STATESBORO, Ga. — Georgia Southern put on an offensive show Saturday afternoon at Paulson Stadium.
And the third-seeded Eagles couldn’t have gotten away with a lesser effort in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Georgia Southern scored on eight of its 10 full possessions to hold off almost as efficient Old Dominion 55-48 at Paulson Stadium.
The Eagles (10-2) advanced to the FCS quarterfinals against Maine, a 34-12 victor over Appalachian State, in Paulson Stadium either next Friday or Saturday.
The NCAA and ESPN will make a decision on the quarterfinal game they want to televise on Friday night at 11 a.m. today.
If the cable network likes offense, Georgia Southern wouldn’t be a bad choice. The Eagles’ and Monarchs’ combined 103 points were the most ever in a Georgia Southern playoff game – topping the old mark of 101 set on Nov. 27, 1999, during a 72-29 Eagle first-round win over Northern Arizona.
The FCS record for points in a playoff game was 105 in a 1992 game between Louisiana-Monroe and Alcorn State, won by Monroe 78-27.
“We had to (score just about every time),” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said of Saturday’s back-and-forth thriller. “That’s the way it went today.”
Southern piled up 607 offensive yards, 477 on the ground from its high-powered triple-option rushing attack. The Eagles never punted.
But Old Dominion wasn’t far behind, thanks to true freshman quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who threw five touchdown passes and ran for another.
Georgia Southern had a little more diversity. Freshman fullback Dominique Swope ran for 255 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
Quarterback Jaybo Shaw ran for two touchdowns and threw for another.
Slotback Nico Hickey, who missed most of the playoffs last season with a broken collarbone, ran for a touchdown and fell on a fumble in the endzone for another score.
Slotback Darreion Robinson ran for a touchdown and wideout Kentrellis Showers caught a touchdown pass.
Despite all that, the Monarchs were still fighting, trying for an onside kick in the final minute. Blair Roberts came down with the high-bouncing kick, but officials rule the ball had not traveled 10 yards.
“I was certain (Roberts) caught the ball at the 40,” Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said. “It was disappointing it came down to that.”
For the Eagles, it was a day when just enough bounces went their way.
Hickey fell on Swope’s fumble in the end zone for Georgia Southern’s final touchdown to make it 55-41 with just two minutes and three seconds left.
Georgia Southern took a 7-0 lead but Old Dominion tied it. The Eagles went ahead 14-7 and the Monarchs tied. It went back and forth like this for three quarters before Georgia Southern scored on Hickey’s 13-yard touchdown run to make it 41-35 late in the third quarter.
But dependable senior Adrian Mora had his point-after kick blocked by Erik Saylor, snapping Mora’s FCS record-setting extra-point streak at 151.
Southern’s defense, however, finally got a stop. On a fourth-and-one from the Georgia Southern 40, Jerick McKinnon, inserted into the lineup this week as a defensive back, knocked down Heinicke’s pass intended for Antonio Vaughn.
“We felt like we needed to score every time and we didn’t do that,” said Heinicke, who completed 25 of 44 passes for 341 yards.
Southern marched to the Old Dominion 2 before losing a fumble on an errant Shaw pitch, but the change of field position gave the Monarchs another long march. They got into Eagles territory but a fumble by wide receiver Nick Mayers was picked up by Georgia Southern safety Lavelle Westbrooks who returned it to the Old Dominion 32. Four plays later, Shaw sneaked in from the 1 and Swope’s two-point conversion gave Georgia Southern a 49-35 lead.
“It was a helpless feeling not getting stops,” Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder said. “What hurt us in the football game was we didn’t tackle well.”
Georgia Southern advanced to the Final Four of the FCS playoffs last season and the experience and the home-field advantage (now 31-3 at home in the postseason) played a part in the win over Old Dominion, a third-year program playing only its second game in the postseason.
The Eagles option offense was so efficient it only had nine third-down plays in 10 possessions.
Swope’s 76-yard run on the first play of the second half gave Southern a 35-28 lead.
Before the half, Georgia Southern overcame a chop block penalty and a procedure penalty by scoring in two plays after facing first-and-goal at the 29.
“We executed pretty fairly,” Swope said.
The Monarchs had four defensive players out and it showed. Georgia Southern’s 55 points were the most allowed ever by the young program. Ironically, the previous most were 50 points against another option team Cal Poly last season.
“Our coaches gave us a great scheme,” Shaw said. “We came out with a win and that’s the most important thing.”