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Davidson vs. Goliath . . . Again

by | Apr 27, 2021

The Wildcats, locked arm-in-arm, entering the field at Jacksonville State University.


We’ve been there before. Davidson College – one of the smallest schools playing Division 1 athletics – playing a bigger school, on a big stage.

As I noted in an article last week, I was lucky enough to attend the Davidson vs. UCLA basketball game when I young Stephen Curry seemed to look around the huge venue and be saying to himself. . .”I can compete here.” I was at the Stan Sheriff Center in Hawaii in 2000 when the Women’s Volleyball team took on the University of Hawaii in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In 2005 I carpooled with several other Davidson alumni from the Pentagon to the University of Maryland when the men’s basketball team played the Terrapins in the NIT. And in 2013 I was at Old Dominion University when the women’s basketball team defeated the highly favored Monarchs in the first round of the NIT.

And while I wasn’t here in Davidson for one of the biggest moments on the biggest stage, the story of the 1992 NCAA Soccer Final Four is one of local legend. And we published an article about that in 2019, when a Davidson student needed help researching even more details.

The last time the Wildcat Football team played in a post-season game was in 1969. The ‘Cats played the Toledo Rockets in the Tangerine Bowl. I was 4 years old and living in Munich, Germany. Turns out, head coach Scott Abell was born in 1969.

So, despite the threat of downpours and thunderstorms, last Saturday I made the drive to and from Jacksonville, Alabama. And sure enough, I drove through rain that was strong enough to slow traffic on I-85 to a crawl. But the rain stopped as I neared Jacksonville. I had been told by the sports information department at Jacksonville State that the game would go on in the event of rain, but that per NCAA rules – lightning would cause a delay. While there was a misting during the second half, most of the game featured a blue sky and clouds. I digress, you are likely not reading this for my weather commentary.

The clouds hung ominously overhead during the pre-game tailgate.

COVID protocols at Davidson College have precluded News of Davidson coverage of sporting events, so when the opportunity to cover this momentous event became available – I jumped. (And having had my second COVID-19 vaccine was also a contributing factor in the decision-making process.)

I got to JSU in time to take a few pictures at a tailgate party thrown by the Davidson Football Parents Association. Folks were ready for football – in any weather. Most importantly, there were a LOT of smiles – in recognition of the accomplishment of this team of Wildcat scholar-athletes.

I left their event in order to get to the stadium in time to get photos of the ‘Cats as they came out to practice. Players, coaches, and staff seemed to be taking it all in . . .”in stride.” Position players worked out with their coaches, and they got comfortable in the stadium. I tried to notice the little things. I focused on the fact that their players had their names on the back of their jerseys and ours didn’t. More importantly, there were so many places that Coach Abell’s “WE” was visible – on shirts, on face coverings, on helmets.

Meanwhile, Davidson fans were filing into the seats on the opposite site of the field. I had figured I should take pictures from the side of the field where I could get the Davidson sideline and fans in the stands in my photos.

While the Wildcats were still in the away team locker room, JSU did their best to hold a pre-game ceremony using their big video screen that stretched above the endzone – from one side of the field to the other. The ceremony included a performance by the JSU marching band. I admit that I was a bit surprised. It looked like their marching band covered the entire field.

Many folks might mistake this for a post-touchdown celebration.

Turns out their website says that there are more than 500 members in their marching band. Wow!   

With the pre-game complete the teams returned to the field. The photo of the Wildcats at the ends of the field, arm-in-arm, looking up at that jumbo video screen makes me smile just looking at it. Their faces, those smiles reflect the pride of accomplishment of the “team.”

Senior quarterback Tyler Phelps walked to midfield for the coin toss. His JSU counterpart, also #10, shook hands and started walking back to their respective sidelines.

But then, something special happened. As Tyler Phelps headed toward the line of his co-captains, he and Jalen Jefferson jumped up for a full-body “bump” as though they had just made a winning touchdown. That’s when it confirmed my assessment – just being there was winning.

And now is where I hope to not disappoint you if you have read this far. There will not be a play-by-play description of the game. Instead, I invite you to look at the more than 500 photos I posted on our News of website. When photographing a game or event, I tend to get myopically “focused.” I have actually learned more about the game talking to folks who watched it on ESPN-3.

At the end of four quarters, the Wildcats hadn’t put as many points on the scoreboard as Jacksonville State – but I’m hard pressed not to call them winners. Congratulations to the Wildcats for making it to the “big stage” in this pandemic season – spring season football of 2021.

But, just in case there are some of you who want to look at the numbers. Here are a few to compare:

By the numbers

                                               Davidson                                             Jacksonville State University

Enrollment                             1,983 (100% undergraduate)                9,238 (84% undergraduate)

International students            138 from 43 countries                           124 from 44 countries

Student/Faculty                      9:1                                                       18:1

Alumni                                    25,000                                                 70,000

Graduation rate                      90.6%                                                  34%

Stadium capacity                    6,000                                                   24,000

Football scholarships              No                                                       Yes

Marching band                        No                                                        556 members


Oh, and as an aside – when I was entering the stadium one of the very nice members of the event staff said, “we were wondering where Davidson is?” I responded with – “North Carolina, just north of Charlotte.” Full confession – my inside voice was saying “Yeh – I know what you mean, most folks thought JSU was in Jacksonville. . .Florida.”

Congrats to the JSU Gamecocks, and good luck as they host #5 Delaware this Saturday for the FCS quarterfinals.

The FCS Championship Game will be held on May 16 in Frisco, Texas.

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