11.16 eku football

The Colonels (7-4, 4-3 AQ7) did what they needed to do to keep themselves in consideration for an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoff.

They won their regular-season finale.

It certainly wasn't easy though.

"Hopefully, we are not ready to go into the offseason, yet," EKU coach Walt Wells said. "But, if we are, then we will go in with a smile on our face. We can look back fondly."

The Colonels were all smiles after claiming a thrilling victory over a long-time rival on Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium.

Braedon Sloan caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Parker McKinney with two seconds left in regulation to tie the game, setting the stage for a 39-31 double overtime win over Jacksonville State (5-6). Jaden Smith caught a TD pass in the second OT and the defense came up with one final stop to help EKU snap a two-game losing streak and keep the program's playoff hopes alive.

The FCS Playoff bracket will be announced at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Colonels have not been to the postseason since 2014.

"What a great win," Wells said. "What a great win for university, for our players, for our coaches. The resilience was unbelievable."

The Colonels rallied to force overtime, even after a scary moment.

Senior wide receiver Matt Wilcox Jr., had to be taken off the field on a stretcher in the fourth quarter. 

"You have to be mentally tough," Wells said of Wilcox's injury. "Things are going to happen. You have to put them away and play the game."

The game was tied at 17-17 when Uriah West scored on a 10-yard run with 46 seconds left in regulation.

That left the Colonels in a desperate situation.

They rose to the occasion, though.

McKinney hit Jaden Smith on a 25-yard pass to get EKU to mid-field. Jayden Higgins caught an 18-yard pass, then McKinney found tight end Dakota Allen on an 18-yard pass with seven seconds left.

The quarterback connected with Sloan over the middle and the receiver battled his way into the end zone.

"It ignites a fire in your heart," EKU senior linebacker Kyle Bailey said of the game-tying touchdown. "I will never quit on these guys, because they would never quit on us."

The Gamecocks didn't quit, either.

They got the ball first in the first overtime and took just two plays to find the end zone on a 25-yard catch by Josh Samuel.

The Colonels faced fourth-and-goal from the 9-yard line on their first possession of OT, but McKinney hit Allen over the middle for a touchdown.

"What can you say about Parker McKinney? What a great quarterback," Wells said. "I don't know if there's a better quarterback at this level. I'm really happy he is a Colonel. We are lucky to have him."

The Colonels got the ball first in the second overtime and McKinney looped a pass to Smith in the right corner of the end zone, then connected with Allen on the two-point conversion.

JSU had fourth-and-two on the 6-yard line moments later and Zerrick Cooper's pass fell short of an intended target.

After the stunning victory, the Colonels had a special visitor - via technology - in the locker room.

"(Matt) was on facetime with us," Wells said as he tried to hold back his emotions. "We gave him the gameball. What a great young man. It was a scary situation. It's hard to sit there and see that and know that is someone's son."

EKU out-gained the Gamecocks 432-422 and forced two turnovers - an interception by Matthew Jackson and a fumble recovery by Bailey.

The Colonels had a 14-3 lead in the second quarter after touchdowns by McKinney (3 yards rushing) and Allen (31-yard reception). EKU led 14-10 at halftime then pushed ahead by seven points on a 51-yard field goal by Patrick Nations.

McKinney was 29-of-50 for 290 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had a team-best 98 yards rushing. Allen finished with a career-best 111 yards on seven receptions.

Higgins had five catches for 63 yards. Smith had six catches for 48 yards and Wilcox had four catches for 35 yards.

Bailey finished with 13 tackles and two sacks.

"It feels great," Bailey said.

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