Jags Overcome 24-point Deficit To Defeat Idaho 52-45

November 8, 2015 · By · Filed Under Football, Sun Belt Conference 
Xavier Johnson, a sophomore, rushed nine times for 148 yards and added 141 yards in kick returns for 289 all-Purpose yards including a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and a 100 yard kickoff return to open the second half for the Jaguars. | Photo Credit: Bobby McDuffie usajaguars.com

Xavier Johnson, a sophomore, rushed nine times for 148 yards and added 141 yards in kick returns for 289 all-Purpose yards including a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and a 100 yard kickoff return to open the second half for the Jaguars. | Photo Credit: Bobby McDuffie usajaguars.com

Homecoming was looking as dreary as the weather on Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium as the Jaguars were facing a 24-0 deficit midway through the second quarter when the got the spark they needed. Xavier Johnson provided that spark with a 41 yard kickoff return on the ensuing kickoff with more to come.

The Jags would drive down to the Idaho 1 yard line and be turned away on fourth down with 2:30 left in the opening half. The Jaguar defense would then stand tall and force a three and out with the Jaguars using timeouts to force the Vandals to punt and give the Jaguars a short field with just 1:58 left until halftime.

Then the Jaguars used the spark that Johnson provided jump start a two-minute drive for points just before halftime. It began with a Cody Clements pass to Chris Lewis for 9 yards and into Idaho territory before stepping out of bounds. Terrance Timmons took the handoff four yards for the first down before Clements came back and found Marvin Shinn for 20 yards to the Idaho 25 before going out of bounds to stop the clock. Clements found Danny Woodson for 19 more yards to the Idaho 6 yard line before he too stepped out of bounds. The drive would be capped off by a 6 yard slant pass to Shinn for the touchdown. The 5 play, 58 yard drive would only take :38 off the clock but the Vandals were content to go into halftime with a 24-7 lead.

Johnson, after providing the spark to get the Jags in gear, would lit them on fire by taking the second-half kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown to further cut the Vandal lead to 24-14.

After exchanging a number of punts, the Jags Josh Magee would take a Vandal punt by 22 yards before fumbling near midfield which was recovered by Idaho in front of their bench. But Blake Dees was having none of it as two plays later he forced Elijhaa Penny to fumble, which Devon Earl would pick up and scamper 57 yards to the endzone with 4:19 left in the third quarter.

The defense would keep their pace by forcing another three and out, but this time the Jaguars freshman cornerback Jalen Thompson would block the kick with Margo Reed covering it at and returning it six yards to the Vandal 6 yard line. Cody Clements would take the next snap into the endzone untouched to give the Jaguars a 28-24 lead with 3:08 left in the third quarter.

Idaho was not ready to give up as quarterback Matt Linehan would continue he passing clinic with a 32 yard strike to Hightower on third down to keep the drive alive. Three plays later Penny would take it into the endzone from 19 yards out to regain the lead 31-28 with :44 left in the third quarter to set up a fourth quarter for the Jaguar history books.

The Jags would lean on their rushing attack that began with a nine yard gain by Johnson to end the third quarter then continue with runs of 5 and 18 by Tyreis Thomas and runs of 7, 13, and 1 by Timmons before Clements took the air to find Gerald Everett for a 16 yard touchdown to give USA the lead once more with 13:14 left in the game at 35-31.

The ensuing kickoff would bounce off Idaho’s Rueben Mwehla’s shoulder pads to be recovered by Jaguars Buford-Hughes at the Vandal 9 yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct call on Shinn, in addition to a four yard loss on the play set the Jaguars back at the 29 with the goal to go. USA would settle for a 41 yard field goal by Aleem Sunanon with 11:47 left in the game to take a 38-31 lead.

The vandals would drive out to their 49 yard line before Margo Reed would make a great over-the-shoulder interception at the Jaguar 16 before going out of bounds.

Johnson would bust out a 50 yard run to the Idaho 34 yard line on the first play of the drive to set up Clements to find D.J. Vinson for a 14 yard touchdown a few plays later to put USA up by two scores at 45-31 with 7:42 left in the game.

The Vandals would only need 1:59 to answer with a touchdown of their own to make the game a one-score game again at 45-38.

Chris Lewis would return the ensuing kickoff 22 yards to the Jaguar 39 to set up Xavier Johnson for another huge play. Johnson would take the handoff on the first and only play of the drive 61 yards for a touchdown to put the Jaguars up 52-38 with 5:19 left in the game.

Linehan was not done either.

He would throw and run his way to the Jaguar 18 before he combined with Penny to help get down to the 1 yard line before he called his own number and took it in to cut the Jaguar lead to one score once again at 52-45.

Braedon Bowman would cover up the onside kick attempt allowing the Jaguars to take the victory formation and end the game.

Clements was an efficient 11-of-19 for 114 yards and two touchdowns while Linehan went 26-of-39 for 317 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Elijha Penny rushed 35 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Linehan added 49 yards on 8 carries and two touchdowns.

Xavier Johnson had 9 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown to go along with 141 yards in kick returns to give him 289 all-purpose yards for the game. Tyreis Thomas had 15 carries for 88 yards, Timmons added 33 yards on seven carries, Clements added 29 yards on seven carries as well.

“That was big,” Jaguar head coach Joey Jones stated about the score just before halftime. “We were down on the one-foot line and didn’t score, and called three timeouts and got the ball back. We drove down and scored, and that was big; some good things happened there. You just have to keep plugging, you have to go to the next play.  What are you going to do about the last play?  Nothing — you have to move forward, and our guys learned a big lesson tonight.  I think they knew that, but they really understand it now.”

“That score really sparked us and turned our whole momentum around,” Clements added. “As a team though, we fought so hard the whole game tonight and we never let up. We knew it was a four-quarter game and that you have to play all 60 minutes. The score at the end of the game is what matters.”

“We just kept telling ourselves that we had to keep the motor going. That’s what we’ve been preaching all week,” Blake Dees commented. “You can’t ever give up. Giving up isn’t something we do here at South Alabama. Getting down like we did early kind of sucked, but we persevered and kept going and never gave up.”

“We needed to make a few changes, and just do our job,” Devon Earl added. “In the first half, I don’t think guys were doing their jobs. We came in at halftime and talked it over, and it all came together in the second half.”

“I want to commend our football players for the guts and mental toughness to be able to come back in a game like that,” Coach Jones stated. “Everything was going wrong there for a quarter-and-a-half, and we just got it turned. The big kickoff return gave us a spark, and the kids came back and kept fighting. Sometimes you can’t play four quarters of football the way you want to, and you just have to deal with it. Nobody panicked, and that was the biggest thing. Had we panicked, I think we might have lost that ballgame.

“We just beat a good team; they have a really good offense obviously. They have a great quarterback and running back, they moved the ball up and down the field. What a win for our program to be able to come back and take another step toward a bowl [game].”

“Overall, I just can’t believe it,” said Vandal head coach Paul Petrino. “I really thought we had a great game plan, and we came out and executed it really well, both offensively and defensively. You can’t give up a kickoff return for a touchdown, a blocked punt and a fumble. Even after all that, we still came back and scored twice.  We just had to get one stop, and we had the chance.

“I think everybody sees how much better we are; the program is on the right track to be a really good football team, but to have two games in a row end like that is really sad.”

Johnson’s kickoff return for a touchdown was the first since J.J. Keel in 2010. It was the first game that the offense, defense and special teams scored since defeating Pikeville on September 4, 2010. The game set a new record for largest deficit overcome in a victory surpassing the 14 point deficit the Jags overcame to defeat Florida Atlantic on October 20, 2013 for their first FBS win. It also set a record for most combined points scored with 97, surpassing the previous record by 15.

South Alabama will have a short week of preparation as they host Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday at 6:30pm in a nationally televised game on ESPNU.

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