- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (AP) - For Jacksonville State, consider the demons of last year’s defeat to Sam Houston State emphatically exorcised.

Troymaine Pope ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns to punch Jacksonville State’s ticket to the FCS Championship game, leading the Gamecocks in a 62-10 drubbing of Sam Houston State on Saturday afternoon in front of a record 23,692 fans at Burgess-Snow Field.

Eli Jenkins completed 17 of 23 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns, and added 43 rushing yards and another score for the top-seeded Gamecocks (13-1). Josh Barge led in receiving with six receptions for 121 yards.

“This is a special group,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “We’ve put ourselves in the position to be in the national championship game, which is right where we want to be.”

Jacksonville State plays four-time defending champion North Dakota State, who defeated seventh-seeded Richmond 33-7 on Friday night in the championship game in Frisco, Texas on Jan. 9.

Not only will the Gamecocks have an opportunity to overthrow the North Dakota State dynasty, they would become the first FCS champion from the Ohio Valley Conference since Eastern Kentucky in 1982.

“This is a great opportunity,” Jenkins said. “Coach has been talking about Frisco since we lost to Sam Houston last year. We came out and showed the world that we were the most physical team on the field. We played good, and I feel like we can play better.”

After unseeded Sam Houston State (9-4) fumbled the opening kickoff, Jenkins connected with Barge on a 28-yard toss to get Jacksonville State to the Bearkat 3-yard-line. Three plays later, Jenkins kept the ball on a read option and scored on a 1-yard run to put the Gamecocks up 7-0.

The Bearkats quickly ventured into Gamecock territory on the ensuing possession with a 27-yard pass from Briscoe to Yedidiah Louis, but a Briscoe fumble ended the series. Pope broke free for a 62-yard touchdown romp four plays later to double Jacksonville State’s lead.

Sam Houston State lost three fumbles in the first quarter and trailed 17-0 by the end of the period.

Jacksonville State’s lead ballooned in the second quarter thanks to touchdown runs from Pope and Miles Jones as well as a 12-yard pass from Jenkins to Ruben Gonzalez. Sam Houston State scored its only points of the game in the second quarter after Ladarius Brown recovered a Corey Avery fumble in the end zone and Tre Honshtein booted a 51-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the half.

Bearkats quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe had a dismal passing day, completing 13-of-42 for 130 yards and an interception. Corey Avery had 81 yards on 14 carries.

Sam Houston State head coach K.C. Keeler was effusive in his praise of Jacksonville State following the game.

“(Today) we played as good a football team as I’ve coached against in my time in FCS football,” Keeler said. “I’ve lost to Appalachian State the year they beat Michigan, and this team is every bit as good as that team we played back in ‘07.”

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