksonville.