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Jacksonville State University is Bowled Out After Win

Jax State senior football players hoist the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl trophy after beating Louisiana 34-31 in overtime Saturday in the Caesers Superdome. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jax State senior football players hoist the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl trophy after beating Louisiana 34-31 in overtime Saturday in the Caesers Superdome. (Photo by Joe Medley)

New Orleans, NO – Jax State overcomes giving up three defensive touchdowns to add first FBS bowl victory to first FBS bowl berth in historic first FBS season.

By: Joe Medley

Just when it seemed Zion Webb’s seven-year college football career might take one last cruel turn, he left Jacksonville State with an unforgettable moment.

Just when Jacksonville High graduate Ron Wiggins got his chance in Football Bowl Subdivision bowl, he ran his way to a most-valuable-player performance.

Just when a replacement kicker had to come through, he did.

Webb led a game-tying drive to force overtime, and Garrison Rippa hit a 27-yard field goal in overtime to clinch the Gamecocks’ 34-31 victory over Louisiana in the R+L Carriers New Orleans bowl on Saturday in the Ceaser’s Superdome.

Wiggins rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown, and the Gamecocks scored their first FBS bowl victory, in their first FBS bowl berth to culminate their first FBS season.

“I’ve done this a long time, and we won one of the most improbable that I’ve ever been part of,” Jax State second-year coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The Gamecocks (9-4) ran 109 offensive plays, second most in Conference USA history, and overcame giving up three defensive touchdowns.

Louisiana (6-7) scored when Jalen Clark returned a Perry Carter fumble 46 yards for the game’s first points.

The Ragin Cajuns’ scored on their second interception of a Webb pass, with Clark returning the gift 16 yards to put them up 14-7 at 4:22 of the second quarter.

A shin injury late in the first half sent Webb to the locker room, and Tyree Skipper returned replacement Logan Smothers’ pass 43 yards to put Louisiana up 31-24 with 5:32 left in regulation.

In Football 101, just one of those defensive touchdowns often makes the difference, especially in a game where the team that scored it had no turnovers. Jax State had four turnovers, resulting in 21 Louisiana points.

Did we mention that this is Jax State’s dream season, where a team in its first FBS season makes an FBS bowl?

Did we mention that whoever writes dream scripts saved the best for last, in Jax State’s dream season?

Jax Stat’s 109 plays for 526 total yards explains it all for the cynics. The Gamecocks moved the ball relentlessly, even when they kept giving it away.

Like a gelatinous creature, they kept regenerating.

“Our guys kept battling,” Rodriguez said. “This is what they’ve done all year. We’ve had a lot of close games and won most of them, lost a couple of them, but they never panic. … They kept playing all the way to the end.

“Even a guy like Zion. He’ll make a play here or there, and once something goes wrong, he doesn’t go in the tank.”

Most regenerated was the seventh-year senior quarterback who got knocked out of a postseason game for the second time in his career and replaced by a Power 5 transfer for what seems like the 10th.

After Smothers, a Nebraska transfer, threw his pick-6, Webb emerged to lead Jax State’s game-trying drive. Jax State went three-and-out on his first drive back in action, but he completed three of four passes for 45 yards to move Jax State into scoring position. Once there, he darted Carter on fourth down and three for an 18-yard touchdown pass.

Add Rippa’s fourth extra point of the game in four tries, and Jax State tied it 31-31 with 1:46 left in regulation.

Webb had suffered the pain of an injury that sent him down the hallway for X-rays while the rest of the team went to the locker room for halftime. Thanks to two first-half interceptions, he’d suffered the last Rodriguez tongue lashings in the coach’s two years of counting on him as the best quarterback Jax State could field.

Playing his last game as a Gamecock, quarterback Zion Webb leads the game-tying drive to force overtime against Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)
Playing his last game as a Gamecock, quarterback Zion Webb leads the game-tying drive to force overtime against Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)

“He takes every bit of hard coaching, and he learns from it,” Rodriguez said. “He’s done that for two years, and not everybody can do that, but a great competitor will. A great competitor will absorb everything that’s being told to him and try to get it so he can be better.

“That’s what he is. More than anything else, he’s a competitor. He took the butt chewings. He took the praise, and he still kept fighting and fighting. He did that this whole game, and that’s a big reason why we won the thing.”

Then Webb, who quarterbacked Jax State to its last Ohio Valley Conference championship and the ASUN Conference title Jax State claimed in 2022, left a little something in the Gamecocks’ FBS bowl debut.

“It’s amazing just to leave a mark on the team,” Webb said. “Just for myself, I left a legacy, I believe. This is my stamp on my career.”

Perry Carter catches the game-tying touchdown pass with 1:46 left in regulation as Jax State forced overtime against Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)
Perry Carter catches the game-tying touchdown pass with 1:46 left in regulation as Jax State forced overtime against Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)

Once the game got to overtime, the table set for Wiggins and Rippa.

Jax State’s defense set the table, preventing Louisiana from gaining a yard in three overtime plays. Kenneth Almendares missed a 42-yard field goal wide left, and all Jax State needed was a field goal to win.

Webb turned and handed off to Wiggins six consecutive times to slow-march the Gamecocks to the Louisiana 7-yard line. It seemed only appropriate that the guy who crossed 100 yards in regulation got the chance to finish it.

Wiggins, a redshirt junior who signed with Jax State in 2020, when it remained a Football Championship subdivision program, had done his MVP bit.

“Just coming in here, FCS, I didn’t know that this program would be going as big as it is,” Wiggins said. “I want to just keep going forward with this and keep making history.”

Jax State running back Ron Wiggins signals first down during the Gamecocks’ game-clinching overtime possession against Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)
Jax State running back Ron Wiggins signals first down during the Gamecocks’ game-clinching overtime possession against Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)

Once Webb had produced his game-tying drive and Wiggins had spotted the ball for a field goal, it was up to the guy who became Jax State’s starting kicker after the regular season. Alen Karajic entered the transfer portal the week following the New Mexico State game, and Rippa was next leg up.

No daunting distance, but 27 yards can look long with a game-winning kick on the line. Louisiana coach Michael Desormeaux did his best, calling a timeout to freeze Rippa.

The lefty delivered anyway, clinching history for Jax State.

“There’s a picture of me on ESPN with my head against a wall,” Rippa said. “I was just breathing, just trying to tell myself, ‘You’ve prepared for this, all of the hours outside of practice, all of the hours in practice.’ I’ve been doing a lot.

“My teammates put me in position to win, and I made it happen.”

Garrison Rippa delivers the game-winning field goal as Jax State beat Louisiana 34-31 in overtime in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)
Garrison Rippa delivers the game-winning field goal as Jax State beat Louisiana 34-31 in overtime in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Photo by Brandon Phillips/Jax State)

Game updates

A chronological look at key plays and turns in Jax State’s 34-31 victory over Louisiana in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl:

–Kickoff, 1 p.m.

–Louisiana wins the toss, defers to second half. Jax State to receive opening kickoff.

FIRST QUARTER

–With Jax State on the march, Perry Carter catches a quick Zion Webb pass then fumbles. Louisiana’s Jalen Clark recovers and returns 46 for the TD. Kenneth Almendares’ kick is good at 13:17. Keyon Martin forces the fumble. LOUISIANA 7, JAX STATE 0

–Webb throws deep to Jamarye Joiner, but not deep enough. Underthrown ball picked off my Martin. ULL takes over at its 2. Jax State is moving the ball but turning it over.

— With ULL driving at Jax State’s 24, Quae Drake forces a fumble on a strip sack. ULL’s recovers at the Jax State 42. Forces ULL to punt.

–Jax State completes a drive this time. Webb’s 33-yard pass to Carter is the biggest play, spotting the Gamecocks’ at ULL’s 5-yard line. Cole Fuller makes good with a 1-yard TD run, and Garrison Rippa’s PAT is good at 3:06. Drive: 13 plays, 80 yards, 4:42. JAX STATE 7, ULL 7.

–An hour-long first quarter ends, and Jacksonville High grad Ron Wiggins has 62 total yards. He also got the stadium announcer to stop calling him Higgins. Jax State has second down and eight at ULL’s 37.

SECOND QUARTER

–Jax State gets a second chance at third down after review finds a substitution penalty on ULL, and the Ragin Cajuns get their second defensive TD of the game … Clark’s pick-6 (16 yards) on a short Webb pass over the middle. PAT is good at 4:22. ULL 14, JAX STATE 7

–After an brief brawl in Jax State’s bench area, offsetting conduct calls.

–After a Jax State timeout at 0:34, Logan Smothers comes in at QB and keeps for 9 yards to ULL’s 7. Timeout, Jax State, 0:28.

–Ron Wiggins carries 7 yards for a Jax State TD at 0:23. PAT good. JAX STATE 14, ULL 14.

HALFTIME

–Am hearing that Webb is injured, which is why Smothers came in at the end of the drive. Trying to confirm.

THIRD QUARTER

–Have not been able to confirm Webb injury, but Smothers in at QB to start 3Q.

–Jax State drives to ULL’s 4, and Rippa hits the short field goal to give Jax State its first lead, at 7:55. Drive: 16 plays, 72 yards, 5:37. JAX STATE 17, ULL 14

–ULL answers with its best drive of the game, ending in Chandler Fields’ 1-yard keeper for TD to reclaim the lead at 5:47. PAT good. Drive: 6 plays, 72 yards, 2:00. ULL 20, JAX STATE 17

–On fourth down and 2 from ULL’s 44, Smothers passes to a wide-open Jacob Barrick for 17 yards, to ULL’s 27. Sets up Smothers’ 10-yard TD run to regain the lead for Jax State. PAT good at 2:53. Drive: 8 plays, 75 yards, 2:54. JAX STATE 24, ULL 21

FOURTH QUARTER

–Almendares kicks a 33-yard field goal to the the game at 14;02. Drive: 10 plays, 46 yards, 3:44. JAX STATE 24, ULL 24

–Wiggins passes 100 yards (108), then takes a hard hit after catching a short pass that hung in the air. After staying down to a time, he runs off the field.

–Smothers’ pass over the middle, returned 43 yards for a ULL TD by Tyree Skipper. ULL has scored three defensive TDs today. PAT good at 5:32. ULL 31, JAX STATE 24

–Webb back in at QB, but Jax State unable to convert and punts.

–Jax State forces a 3-out, calls timeout at 3:46.

–Webb hits on three passes to get Jax State into scoring position. On fourth down and three at ULL’s 18, Webb throws to Perry Carter for the TD at 1:46. Rippa hits the PAT to tie the game. Drive:8 plays, 70 yards, 1:51. JAX STATE 31, ULL 31

–ULL returns the kickoff to its 41. On third and 13, Larry Worth blitzes and gets the sack. ULL calls timeout with 20 seconds left.

–Punt downed at the Jax State 3 at 0:13. Webb takes a knee.

OVERTIME

–ULL starts on offense, and Jax State’s defense doesn’t allow a yard. Almendares misses the 42-yard field goal try wide left.

–Garrison Rippa hits the 27-yard field goal to win it. JAX STATE 34, ULL 31

Jax State senior football players hoist the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl trophy after beating Louisiana 34-31 in overtime Saturday in the Caesers Superdome. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jax State senior football players hoist the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl trophy after beating Louisiana 34-31 in overtime Saturday in the Caesers Superdome. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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