Mistakes Prove Costly For GSU
Turnovers proved the undoing of Georgia Southern, just as they did for Villanova, in the FCS semifinals
By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
NEWARK, De. ó As much as football has evolved and adapted through the years, there are certain things that always seem to remain the same, whether it is Pop Warner, or K.C. Keeler doing the coaching.
One of the time honored adages is that turnovers kill teams in championship games and Georgia Southern became the second squad to prove that this weekend as the Football Championship Subdivision played out its semifinals.
After watching defending NCAA Division I national champion Villanova self-destruct with six turnovers in its 41-31 road loss to Eastern Washington last night, Georgia Southern fell victim to the same problem on Saturday with five in its 27-10 defeat against Delaware.
The miscues by Georgia Southern (10-5) and Villanova (9-5) are the major reasons why Delaware (12-2) and Eastern Washington (12-2) will meet on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Tx. for the national championship.
"We made some big plays and they didn't make big plays," said Delaware coach Keeler. "We had big momentum all most all day long."
The trouble for the Eagles and the momentum for the Blue Hens converged on Georgia Southern's first drive after the Eagles had rolled 70 yards in eight plays to move to the Delaware one-yard line.
Poised to make a big statement early against the tough and tested Blue Hen defense, Georgia Southern center Brandavious Mann failed to ask the official to change balls on third down when he noticed the pigskin was slightly slick from the melting snow on the field, a leftover from a storm at Tubby Raymond Field on Thursday afternoon.
When Mann snapped the ball to Jaybo Shaw, it slipped from the quarterback's hands and bounced into the end zone, where Delaware defensive end Chris Morales grabbed it and ran 18 yards to kill the Eagle drive.
"We could have asked for a new ball," said GSU coach Jeff Monken, whose team saw its six-game winning streak snapped. "We're not making any excuses, but we could have had the ball changed."
It proved to be a costly oversight
"We weren't really surprised with anything they were doing, we just had to get used to their speed," said Morales. "Them scoring early would have been a big adjustment. Us getting a big stop early was important."
Georgia Southern's high-risk, high-reward triple option had survived a scare four plays earlier when J.J. Wilcox fumbled a pitch at the Blue Hen 27 after a two-yard gain. But there were few similar reprieves for the Eagles on this day.
"We focused on turnovers," said Delaware coach Keeler. "They averaged two turnovers per game and we needed to force more than that."
The Blue Hen defense accomplished that mission and the Delaware offense protected the ball to finish with zero turnovers.
It's tough enough to score on Delaware's hard-nosed defense when you secure the ball, but it is nearly impossible to beat the Blue Hens when you throw away points.
Georgia Southern had forged early leads against South Carolina State, William & Mary and Wofford in three playoff wins, but the Eagles lost a chance to build similar momentum against Delaware.
"Turnovers are disappointing," said Monken. "The turnovers cost us a chance to score some points."
It was 10-0 late in the first half after a six-yard touchdown pass from Pat Devlin to Mark Schenauer on a slant and a 21-yard Mike Perry field goal in the second period.
Georgia Southern roared into scoring range on a 52-yard kickoff return by Laron Scott (six returns for 134 yards) before Wilcox was stripped of the ball by Delaware linebacker Paul Worrilow, allowing Blue Hen free safety Daryl Jones to recover at his team's seven.
Instead of a first and goal, the Eagles had missed out on another scoring opportunity.
"They have a tendency to fumble a lot with that offense and we took advantage of that," said Worrilow, who moved from his normal outside linebacker spot to a spot in the middle of the field against GSU to pile up 12 tackles and two forced fumbles. They can score on any play, they are very dangerous."
GSU finally made it a 10-3 game on its first possession of the second half when Jerrick McKinnon's 53-yard jaunt set up Adrian Mora's 40-yard field goal. McKinnon, normally the Eagles' backup quarterback, but a slotback on this day, carried 12 times for 101 yards.
But another opportunity to score fell by the wayside when Shaw was sacked by Worrilow and fumbled the ball away to defensive tackle Siddiq Haynes after the Eagles had earned a first down at the Delaware 31.
The Blue Hens seized the moment to drive for another touchdown, with Devlin (14-of-20, 137 yards, two TDs) capping off a seven-play, 63-yard drive with a nifty 24-yard scoring strike to Phillip Thaxton and it was 17-3 late in the third period.
When Georgia Southern finally got its offense untracked enough to reach the end zone, it took 14 plays and nearly eight-and-a-half minutes to march 64 yards for Robert Brown's six-yard touchdown burst.
That made it 17-10 in Delaware's favor, but the final half of the fourth quarter became the Andrew Pierce show (26 carries, 186 yards rushing) as the Blue Hens pulled away with 10 more points.
It took just three plays for Delaware to answer that long GSU drive as Jake Giusti dashed 30 yards with the kickoff return and runs of 18 and 35 yards by Pierce set up David Hayes for a seven-yard touchdown blast.
Just two plays later, Shaw had a pitch picked off by Morales at the Eagle 20 and the Blue Hens milked a couple of minutes off the clock before Perry's 20-yard field goal put the game on ice.
For good measure, a desperation fourth and four pass by Shaw was intercepted by safety Tyrone Grant to end Georgia Southern's final possession.
"You can't have turnovers," said Monken, who had watched his team commit just five miscues in the previous three games. "If you do that against a good team, its difficult to win."