STATESBORO, Ga. — Georgia Southern wore special camouflage uniforms as part of Military Appreciation Day on Saturday night at Paulson Stadium, and the Eagles came prepared to battle.
In a rare defensive slugfest at Paulson, seventh-ranked Georgia Southern outlasted fourth-ranked Wofford 17-9 and reclaimed the top spot in the Southern Conference.
The Eagles (5-1, 4-1) won their fourth game in a row and snapped a three-game losing streak to the Terriers in Paulson Stadium. Wofford fell to 5-1.
Georgia Southern holds a half-game lead over the Terriers and Appalachian State in the conference standings. Both are 3-1 in league play.
Eagles coach Jeff Monken wouldn’t compare the football victory with a military accomplishment, but he saw some similarities in teamwork and unselfishness expected with each faction.
“(The military services) are in it for something bigger than themselves, and I hope that’s what our kids are in it for,” he said.
They are, providing a night when offense, defense and special teams could go home proud.
Georgia Southern sophomore Dominique Swope won the war of highly regarded fullbacks against the Terriers’ Eric Breitenstein.
Swope finished with 137 yards on 25 carries and scored on runs of 4 and 3 yards.
Breitenstein, voted the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year by league coaches, managed 102 yards on 13 carries, 65 yards coming on one first-quarter run.
The Eagles’ defense was rock solid, holding Wofford’s triple-option to 221 rushing yards. The Terriers entered the game averaging an FCS-leading 448.8 rushing yards. They were second in the nation, averaging 46.8 points a game.
“We felt going in it was going to be a tough football game,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “To get it done, everyone had to execute. We’re not much different in that regards to Georgia Southern.”
But right from the start, the Terriers couldn’t take advantage of a few big breaks. A fumble by Swope was recovered at the Georgia Southern 28 by E.J. Speller.
“We’ve just been trying to get our cheats in the ground and get after people,” Eagles defensive lineman Brent Russell said.
Georgia Southern’s defense held, setting up a field-goal try by Christian Reed. The Eagles were offsides on the attempt, giving Wofford a first down.
Ayers took points off the board, and the Terriers moved to the 2-yard line after a pass interference call. After three plays, Wofford settled on Reed’s 19-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
“(The defense) went out there and said, ‘I don’t care if they have the ball on the (28)-yard line. We’re going to stop them,” Monken said.
Breitenstein’s 65-yard run set up another Reed field goal and a 6-0 Terrier advantage.
But the special teams made plays to get the Eagles back in the game. Freshman Alex Hanks nailed a 48-yard field goal – his longest in college – to cut Wofford’s lead in half.
Late in the second quarter, Darreion Robinson spun out of several tackles for an electrifying 37-yard return to the Terriers’ 29.
Five plays later, Swope scored from the 4 – his seventh consecutive game with at least one touchdown – to give Georgia Southern a 10-6 lead.
Swope added another touchdown on a 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter as the Eagles began to pull away.
“It was fun to watch the guys tonight,” said Monken, who even had a laugh about a dubious record set by the Eagles.
Georgia Southern did not attempt a pass – a first for an FCS team. The previous record was one attempted pass in a game, done six times, the last time by Wofford on Oct. 17, 1998 against Western Carolina.
It was the eighth time, the Eagles won without getting any passing yardage.
“I feel like we haven’t yet played the best game we’re capable of playing,” Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon said.