STATESBORO, Ga. — Tired? Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon never thought about it Saturday afternoon.
But he carried the ball 34 times and the fifth-seeded Eagles into the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The 5-foot-9 junior ran for 316 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another score as Georgia Southern defeated Central Arkansas 24-16 at Paulson Stadium.
It was the most rushing yards ever by a Georgia Southern quarterback, breaking Jayson Foster’s record of 279 yards against Wofford on Nov. 3, 2007.
McKinnon came within 17 yards of Adrian Peterson’s school-record 333 rushing yards against Massachusetts on Dec. 4, 1999.
“Those stats might be under my name but the other 10 guys out there did a great job,” said McKinnon, who smiled about the notion of being tired.
A crowd of only 8,888 – the smallest in coach Jeff Monken’s era – watched the Eagles (9-3) advance on the 72-degree day to play either Friday night or Saturday on the road in Norfolk, Va., against Old Dominion, a 63-35 winner over Coastal Carolina.
It will be a rematch of last year’s wild, second-round offensive battle won by Georgia Southern, 55-48.
McKinnon and the Eagles scored on four consecutive possessions Saturday in a 22-minute span of the first and second quarters to provide all Georgia Southern’s points.
But Central Arkansas (9-3) tightened up its defense and fought back. The Bears had their chances but Dominique Croom dropped a potential touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter.
Tight end Thomas Hart dropped a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“At the end of the day you’re only going to have so many opportunities and you have to rise and take advantage,” Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque said.
Georgia Southern took advantage of its early chances. McKinnon broke a 57-yard touchdown run on the Eagles’ seventh play of the game.
He added a 32-yard touchdown pass to Darreion Robinson on the next possession and had a 6-yard touchdown run three plays into the second quarter.
Between Georgia Southern scores, Bears sophomore kicker Eddie Camara booted field goals of 34 and 42 yards.
Touchdowns for field goals were a fair trade for the Eagles.
The Eagles didn’t allow a touchdown until 8:54 of the third quarter when Jackie Hinton bolted 19 yards for a score to complete a seven-play, 59-yard drive to make it 24-16.
The Bears’ last chance to tie was thwarted when cornerback Nic Wright forced wide receiver Dezmin Lewis to fumble at the Central Arkansas 36. At first, officials ruled the ground caused the fumble, but after review of the play it was called a fumble.
“When one side (of the team) needed a stop, we got it. When we needed a first down to keep going, we got it,” Monken said. “It was just a tremendous effort by our team.
“I thought our kids did a great job of fighting. … We’re not more talented or bigger or more athletic or draw up all these better schemes than other people. I think we win because we have guys who care about each other and are willing to lay it on the line.”
Central Arkansas had its six-game winning streak snapped.