Fans in attendance at Georgetown College’s bout with Faulkner University on Saturday got to bear firsthand witness to a thrilling redemption story.
After JJ Jude fumbled with just under four minutes to play and the score tied at 21, No. 19 Georgetown’s defense pushed the 19th-ranked Eagles back to their own 41-yard line with a gang tackle in the backfield and a sack from Max Nussbaum for an 18-yard loss.
After a punt, the Tigers took over on their own 36 with 1:49 to play and went right back to Jude. Quarterback Ozzie Mann hit the senior running back with a swing pass and Jude raced 44 yards, weaving through the secondary to put the Tigers in position to ice the game. Two plays later Zach Harris rumbled into the end zone on a reverse for his second touchdown to give the Tigers the lead, and on Faulkner’s first play after the kickoff Nussbaum stepped in front of a pass to the flat and turned it into a pick-six, giving the Tigers a 35-21 win in front of a near-capacity crowd at Toyota Stadium.
“JJ is a competitor,” Georgetown Coach Bill Cronin said. “He got back out on that field and he was determined to make a play and he made it, and it was probably the play of the game.
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“I love to go right back to a guy after they’ve had a screw-up like that because you know a guy like that who has the heart he does is gonna make something positive happen, and he did.”
The ball wasn’t the only thing that popped out when Jude went to the ground fighting for extra yards. Jude’s shoulder was dislocated on the tackle and had to be popped into place on the sideline before the Tigers’ game-winning drive.
“I came to the sideline and they popped it back in real quick,” he said. “I had to do something to make up for the fumble. I’m a senior and I can’t be doing that.”
Jude said the win was especially satisfying after last year’s 44-0 loss to Faulkner.
“We went down there last year and it was ugly,” he said. “No one had a fun bus ride home last year … we wanted to avenge what happened.”
Jude finished with 110 total yards and a six-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a 21-14 lead, after a frustrating third quarter that saw the offense struggle to a pair of three-and-outs for -7 yards to begin the half.
As it did for most of the game, Georgetown’s defense came up big in the third quarter when Faulkner threatened. With the score tied 14-all and the Eagles’ offense inside the 10-yard line, Tigers safety CJ Williams intercepted Clayton Nicholas’ fade pass into the end zone. It was Georgetown’s second end-zone interception of the day. With the clock winding down in the first half and Faulkner driving for a potential game-tying touchdown, cornerback Starr Thompson leapt into the air and ripped a pass out of the hands of Eagles receiver Keithon Redding for a touchback with 15 seconds on the clock.
Thompson grabbed the Tigers’ fourth interception of the game on a desperation heave after Nussbaum’s pick-six with just over a minute to play and the Tigers knelt on the ball to run out the clock.
“We’re a defense that if we do bend, we won’t break,” said Thompson. “We knew that the offense was gonna get through whatever funk they we’re going through and we knew the fight was coming to us.”
The win moves the Tigers, the preseason coaches’ pick to win the Mid-South Conference East Division, to 3-1 on the year. In 2015 the Tigers started off 0-4 and went on to miss the NAIA playoffs after qualifying for the postseason five-straight years.
Cronin said that this team has shown him plenty of signs that the Tigers are ready to return to the playoffs in 2016.
“I think we’ve got a special group here, I really do,” he said. “We’ve got better unity right now and our leadership is better … when you have that combination going on you can overcome a lot of obstacles.”
Josh Sullivan; 859-231-3225
Georgetown at Kentucky Christian