The Florida State Seminoles were the favorite to win the National Championship after a dominant season, but they were upset by Jacksonville State in a shocking finish. What does this mean for college football?
Jacksonville State’s upset of Florida State was a stunning one, and the JSU Jaguars have been soaking in their victory.
Coach John Grass gathered his players in a loose huddle inside Doak Campbell Stadium late Saturday night, just minutes after his team had pulled off perhaps the most shocking upset of the early football season, defeating Florida State 20-17 in Tallahassee. The Gamecocks rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, won on an incredible 59-yard touchdown pass as time expired.
North Alabama, a little FCS program, has finally done it. JSU had not only defeated an FBS team, but also a Power 5 school, after years of fighting above its weight and falling short of bringing down college football’s Goliaths.
Instead of celebrating in the locker room, the players and coaches remained on the field to take in the moment. Hugs and tears were exchanged all around. Grass stood out in the middle of it all, telling his team how pleased he was of them.
Then Greg Seitz, the athletic director, walked in.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “We just defeated Florida State! And to obtain that L, they had to give us $400,000!”
This was the game to speak about if you wanted to talk about the spirit of college football. There was pleasure and pettiness peppered throughout, as well as touching tales. JSU did not pack up and go home on a charter aircraft that night, as is customary for more well-funded organizations. Instead, the players, coaches, and staff went back to their hotel, watched highlights until the early hours of the morning, then boarded buses for the 512-hour journey home.
They stopped in Georgia for lunch, which consisted of pizza and sub sandwiches. When a reporter phoned, teammates handed the phone around the bus, everyone attempting to make sense of the game’s unthinkable ending.
Zerrick Cooper, the quarterback, was the first on the line. Fans of Clemson will remember him as a former four-star recruit that the Tigers signed in 2016. He transferred two years later and was all but forgotten. He became JSU’s all-time top passer on Saturday.
Cooper burst out laughing as he remembered his game-winning touchdown throw. The problem is, he claims he didn’t see the ball cross the goal line. He saw Damond Philyaw-Johnson catch his throw at the 20-yard line, but then he glanced up at the big TV board and saw the time run out. He was dejected, assuming the Gamecocks had fallen short.
“The rest is a miracle,” he added.
Florida State and Dennis Briggs Jr. were shocked by Jacksonville State’s joy. Phil Sears/Associated Press
Philyaw-Johnson was the next to get the phone, having contributed to the miracle by receiving Cooper’s pass and sprinting the last 20 yards to pay soil aided to a crucial block from teammate Ahmad Edwards. Former Duke receiver/return specialist Philyaw-Johnson will be remembered by Duke fans. He went to the transfer portal after graduation. Florida State was, coincidentally, the institution he wanted to attend when he graduated from high school and again after earning his bachelor’s degree, but it never expressed significant interest.
Part of the reason Philyaw-Johnson picked Jacksonville was because it was near to his home in Pensacola. Before Saturday night, his mother, a hotel maid, had never seen him play a collegiate game in person. The 11-hour trip to Duke was too long, and finances were usually tight. But she was in Tallahassee, weeping as her son was named the game’s hero and gained some retribution against the club he had supported since he was a kid.
He said, “I felt like I had to show something to myself and them as to why they should have accepted me.”
Edwards, the receiver who threw the crucial block for Philyaw-Johnson, was last on the line. Edwards was ignored coming out of Thompson High School in Alabaster, Alabama, like many other athletes at Jacksonville State. He had no Power 5 offers and only played minimally his first two years at JSU until becoming a second-team all-conference pick last season.
During the last play against Florida State, Edwards’ resolve shone through. Many receivers would have came to a halt the minute the ball did not come their way. However, Edwards saw Philyaw-Johnson, who was 11 yards ahead of him, as well as the two Florida State defenders who were about to make the tackle. Edwards dashed in their direction, slamming his shoulder into a defensive back’s chest to pave the way for Philyaw-Johnson to the touchdown zone.
Each week, choose the winner of ten college football games. Play confidently or straight up. Make your selections
Edwards didn’t hesitate when asked which play he liked better: the block or his touchdown reception earlier in the fourth quarter that made it a one-possession game.
“Because I’m a team person,” he added, “I’m going to mention the block.”
Grass added, “You want to talk about hustling, and that’s Edwards in a nutshell.” That footage of Edwards’ block will be prominently featured when Grass goes to educate new players about why they should never give up on a play, he added.
But Philyaw-Johnson is the one to go to if you want to talk about anything unique, according to Grass. As he remembered watching Philyaw-Johnson and his mother hug after the game, grass felt a knot in his throat. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer child, according to Grass.
He remarked, “That is college football at its finest.”
Jacksonville State traveled into Tallahassee a year ago and gave Florida State all they could handle for three quarters before running out of gas and losing by 17 points.
The Gamecocks were defeated 31-0 by UAB only a week ago, signifying a less-than-stellar comeback after playing two seasons in a calendar year.
After each of those defeats, Grass claimed his squad was heartbroken, but on Saturday they came back and did the unimaginable.
“They stepped up to the plate,” he added. “We battled our butts off, and I’m extremely pleased of the way the boys fought.”
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