Georgia Southern Edges Wofford 23-20 To Reach Semifinals
Early mistakes prove costly for Wofford as Georgia Southern hangs on for a three-point win in the FCS quarterfinals
By Myron Hosea,
College Sporting News
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Staying true to the nature of this series in recent years, Georgia Southern and Wofford played to the end with the Eagles winning a tough 23-20 victory to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA Division I National Championships.
Georgia Southern (10-4) will play at No. 3 seeded Delaware either Friday night on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Eastern, or Saturday at noon. The date of the game will be determined on Sunday afternoon.
“We feel privileged to be a part of this tournament,” Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken said after the game. “To still be a part of it is really an amazing feeling for our team. I’m so proud of our players. They fought all the way through.”
To advance, the Eagles had to hold off Wofford’s second-half rally in a battle of the two premier triple-option teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Georgia Southern led 20-3 at halftime, but the Terriers limited the Eagles’ offense in the last two quarters, allowing just 55 yards of total offense.
With Georgia Southern going three-and-out on its only two possessions of the third quarter, Wofford (10-3) was able to get 10 points and draw to within 20-13 with 13:07 to go in the game.
That’s when Laron Scott answered Wofford’s field goal with a 58-yard kickoff return. While he didn’t score, he set up Adrian Mora’s 37-yard field goal with 10:43 left. Those three points proved to be the final margin.
Wofford came right back. Wide receiver Brenton Bersin made a diving, fingertip catch of Mitch Allen’s pass for a 38-yard gain to the Georgia Southern 12.
The Eagles, however, stopped Wofford on fourth-and-one at the three.
Georgia Southern had an opportunity to run out the clock, but three plays later fullback Robert Brown had the ball stripped from him, and Wofford defensive end Alex Goltry scooped up the fumble and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.
That made the score 23-20 with 5:13 remaining in the game.
After an Eagles first down, Wofford stopped Georgia Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw on third down, but a facemask penalty gave the Eagles a first down across midfield. That enabled Georgia Southern to run the clock down to 13 seconds before punting to Wofford, whose last play went for no yardage.
“We just made too many mistakes in the first half,” said Wofford head coach Mike Ayers. “We dug ourselves a hole. In the second half, we came out and showed what kind of team we really are. That penalty toward the end was a killer.”
Very early in the game, Wofford appeared to be in fine form on the game’s opening possession despite having Eric Breitenstein’s 50-yard pass reception to the Eagles nine nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty.
The Terriers advanced to the Georgia Southern 20 before Eagles nose tackle Brent Russell broke up Allen’s handoff to Breitenstein for a fumble that Terico Agnew recovered for Georgia Southern.
The Eagles drove 69 yards in nine plays for the first score of the day. Shaw ran for first downs on successive third-down plays to spur the drive.
Shaw later found wide receiver Tray Butler open down the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter.
Georgia Southern moved its advantage to 14-0 seconds later when Roderick Tinsely forced another Wofford fumble.
John Douglas picked up the ball and ran it 20 yards for a touchdown with 3:44 to go in the period.
Following a short punt and Darreion Robinson’s 19-yard punt return, Mora booted a 33-yard field goal to give Georgia Southern a 17-0 lead with 13:56 left in the first half.
Wofford found it difficult to get an offensive rhythm going after that first possession. Breitenstein finally slipped through a few creases in the middle of the defense to get the Terriers moving.
Breitenstein blasted for 20 and 11 yards to start a drive. He would crash through the line for 11, and then Jeremy Marshall ran for 20 to the Eagles four.
The Eagles pushed them back from there, however, and Christian Reed kicked a 21-yard field goal with 1:05 left.
Shaw’s running and passing enabled the Eagles to respond with a 21-yard Mora field goal as time expired in the half. Shaw had bursts of 14 and 21 yards on the drive and completed passes for 14 and seven yards.
On their first possession of the second half, the Terriers pounded out three first downs – two with fourth-down runs – to move to Georgia Southern’s 37.
That’s where Allen used play-action to get Bersin open deep for the 37-yard touchdown pass. The TD cut the score to 20-10 at 7:36 in the third quarter.
Wofford then drove 68 yards in 17 plays with Reed kicking a 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, making it 20-13.
Monken said this close game reflects the quality of the Southern Conference.
“The SoCon is a great league," Monken explained. "No lead is safe. You have to play 60 minutes of football. It doesn’t matter what the score says, you’ve got to play 60 minutes.”
Ayers commented on how both of these teams were ranked in the bottom half of the SoCon in the preseason. For his team, he was proud of the way they rebounded from a difficult 2009 season.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them,” Ayers said. “This was just one of those games where we just ran out of time.”
This game marked the fifth time in a row that the Georgia Southern-Wofford game was decided by five points or less.
The Eagles, who finished third in the Southern Conference regular-season race, have now defeated the two SoCon co-champions, Appalachian State and Wofford, this year.
The attendance was 11,823, the third-largest crowd in Gibbs Stadium history. Georgia Southern fans constituted a significant portion of that crowd.
“What a great crowd,” Monken said. “I’m absolutely convinced they made a difference in the game.”
The Eagles went 4-0 in November for the first time 2005. They are playing in December for the first time since 2002.
Georgia Southern now has a playoff record of 41-10, the most playoff wins of any FCS team. The Eagles also have won six national championships.
Wofford won 10 games in a season for the second time since 1970 and the fifth time overall.
The Terriers have posted a winning record in eight of the past nine seasons.
Wofford has a 4-4 record in the FCS playoffs. The Terriers were trying to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2003, the best season in Wofford's FCS history.
The Southern Conference placed three teams (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Wofford) in the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2001 when Appalachian State, Furman, and Georgia Southern advanced.