STATESBORO, Ga. — Georgia Southern is halfway to where it wants to be.
To get past the third obstacle, the Eagles will have to
go halfway across the country.
Georgia Southern’s offense again ran all over a Colonial Athletic Association opponent and played improved defense to defeat Maine 35-23 on Saturday. Now, the Eagles will head to Fargo, N.D., for a Football Championship Subdivision semifinal contest with North Dakota State.
The game will be held Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and be televised on ESPNU.
Sam Houston State will be the host for the other semifinal game against Montana on Friday night at 8. The winners will play for the title in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 7.
Georgia Southern is the only team still in the field that advanced to the semifinals last season.
“We did that because we had a passionate team that was fighting for respect,” Eagles coach Jeff Monken said Sunday. “But we had nothing to show for last year, so coming into this season there were still things to accomplish. Now we have an opportunity in this tournament to compete against the best teams in this country.”
Monken said his team has gotten better as the season goes on, but that it still has room for improvement.
The Southern Conference champions had one of their most-penalized games of the season Saturday, committing 12 infractions for 93 yards. The Eagles had season-highs with 13 penalties for 120 yards against Western Carolina.
“Penalties give the appearance that you’re undisciplined, and we pride ourselves in being disciplined,” Monken said. “We overcame the penalties (Saturday), but those are the types of things that can beat you.”
He said there were positive aspects of the Eagles’ play Saturday, starting with the defense.
Nose guard Brent Russell was a force in the middle. Defensive back Jerick McKinnon, a converted quarterback/slotback, had two interceptions and two quarterback hurries. Outside linebacker Darius Eubanks, a former Thomson standout, had a solid outing against Maine’s highly touted tight end Justin Perillo.
After allowing 45 and 48 points in consecutive outings against Alabama and Old Dominion, the defense surrendered only 16 points against the Black Bears.
One of Saturday’s touchdowns came on a kickoff return.
Meanwhile, the offense continued to roll. Maine was able to effectively clog the middle, holding freshman fullback Dominique Swope to 81 yards. Swope had been averaging 191 yards a game since being inserted into the starting lineup three games ago.
But in the triple-option offense, if one phase is slowed down, another might be open.
Quarterback Jaybo Shaw engineered the Eagles’ outside game effectively. Slotbacks averaged more than nine yards a carry. Shaw also completed 7 of 8 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Five of his seven completions picked up first downs.
“I think our guys played hard and gave great effort, and that’s what you want at this time of the year,” Monken said.