By Reily Chestnut
MOBILE, AL – The tough times that have plagued Bobcat football over the last six years continued to leave Bobcat fans wondering “why me?” after this matchup in the Heart of Dixie. The final score read 41-31 South Alabama over Texas State. But the aftermath of this game left Bobcat fans feeling like they had lost a golden ticket to celebrate the team’s first conference opening win since 2014. This game could’ve given the Bobcats a jump start into not just next week’s UTSA game, but the rest of their conference schedule in general.
The start of this Sun Belt matchup was a wild scramble on the first drive. Starting quarterback Willie Jones III was running around early pressure and the stat line showed with Jones finished 4-of-9 after the first 15 minutes of action. But when Jones had a chance to make the play he didn’t disappoint. One of those four completions happened to be a 42-yard dart to freshman wide receiver Javen Banks that gave the Bobcats their second touchdown of the first quarter. Banks would end up leading the Bobcats’ receivers with 82 yards wrangled throughout the evening. Before that, Jones, who came into this game as the fifth leading rusher in the Sun Belt, raced up field 50 yards for his first career rushing touchdown. The tone was set for the highest scoring first half of the Everett Withers era and 24-16 lead for Texas State. Hell, the Bobcats continued to play strong behind their dual threat QB. Jones was rolling behind steady protection from his linemen and threw his second touchdown pass to Hutch White to put Texas up 31-16 with 9:38 left in the third quarter. However, that’s when the wheels started to come off this locomotive.
The winds of change started to blow the Bobcats away when Jones got bit by the injury bug on his right ankle and freshman backup Tyler Vitt threw a 55-yard pick six that cut the Bobcat lead to eight. Fortunately for the Bobcats their starting QB would be able to continue on with a little extra tape. The bad news is the Jaguars start now had motivation to attack a weakened Willie Jones with full force and started to overwhelm the O-Line and hold the Bobcats scoreless from the 9:38 mark of the third until the final whistle. Meanwhile, South Alabama would score 18 points in the fourth quarter starting with a 47-yard field goal from Gavin Patterson that tied his career mark. The Bobcats still had a chance to seal the game after inheriting the ball with 5:27 left up 31-26. Unfortunately the Bobcats couldn’t escape the backfield after losing eight yards going to tailback Robert Brown Jr. and Jones to play smash mouth football up the trenches. After the 52-yard punt by Clayton Stewart it was time to turn up the heartbreak.
Jaguars QB Evan Orth took over on the biggest drive of the night by completing five passes for 67 yards while running for a 13-yard carry that saw the drive end with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Orth to Jordan McCray. Add in the two-pointer and the Jags had a 34-31 lead, their first of the season, to force the Bobcats to score with just two minutes remaining. By now I could only hold my breath as Jones threw away any chance the Bobcats had of avoiding embarrassment with his second interception of the season. Cue another quick TD pass from Orth to Jamarius Way, effectively sending the Bobcats home with one of the most bitter losses of the Withers era.
Personally, this gives me flashbacks to last season when the Bobcats famously fell six inches shy of possibly upsetting Appalachian State. The only difference for me this time will be that I expected better than this. Last year the excuse rang as “Texas State was a young team that ALMOST took down the big kids on the block.” Questions are supposed to be answered more than asked after three years of steady development with this third year really marking a turning point. The only turning point most Bobcat fans will take away from this (based off what I’m reading on Twitter) is that the program still hasn’t come close to making the right decisions in situations that will make or break a football program’s season.
I seriously hope for sake of morale surrounding Bobcat football that this game serves more as a lesson for building “brick by brick” than an omen of what keeps this program closer to the bottom of most NCAA totem poles.
Featured photo by Justin Manor.