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Ivory out, Blanchard is ready at Jacksonville State
Only one game down, but much has changed for Jacksonville State’s football team.
Senior starting quarterback Marques Ivory departed the Gamecocks’ dramatic, 24-23 victory over Ohio Valley Conference rival Tennessee-Martin on Thursday with a fractured right fibula. There’s a chance he could be healthy enough to return before season’s end, but JSU coach Jack Crowe sounds ready to shut him down.
“I’ll be surprised if we are not looking at a medical hardship for him,” he told The Star after Thursday’s game.
Assuming Ivory returns for another crack at his senior season, he might again be JSU’s starting quarterback.
Assuming ever-popular Cherokee County product Coty Blanchard continues to play like he did in relief Thursday, he’ll be hard to beat out.
Blanchard, Ivory’s change-of-pace backup all 2010 and headed into this season, once again showed a flare for dramatics and instinctive playmaking in leading JSU back from a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter Thursday.
He led Washaun Ealey perfectly on a 43-yard touchdown pass with 13:06 left in the fourth quarter then led a 9-play, 50-yard drive culminating in Calvin Middleton’s clinching, 4-yard run with 38 seconds to play.
Yes, Comeback Coty struck again.
Gamecock fans won’t soon forget the role Blanchard played in JSU’s improbable comeback and victory at Ole Miss a year ago. The poise and flare he showed that day in Oxford, Miss., was evident again Thursday, just up the road from Oxford, Alabama.
He nearly got JSU’s comeback started on his first pass, a deep ball that literally hit James Shaw in stride at the goal line. It also bounced off of Shaw, who didn’t catch it.
Blanchard also appeared on his way to engineering the go-ahead drive earlier in the fourth quarter, but he went the wrong way on an option play then suffered an 11-yard sack on second down.
So, not everything went perfectly for the true sophomore. He dealt with disappointment and made mistakes.
What’s more, JSU’s coaching staff had to improvise with Blanchard in the game.
“In the fourth quarter, we were calling plays that weren’t in the game plan,” Crowe said.
Then consider how crucial the game was, the pressure situation Blanchard faced.
He came on with JSU trailing in a game that mattered more for this Gamecock season than the Ole Miss game mattered in 2010. He came on with OVC favorite JSU trailing an OVC opponent in the season-opener at home.
Had ninth-ranked JSU lost Thursday, then a very promising season would have taken a serious hit in front of 17,919 home fans.
Blanchard also came on with JSU floundering on both sides of the ball. In many ways, he had to overcome JSU’s defense as much as Tennessee-Martin’s.
The Gamecocks had busts and gave up several big plays en route to yielding 475 yards.
That was the task laid out for Blanchard, and Comeback Coty found a way.
He did with improvisation, avoiding a rush and scrambling to his right before launching his touchdown pass to Ealey. The scramble bought time for Ealey to break down field on a wheel route.
“Washaun was the third choice on that play,” Crowe said.
Blanchard also did it running the ball. He had runs of 20 and eight yards on the Gamecocks’ go-ahead drive.
He was also smart enough to hand the ball to his talented running backs, feeding Ealey and Middleton six times on JSU’s two fourth-quarter scoring drives. That included a key, fourth-down conversion give to Middleton on the go-ahead drive.
So, Blanchard gave JSU a clutch performance when the touted Gamecocks faced a potential conference loss in the home opener. The down-the-road implications for the rest of this season with him at quarterback would seem bright.
First of all, he won’t have to do it all himself. Crowe said Thursday that former Alabama quarterback Thomas Darrah, who transferred before the 2010 season, will play Blanchard’s old role, coming in for the third series and providing a change of pace.
But Blanchard will be the leading man, a job he seems more than ready to assume.
“He has a gear. He sure enough has a gear,” Crowe said. “Have the system and he merged together totally? Hardly, but very few teams can lose their starting quarterback and go to a guy like Coty Blanchard.”
by Joe Medley, Anniston Star