NORFOLK, Va. — Discouragement seemed to hover around the fifth-seeded Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Eagles failed to get a point out of three red-zone opportunities during a 13-minute span, and at times looked defenseless against the subdivision’s top passing offense.
But the resilient Eagles posted a memorable playoff comeback, rallying twice from a two-touchdown deficit to defeat fourth-seeded
Old Dominion 49-35 before 20,068 fans in Ballard Stadium.
Georgia Southern (10-3) will travel to Fargo, N.D., for a semifinal rematch with North Dakota State on Saturday.
The Bison defeated Wofford 14-7 on Saturday to advance.
“Certainly, we could have fallen flat, but our guys didn’t,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. “We never stopped believing.”
Faith was certainly tested by Old Dominion’s record-setting sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a score.
Heinicke finished his season with 5,076 passing yards, breaking the FCS’s single-
season passing yardage of mark 4,863 set by Alcorn State’s Steve McNair in 1994.
Georgia Southern ran for 602 yards – 186 and two scores by fullback Dominique Swope, and 171 and four touchdowns by quarterback Jerick McKinnon.
McKinnon, who set a Georgia Southern quarterback record by running for 316 yards last week in a 24-16 win over Central Arkansas, had 98 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Monarchs.
The Eagles scored the game’s final four touchdowns – three coming in the last 5:32 – to advance to the FCS semifinals for the third consecutive year.
Georgia Southern’s huge offensive surge was aided by a suddenly stingy defense that forced a key fumble on an Old Dominion red-zone possession and stopped the Monarchs on a fourth-and-6 gamble at their 39.
“At that point our best option was to be aggressive,” Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder said about the incomplete pass that came with 3:38 to go and the game tied at 35.
McKinnon scored his final touchdown, from one yard out, with 46 seconds to go to seal the win.
Monken wouldn’t say it was his best win as a head coach.
“It was the best one today,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of great wins here.”