Story and photo courtesy of Georgia Southern Athletics
STATESBORO, Ga. - Behind 529 yards rushing, Georgia Southern defeated Howard 69-26 in front of 18,069 fans on homecoming at Allen E. Paulson Stadium. Quarterback Jerick McKinnon (Marietta, Ga.) rushed for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns enroute to reaching the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. He helped the Eagles tally the most rushing yards against the Bison since 1998.
McKinnon also threw two touchdown passes while going two-for-four for 32 yards in the passing game. The junior quarterback has five touchdown passes in just 14 completions on the season. On the ground McKinnon put Georgia Southern (8-2, 6-2) up 21-0 in the first quarter with a career-long 87-yard touchdown run and finished with his seventh 100-yard rushing game of his career.
The Eagles also got 67 yards, including a 56-yard run, from Johnathan Bryant (Cairo, Ga.) and 62 yards from reserve B-Back William Banks (Augusta, Ga.).
On defense senior Boyd Sasser (Millen, Ga.) filled in nicely for an injured Darius Eubanks (Thomson, Ga.) and led the team with 10 tackles. Fellow senior Dion DuBose made eight stops and 1.5 tackles for loss from his defensive end position, while both John Stevenson (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Kyle Oehlbeck (Gainesville, Fla.) matched him with eight tackles each.
“It was critical for us to get to eight wins today. We all know what’s at stake,” Head Coach Jeff Monken said in the press conference following his team's final regular season home game. “Two seven-win teams made the playoffs a year ago out of 20 total teams in the tournament. We couldn’t afford to wait and cross our fingers at the record we were at. So it was important for us to get a win and get to eight wins on the year. That will hopefully position us for the postseason. There’s no guarantee that we’re getting into the playoffs, but hopefully a win today helped us get into the postseason.”
Howard (6-4, 5-2) rebounded from the early deficit and gave the Eagle defense a few fits with their fast-break offense. The Bison, who ran 95 plays to the Eagles' 55, were led by backup quarterback Greg McGhee. McGhee replaced an ineffective Randy Liggins in the first half and completed 24 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown while carrying the ball 19 times for 94 yards and three scores.
Georgia Southern struck for three touchdowns on their first six plays of the contest. Before McKinnon's run Dominique Swope (Buford, Ga.) tallied a pair of touchdowns, including a 58 yarder on just his first play from scrimmage since returning from a concussion injury that forced him to miss two weeks. Swope also added a 34-yard touchdown run but finished just two yards short of 100 for the game.
“It was a great run,” Monken stated about the sophomore B-Back's first touchdown run. “He broke a few tackles, cut back and found some holes. He’s a good player.”
McGhee capped off a 10 play 80-yard drive for Howard's first touchdown with a 4-yard run with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter. The Eagles extended their lead back to 21 points after McKinnon scored from 16 yards out with 4:17 remaining in the second quarter. The two teams traded touchdowns before the half with Howard's McGhee scoring for the second time on a 7-yard run and McKinnon completing a 25-yard pass to Zach Walker with just 29 seconds remaining before halftime.
The Eagles opened the third quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run by McKinnon with 12:07 remaining in the quarter. The junior quarterback busted free for a 31-yard rush earlier in the drive, and Tray Butler (Stockbridge, Ga.) added a 26-yard run on an option pitch to put Georgia Southern in the red zone.
Howard answered back with a 15-yard touchdown run by McGhee with 8:38 to go in the third quarter, and the two teams traded scores once more before the quarter ended. Darreion Robinson (Bishop, Ga.) scored from 10 yards out less than two minutes later after the Bison failed to recover an onside kick. McGhee completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to David Wilson less than three minutes later to cut the score to 49-26.
However, Georgia Southern controlled the fourth quarter, scoring three times to take a 69-23 lead with 3:24 remaining in the contest. McKinnon opened the quarter with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Sumner (Pooler, Ga.) with 12:12 remaining. Less than three minutes later freshman quarterback Matt Dobson (Monticello, Fla.) tossed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Walker and with 3:24 remaining senior quarterback Russell DeMasi (Savannah, Ga.) capped off the final scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
“He’s a guy that goes down every day with the scout team. I don’t know who our most valuable player is, but I’ve got to think that he’s one of them,” Monken said about DeMasi. “He goes down there every day and simulates the other team’s offense so well. He does it very professionally and does it so well. He’s a really hard-working kid, and I’m glad that he got to score a touchdown today.”
Georgia Southern travels to Georgia for their final regular season contest. Kickoff in Athens, Ga. is set for 1:30 p.m. and the contest will air on WSB-TV Channel 2 in Atlanta.