College Sports Journal
STATESBORO, GA. — In its rich and storied past, on the way to six national championships at the Football Championship Subdivision level, Georgia Southern has always turned to certain epic heroes to pull it through difficult times.
Names like Tracy Ham and Adrian Peterson have added to the Eagles' luster in NCAA Division I Football Championship play and Saturday afternoon, it was quarterback Jerick McKinnon's turn.
McKinnon rushed 34 times for 316 yards, the second-highest total in school history, and the Eagle defense gave up just one touchdown on the day as No. 6 Georgia Southern advanced with a 24-16 victory over No. 8 Central Arkansas at Paulson Stadium.
The Eagles rolled into the quarterfinal round and will travel to Old Dominion for a contest either Friday or Saturday.
McKinnon’s rushing total was just 17 yards shy of Adrian Peterson’s 333 against UMass in the 1999 FCS Playoffs, and the junior quarterback tallied two rushing touchdowns. He also completed two passes for 79 yards and a score.
Dominique Swope finished with 17 carries for 64 yards for the Eagles (9-3).
"The stats might go under my name, but all 10 guys out there with me get the credit," said McKinnon. "There were some great blocks out there on the perimeter. Central Arkansas was skating to the pitch, and I just tried to turn it up field."
Wynrick Smothers threw for 251 yards and ran for 79 to lead Central Arkansas (9-2), and Jackie Hinton rushed eight times for 53 yards.
Dezmin Lewis caught four passes for 90 yards, and Dominique Croom had two receptions for 70 yards, while Eddie Camara drilled three field goals for the Bears
The Eagle defense held Central Arkansas to 3-of-12 on third down conversions for the game including 1-of-4 in the second half. The Bears also went 0-for-2 on fourth-down chances.
"I’m proud of our defense because when we got some big plays against us, we didn’t let it affect us," said Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken. "We lined up and kept fighting and went right back after them."
Georgia Southern built a 24-9 halftime lead by scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions and adding a field goal on its fourth.
Meanwhile the Bears made two trips in the red zone on its first four possessions, but came away with just six total points.
The Bears trimmed the lead to 24-16 early in the third quarter on a Hinton 19-yard run, but could get no closer.
UCA drove down to the GSU 41-yard line late in the game and were set to go for it on fourth-and-one, but a false start penalty pushed them back and the Bears elected to punt.
GSU ran eight straight times, and Luke Cherry placed a pretty 47-yard punt at the Central Arkansas 6-yard line with 2:58 remaining.
After a pass interference penalty move the ball out to the 21, Smothers completed a pass for 10 yards to Lewis, but Nic Wright forced a fumble and the Eagles recovered to seal the game.
"This is the most fun time of year because you have to win to get to play again," said Monken. "I’m just impressed with our whole team and how much they care about each other and play together as a team. We
win games like this because we guys who care about each other and are willing to lay it on the line."
The game started like a heavyweight fight with each team jabbing and probing the other to see what would work.
The Eagles landed the first punch on their second offensive possession when McKinnon went around left end on the quarterback keeper, saw daylight and scampered 57 yards for a touchdown 5:28 into the contest.
It was tied for the seventh longest TD run in school playoff history.
After a 35-yard pickup on a pass from Smothers to Lewis down to the GSU 20-yard line, the Eagle defense held, and Central Arkansas settled for a Camara 34-yard field goal that made the score 7-3 midway through the first period.
J.J. Wilcox gave the Eagles great field position on the ensuing drive with a 39-yard kickoff return after the Bears were flagged for a kick out of bounds and had to kick again from the 30-yard line.
McKinnon started the drive with an 11-yard run on a keeper and later on second-and-10 from the Bear 32, he threw a perfect ball over the middle, hitting Darreion Robinson in stride for the touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
The Eagles pinned the Bears deep in their own end, tackling Jesse Grandy on his own 7-yard line on the kickoff. Central Arkansas picked up a first down on 3rd-and-12 with a 13 yard pass from Smothers to Grandy, and Smothers found Croom for a 42-yard pass down the sideline on the next play.
But the Eagle defense held again, forcing the Bears to settle for another Camara field goal, this time from 42 yards, to make the score 14-6.
Georgia Southern scored on a 6-yard McKinnon run on its next series to open a 21-6 advantage 1:08 into the second quarter.
McKinnon set up the score with a 51-yard run down the right sideline after Swope ran for 12 yards up the middle.
The Bears came right back down the field and this time, elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line.
Wilcox came off the edge and applied good pressure on Smothers, who threw to Terrence Bobo at the two-yard line, but Eagle linebacker Kyle Ohelbeck was there to knock him out of bounds, turning the ball over to the Eagles.
The Eagles took 7:51 off the clock on their ensuing drive, and Alex Hanks knocked in a 40-yard field goal to give GSU a 24-6 cushion with 2:31 left in the half.
McKinnon keyed the drive with a 47-yard pass to Zach Walker on third-and-seven from the Eagle five-yard line.
A 20-yard pass from Smothers to Hinton set up a 30-yard Camara field goal, trimming the margin to 24-9 at the break.
The Eagles were driving down the field looking to add to their lead on the first series of the second half, but McKinnon underthrew his receiver, and Karl Brady intercepted at the five, returning it to the Bear 41.
The Bears went into a hurry-up offense, and Hinton rushed for 11 yards and caught a 13-yard pass from Smothers as Central Arkansas moved down to the GSU 19-yard line.
Hinton then went 19 yards for a touchdown on a run over the left side, cutting the margin to 24-16 early in the third quarter.
GSU improved to 44-12 in FCS playoff games and 33-3 at home.