Story and photo courtesy of Georgia Southern Athletics
GREENVILLE, S.C. - After trailing 7-3 at halftime, the third-ranked Georgia Southern Football team bounced back from their slow start to defeat rival Furman 38-17 on the road Saturday.
After setting an FCS record with zero pass attempts last week against Wofford, Georgia Southern (6-1, 5-1) threw for a season-high 165 yards on six completions. Jerick McKinnon (Marietta, Ga.) made his third start of the season at quarterback and threw for a career-high 119 yards and one touchdown on the day, while Ezayi Youyoute (Wauchula, Fla.) added 46 yards on three completions during a two-minute drill before halftime.
“We’re going to call whatever we need to in order to win a ballgame. We want to run the ball and they were doing a really good job of stopping the run. They’re running through your headgear getting the runner two yards in the backfield, you’ve got to do something. We needed to soften them up and that’s what the play action pass does and that’s why we throw those,” Head Coach Jeff Monken said.
Furman (2-6, 1-4) kept the Eagles within a touchdown until the fourth quarter. Quarterback Reese Hannon completed 19 of his 26 pass attempts for 184 yards. Jerodis Williams ran for 77 yards in the first half, but the GSU defense held him to just 21 yards in the second half and finished with 98 yards on 17 carries.
“That running back they’ve got is good and their quarterback wouldn’t give up a sack. They ran a lot of underneath routes where they gained a lot of yards. We just weren’t getting them down to the ground, we weren’t playing them very tight and we weren’t running the ball very effectively in the first half. They had a good plan today and we were fortunate to win the game today,” Monken said about Furman's offensive performance.
With Georgia Southern ahead 17-10, Johnathan Bryant (Cairo, Ga.) busted free for a 42-yard touchdown rush with 10:09 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Eagles ahead by two scores, 24-10. The run capped off a three play 54-yard drive. GSU jumped ahead 30-10 less than three minutes later on a 4-yard run by Dominique Swope (Buford, Ga.). The touchdown run extended Swope's streak to eight-straight games.
“I thought the guys played better in the second half. I told our guys all week, don’t expect a team that is going to roll over because you beat them badly last year. That doesn’t happen many times in the Georgia Southern-Furman rivalry and they didn’t today.,” Monken said.
Furman's Williams returned the opening kickoff 41 yards to near midfield. Williams also carried the ball three times for 38 yards during a seven play 35-yard drive which ended with a 37-yard field goal attempt that bounced off the upright and back onto the field.
McKinnon completed a 41-yard pass to Johnathan Bryant to spark a 12 play 75-yard drive that ended with the first points of the game. Alex Hanks connected on a 32-yard field goal with 14:55 remaining in the second quarter to put Georgia Southern ahead 3-0.
The Paladins struck for a touchdown with just 1:50 remaining in the second quarter on Erni Cain's 2-yard dive. A 33-yard pass from Hannon to Hank McCloud on second and eight moved Furman down to the 10-yard line and set up the 7 play 55-yard scoring drive.
With 1:50 left on the clock before halftime, the Eagles drove down to the Furman 10 yard line, but a fumble snap on the eight yard line was lost and with 40 seconds remaining the Paladins ran out the clock on the first half.
Georgia Southern went back on top in the third quarter 9-7. McKinnon broke free down the right sideline for a 32-yard run and went diving into the endzone but was ruled out of bounds on the three yard line. McKinnon punched it in two plays later on a one-yard run, but the extra point attempt by Hanks was blocked.
Furman marched down the field on a 10 play 38-yard drive and took back the lead, 10-9, with a 48-yard field goal by Ray Early with 3:45 remaining in the third quarter. A 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Eagles' defense helped keep the Paladin drive alive.
On GSU's next drive McKinnon completed a 75-yard play action pass to Zach Walker for a touchdown and Darreion Robinson (Bishop, Ga.) converted the two-point attempt with a rush around right end to put the Eagles back ahead 17-10. The pass was the longest since 2007 when Jayson Foster threw an 81-yard touchdown pass in the win over West Georgia.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the final five minutes with Furman's Williams capping off an eight play 85-yard drive with a 2-yard run. After an onside kick attempt, Swope added his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard with just 20 seconds remaining and dove in for the two-point conversion.
Georgia Southern remains on the road next week at Chattanooga. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.