Georgia Southern's resilient season continues

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NORFOLK, Va. — A game that could have gotten away Saturday didn’t, and a season that was already satisfactory is blooming toward spectacular.

Old Dominion's Caleb Taylor (right) takes a leap while trying to get a hand on Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon during the Eagles' 49-35 win in the FCS playoffs.  PRESTON GANNAWAY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
PRESTON GANNAWAY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Old Dominion's Caleb Taylor (right) takes a leap while trying to get a hand on Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon during the Eagles' 49-35 win in the FCS playoffs.

That’s what one amazing fourth-quarter turnaround did for the Georgia Southern Eagles during a 49-35 victory over Old Dominion in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.

The win earned the Eagles (10-3) a rematch with top-seeded North Dakota State on Friday at 8 p.m.

The game will be televised on ESPN2.

“There’s a mentality here, a culture, you can’t explain it, and these kids have bought in,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said.

This should have been a rebuilding year for the Eagles, who replaced their quarterback, three starters on the offensive line, the entire kicking unit, two defensive linemen, the middle linebacker (the team’s leading tackler in 2011) and rearranged the defensive secondary after losing a cornerback to the NFL.

But GSU earned a share of the Southern Conference title during the regular season and advanced to its third consecutive semifinal playoff appearance.

The Eagles accomplished their most recent goal by finding a way to stop the nation’s top offensive team and using their own triple-option attack to catch up and pull away.

Southern’s triple option piled up 602 rushing yards, each phase posting big numbers. The fullbacks – Dominique Swope and William Banks – combined for 222 yards and two touchdowns. The slotbacks – Darreion Robinson, Johnathan Bryant, Tray Butler and Devin Scott – added 209 and quarterback Jerick McKinnon had 171.

McKinnon had 98 yards and three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes as the Eagles roared from 14 down to a 14-point win.

ODU coach Bobby Wilder praised Georgia Southern’s effort.

“I think it is because of the quarterback,” said Wilder, whose team lost to GSU 55-48 last season. “McKinnon is really difficult (to defend) in space. I felt like we had a good answer for him (defensively). But then we had to tackle him.”

McKinnon, who didn’t start the first four games at quarterback this season, replaced Ezayi Youyoute in the Samford game and ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

McKinnon, who had 316 rushing yards in a second-round victory over Central Arkansas, has run for 1,056 yards and 14 touchdowns during his last six games.

He scored on runs of 1, 4, 2 and 1 yards against Old Dominion, but deflected the credit.

“The defense made some great stops and the offense topped it off,” McKinnon said.

The new-look Eagles hope to have a different outcome in Fargo, N.D., than the 2011 squad. Georgia Southern lost to eventual national champion North Dakota State 35-7 last season.

Monken said his squad showed resiliency Saturday against the Monarchs. That resiliency led to a victory against a higher-seeded, higher-ranked team.

It was a special win for the Eagles, certainly one that can be mentioned with some of the school’s great postseason efforts of the past.

“It was a lot of fun to be out there celebrating with them,” Monken said.


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