Middleton
JSU

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It won't generate the same national headlines or ESPN highlights as Jacksonville State's stunning upset of Ole Miss to kick off the 2010 football season.

It was, however, every bit as dramatic.

Senior Calvin Middleton scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds left and James Esco kicked the go-ahead extra point as the Gamecocks rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to knock off Ohio Valley Conference rival Tennessee-Martin 24-23 at Burgess-Snow Field Thursday night.

“It was left at the end to just make plays,” Jacksonville State head coach Jack Crowe said. “The only thing you can really say came out of that is we played with a lot of heart. We lost our poise, but we never lost our composure.

"I really thought at the end … it was just a bunch of guys who refused to lose. Because we certainly did everything to lose.”

Jacksonville State (1-0), the preseason OVC favorite, appeared on the verge of suffering its first home loss to UT-Martin in 24 years. The Skyhawks (0-1) had taken a 23-10 lead with 14:11 remaining when Cody Sandlin kicked a 45-yard field goal to give UT-Martin its biggest lead of the night.

But Gabriel Chambers returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to midfield and the Gamecocks didn't wasting any time finding the end zone.

After a 7-yard Washaun Ealey run, backup quarterback Coty Blanchard and the junior transfer from Georgia hooked up on a 43-yard scoring pass with 13:06 to go. Esco's extra point trimmed JSU's deficit to 23-17.

The Gamecocks defense, which surrendered 475 yards, rose to the occasion on UT-Martin's next two possessions. The final scoring drive began at the 50 and JSU covered the distance in 3:53, with Blanchard running for 20 and 8 yards on consecutive plays to move the team deep into Skyhawks territory.

Middleton capped off the nine-play drive with his 4-yard run, setting off a celebration from the crowd of 17,919.

But the high-powered UT-Martin offense wasn't finished.

Starting at their own 15 with 34 seconds left, the Skyhawks moved to the JSU 42 in five plays. Facing a second-and-10 with six seconds remaining, quarterback Derek Carr hooked up with Stephen Shiver on a 27-yard completion, but Shiver was forced out of bounds at the JSU 15 as time expired.

“I was proud that some of the things got better as we played on,” Crowe said. “Not all of them did."

"What does this say about the future? It says we've got a lot to get done. It doesn't say that we can't accomplish anything, it just says we're a long way away from it.”

That future isn't likely to include starting quarterback Marques Ivory. Ivory, a senior from Warner Robins, Ga., sustained a fractured right fibula during the first half and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Friday.

Blanchard, the hero of last year's win at Ole Miss, completed 9-of-17 passes for a JSU career-high 133 yards and one touchdown. He also ran nine times for 32 yards.

Jacksonville State trailed 17-7 at halftime after surrendering 285 total yards.

The Gamecocks' only first-half points came on Ivory's 22-yard pass to tight end Justin Howard with 9:54 left in the second quarter.

Esco's field goal early in the third quarter drew Jacksonville State to within 17-10. But the visitors got field goals of 25 and 45 yards from Sandlin to stretch their lead to 23-10 early in the fourth.

Ealey ran for 41 yards on 13 carries in his Gamecock debut, while Middleton finished with 28 yards on 10 attempts.