MONTGOMERY, ALA. (AP) - Coty Blanchard is a little overwhelmed.
After all, he’s a freshman quarterback at Jacksonville State whose first college game ended with back-to-back electrifying plays that resulted in a huge upset of Mississippi. And, for Blanchard, an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter two days later.
“It’s been crazy,” Blanchard said minutes after his national TV debut on Monday. “I’ve watched that replay probably 1,000 times on YouTube, and it gets better every time. I look for something different every time I watch it.”
There was plenty to see from the unlikely hero in both the biggest win in Jacksonville State history and the FCS program’s biggest comeback.
First, Blanchard sprinted right on fourth-and-15 and hit Kevyn Cooper in the back of the end zone during the second overtime for a 30-yard touchdown.
“Running full-speed to the right and throwing a pass that hits the backline of the end zone at an arc _ just look at it,” Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said.
It’s a blur for Blanchard.
“I don’t remember the pass,” he said. “It all just kind of happened. I really don’t remember anything about it but just seeing Coop and those guys sitting in front of the end zone and just throwing it up and giving them a chance.”
When Jacksonville State then went for the two-point conversion and the 49-48 win, he hit Calvin Middleton under a heavy rush. It capped a 21-point comeback.
“It was supposed to be a little shovel screen and a pass option on the outside,” Blanchard said. “Ole Miss defended it great. They sent two guys off the end. I kinda just stepped back and dumped it off to Calvin, and he did the rest.”
They were the kind of plays that helped make Blanchard Alabama’s Mr. Football and lead Cherokee County High School to its first Class 4A state title last season.
Like the 5-yard touchdown run with 26 seconds remaining to lift Cherokee County to the win in the championship game.
“He kept his poise so good, he was 4-for-4 passing and ran for the winning touchdown,” recalled Cherokee County coach Tripp Curry.
Curry watched the Ole Miss game, and wasn’t particularly surprised by any of Blanchard’s plays.
“All those things, he did in high school, too,” he said. “I watched a thing on TV about a month ago that said there’s millions and millions of good athletes but the exceptional athletes are ones that thrive under pressure. That’s what he does.
“When he’s in the ball game everybody just feels like something good’s about to happen and a lot of times it does.”
That helps explain why Blanchard was in the game at the end instead of veteran Marques Ivory _ who remains the starter.
“He’s a playmaker,” Crowe said. “He doesn’t have to have it all work by the numbers for him to make a play. He’s got a very, very unique skill-set for a quarterback.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen quite the same package he’s got. He’s probably athletic enough to play wide receiver or corner here. He doesn’t have a cannon, but he’s got a big-time arm.”
Fitting for a shortstop who was drafted in the 41st round by the Baltimore Orioles.
Blanchard verbally committed last August to play baseball for Mississippi State, but he wasn’t convinced any of the bigger schools recruiting him for that sport would also let him play football. He had passed for 2,916 yards and 35 touchdowns and run for 1,161 yards and 20 more scores as a senior.
Crowe and Jacksonville State baseball coach Steve Case met with him and even showed him a schedule they had worked up to let him do just that. Crowe said Blanchard won’t be with the football team in the spring.
The choice was made easier by the fact that his father, Fran, played football for the Gamecocks, and Blanchard grew up attending games at the northeast Alabama school 30 minutes from home.
“I have no doubt I picked the right place,” Blanchard said.
Neither do the Gamecock fans. Jacksonville State’s ticket office for extended hours Monday and had their biggest single-day sales in school history (1,500) and the online system got so many hits it shut down, athletic director Oval Jaynes said. He said the Gamecocks had sold 2,500 more tickets for Saturday’s opener against Chattanooga before 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Not bad for a town of some 8,000 residents.
“Fans are so excited down here,” Blanchard said. “They’re ready to see what else we can do. Football fever, it’s really catching on down here in Jacksonville.”
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