Georgia Southern’s true freshman kicker is indeed young and cool, and if there was any pressure in his first start, lining up the game-winning field goal with 1:56 left, he certainly didn’t show it.
“I was just trying to do what I do in practice,” said Koo, whose 26-yarder gave the Eagles a thrilling 23-21 victory over Chattanooga on Saturday night in front of 16,827 fans at Paulson Stadium.
It was Koo’s third field goal of the game and upped Georgia Southern’s record to 3-1 overall, 1-1 in Southern Conference play.
It didn’t come easy.
The Eagles had a 10-point first-half lead disappear and an apparent Chattanooga touchdown vanished after an ineligible man downfield penalty before Georgia Southern’s grittiest drive of the season produced a memorable win.
Southern grinded without its best grinder — All-America fullback Dominique Swope, who underwent shoulder surgery on Friday and will be out for the season.
Quarterback Jerick McKinnon took over and, during a 14-play, 71-yard fourth-quarter drive that ate up nearly seven minutes, carried 10 times for 69 yards.
“We knew we had to make the drive count,” McKinnon said.
The effort carried the Eagles to the Mocs’ 9 before Koo made the 26-yarder.
Koo took over the kicking duties when former Aquinas standout Connor Tierney was suspended this week. Koo made a 40-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and had a 32-yarder in the second quarter.
“I’m glad we had him. He stepped in there and drilled them through,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said.
It’s a welcome sight. Last season, Georgia Southern lost three games by a field goal or less, including the FCS semifinals against North Dakota State.
Koo’s kick silenced some of the naysayers. The Eagles were coming off a 30-20 loss to Wofford two weeks ago before going through a bye week.
Georgia Southern linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck heard about it from the student body.
“They were saying, ‘What happened, what happened?’ ” Oehlbeck said. “We had beaten Wofford the last three years so (the students had) a little doubt about our motivation. We never lost it.”
“They came under a lot of criticism, but they came to work (during the bye week) and that’s tough,” Monken said.
McKinnon finished with 172 rushing yards and a touchdown. He raised his career rushing yardage total to 3,264 and moved past Tracy Ham for seventh place on the school’s all-time career rushing record.
McKinnon scored on a 1-yard run on the Eagles’ first possession. Montay Crockett scored his first career touchdown on a 10-yard run on a reverse during Georgia Southern’s second possession.
The Eagles used the ground attack for 62 of their 64 plays and finished with 376 rushing yards.
It was the third straight win for the Eagles over Chattanooga and each was a nail-biter.
Two years ago, Southern stopped a Mocs two-point conversion try in the final minutes to win 28-27. Last season, Georgia Southern rallied in the fourth quarter and pulled out a 39-31 triple overtime win.
It was more heartbreak for the Mocs, who fell to 2-2, 0-1 in conference play.
Quarterback Jacob Huesman ran for 148 yards and a touchdown and threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Keon Williams.
Chattanooga kept the Eagles out of the end zone for the final 49:25.
“I give credit to Chattanooga,” Monken said. “They’re as good as they’ve ever been.”