STATESBORO, Ga. — At first it was hard to determine which was creating the bigger buzz: Brent Russell’s suspension or Georgia Southern’s game with The Citadel.
In the end, the game won out. The No. 5 Eagles (8-1, 6-1) held on to beat the Bulldogs, 14-12, to put themselves in a position to play for the conference championship next Saturday at Wofford.
With 18 seconds remaining, The Citadel’s Ryan Sellers lined up to attempt a 37-yard field goal into a strong wind.
He missed wide right, allowing Georgia Southern to escape with a not-so-pretty win that made it eligible for the FCS playoffs.
The Eagles have a chance at their first SoCon championship since 2004 thanks to arch-rival Furman, which knocked off Appalachian State, 20-10, while Wofford steamrolled Western Carolina, 42-24.
Georgia Southern and the Terriers both have just one conference loss.
The Eagles end league play with Wofford (7-2, 5-1) and finish the regular season with Alabama. The Terriers end their regular season at Chattanooga.
Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken announced to the team Thursday that Russell, a defensive tackle who leads the team with 10½ tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead with five sacks, would not be playing because of a violation of team rules.
“It was a one-game suspension,” Monken said of the benching. “If he does what he’s supposed to do this week, he will be back in the lineup next Saturday.”
The Eagles blocked two extra-point attempts that proved to be the difference in the game.
Georgia Southern and The Citadel combined for two touchdowns on the first three plays of the game, but spent the rest of the day battling penalties and turnovers.
The Eagles had five fumbles, losing two, including one by QB Jaybo Shaw at the Bulldog 1 with 7:41 to play in the third quarter.
“We did not play at a championship level today,” Monken said. “We feel fortunate that we will be able to play for a conference championship, which was one of our goals.
“We’re going to have to play smarter, and take better care of the football. I congratulated them (team) on the win, We didn’t play well, but it says something about the kids, too, that they were able to overcome and win the game.”
Robert Brown had 90 yards rushing to lead Georgia Southern, which was held to 191 yards rushing. Shaw completed 4 of 7 passes for 129 yards.