The Eagles might have been hoping to make a statement in their final year in the Southern Conference, but the Wofford Terriers had more resounding words Saturday night.
Southern was dominated along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and lost to the Terriers 30-20 at Gibbs Stadium.
Georgia Southern dropped to 2-1 and watched its goal of going undefeated in the league trashed in its first conference game.
“You have no choice but to cross that one out,” Eagles senior slotback Johnathan Bryant said. “It’s a bit heartbreaking, but we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Wofford (2-1, 2-0 Southern Conference) ran for 272 yards and dominated play by running between the tackles. Terriers running back Donovan Johnson tied a school record with 36 carries and 141 yards.
“They did a good job blocking us, and we didn’t do a very job playing block. They whipped us,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. “We gave up a couple of big plays (just before halftime) and they’re up at halftime.”
It was the first time, Georgia Southern lost in Spartanburg since falling to the Terriers 21-17 on Sept. 17, 2005.
Jerick McKinnon, who became only the eighth Eagle to rush for more than 3,000 yards in his career, ran for 114 yards and scored twice on runs of 1 and 2 yards.
Torrance Hunt had the Eagles’ other score on a 4-yard run.
Kevin Ellison, who started at quarterback, had 97 yards on 14 carries.
Jonny Martin scored two touchdowns for Wofford. Ray Smith ran for a score and Jeff Ashley probably had the back breaking touchdown, hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Michael Weimer with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Georgia Southern finished with 342 rushing and outgained the Terriers 416-409, but the Eagles never looked in rhythm.
Wofford’s defense had 10 tackles for losses. Linebacker Alvin Scioneaux had a team-tying 10 tackles, four for losses with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
When asked if he thought playing two quarterbacks kept the offense out of sync, Monken was assertive.
“No, I don’t,” he said.
The Eagles struggled in the first half and fell behind 17-14 after the opening 30 minutes.
Right from the start, Wofford’s offensive line opened gaping holes and drove 65 yards on 15 plays, culminating the march on Martin’s 1-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0.
The Terriers chewed off runs of 14, 16 and 15 yards on consecutive plays on their next possession and had the Eagles so discombobulated that after faking a run, had tight end Michael Harpe wide open, but quarterback James Lawson threw low or Wofford might have doubled its lead.
The Terriers stalled at the Georgia Southern 33, and the Eagles finally got untracked. Ellison got his team out of a second-and-29 hole at the 30 by completing a 15-yard pass to Zach Walker, before scrambling 53 yards to the Wofford 2.
After a Terrier penalty, McKinnon scored from the 1 to tie the game at 7-7.
But time after time, Wofford showed its resilience. On the kickoff, Nick Colvin broke off a 71-yard return, setting up Kasey Redfern’s 40-yard field goal.
Southern responded midway through the second quarter and marched to the Wofford 8. Connor Tierney, a former Aquinas standout, booted the 25-yard field goal, but the Terriers were flagged for roughing the kicker.
Georgia Southern took the points off the board and picked up the touchdown on the first play when slotback Hunt sprinted around end for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Wofford drove again, but the Eagles came out unscathed when safety Deion Stanley intercepted a pass in the end zone.
But Southern couldn’t run out the first-half clock and the Terriers got another opportunity with 40 seconds left from the Wofford 40. Weimer completed a 20-yard pass to Ashley and on the next play found Ashley again for the remaining 40 yards and a 17-14 lead.
“We had opportunities to make it a game, but we made mistakes,” McKinnon said. “There are a lot of things we have to clean up. We have to refocus and sharpen things up.”