MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It was a big night in Cramton Bowl as a pair of teams kicked off their regular seasons. North Carolina A&T (1-0) defeated Jacksonville State (0-1) 20-17 in the 2018 Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Classic.
It was a game that came down to the final 30 seconds capped off with a big mistake from one team and a huge success for another.
After a relatively quiet first half, one in which only 10 combined points were scored, both teams came out on fire in the third quarter.
Jacksonville State trailed 7-3 going into halftime but found its rhythm offensively after the break. After the Gamecocks intercepted an Aggie pass, redshirt sophomore quarterback Zerrick Cooper connected with Daniel Byrd on a 49-yard touchdown pass to grab JSU's first lead of the night.
That touchdown was just the beginning of what would be a wild third quarter.
Moments later on the ensuing kickoff, Aggie returner Malik Wilson returned the kick 98 yards to the house, turning the lead back over to NC A&T.
JSU jumped back out in front on their next possession. It was Cooper once again finding a receiver, Josh Pearson, for six and a 17-14 lead after the extra point.
NC A&T followed on their next possession with a touchdown pass of their own. On a jump ball in the end zone, Elijah Bell pulled down a miraculous catch on a pass thrown by redshirt senior quarterback Lamar Raynard. That touchdown connection put the Aggies back on top 20-17, but a failed PAT kept the score at just that.
Going into the fourth quarter down six, the Gamecocks had several opportunities to tie but just couldn't break through. The Gamecocks had a missed field goal, blocked field goal, and two crucial lost fumbles - including one in the final seconds while in the red zone - sum up their fourth quarter.
That final fumble lost came with 17 seconds on the clock and Jacksonville State already in field goal position. Cooper was stripped while trying to get a pass off. The Gamecocks were in the midst of a long drive when the turnover happened. The drive before, Pearson lost a fumble after he hauled in a pass and raced into Aggie territory.
Saturday's loss for Jacksonville State was the first regular season FCS loss for the Gamecocks in two years.