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GSU cages Catamounts

Eagles stay perfect against Western Carolina at Paulson

GSU cages Catamounts

GSU cages Catamounts

Georgia Southern tight end Da'Quan He...




    An emotional Jerick McKinnon came back in the game to take a knee on the final play, signifying the end of an era at Georgia Southern.
    The Eagles beat Western Carolina on Saturday, 35-19, in the final Southern Conference game in Paulson Stadium.
    McKinnon scored a pair of touchdowns, threw for another and rushed for 64 yards, sharing snaps with freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison in the second half.
    It is only fitting that McKinnon, a senior who currently stands 75 yards behind Jayson Foster as the program’s fifth all-time leading rusher, handled the ball on the final play of the Paulson Stadium’s Football Championship Subdivision history.
    “I just begged coach to let me finish it,” McKinnon said. “It’s always special to touch the field at Paulson, but it was very emotional today.”
    The next time GSU plays a game in Paulson, it will be a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference.
    “I feel so humbled and honored to be the coach here at Georgia Southern, to be a part of this great tradition, this historic program,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “To be the head football coach at this time in our history, to make this move, is special, certainly. But that doesn’t have anything to do with me. Being a part of a program that’s had such great success, it’s just being a part of a group.”
    Ellison ran for 83 yards and the game’s final touchdown, racing 40 yards to the WCU 1-yard line and punching it in on the next play from a yard out for a 35-13 GSU lead.
    The quarterbacks found most of the running lanes for the Georgia Southern (5-4, 3-4 SoCon) offense, which tallied 371 yards to the Catamounts’ 271.
    “They were squeezing in on the dive and trying to kind of slow-play the pitch,” McKinnon said. “Watching the film all week we had an idea of what they would do.”
    Senior fullback William Banks added a team-high 86 yards on 13 carries.
    Western Carolina (2-8, 1-5 SoCon) got a late touchdown on an 11-yard pass from backup quarterback Eddie Sullivan to John Sullivan for the game’s final margin.
    The score came off of the fourth GSU turnover, a fumble by Nardo Govan.
    Both of WCU’s first two touchdowns came off of punt-team miscues.
    In the third quarter, a muffed punt by Tray Butler set up a two-yard touchdown pass from starting WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell to Karnorris Benson.
    The Eagles answered that score with a 2-yard touchdown run by Govan for a 28-13 lead.
    The first Western score also came off a stop on 3rd-and-9 when a penalty extended the Catamounts’ second drive. Jonathan Battle was flagged for roughing the kicker.
    The Catamounts scored on a 1-yard run by Garry Lewis, but Battle redeemed himself by blocking the extra point.
    The Eagles turned it over the first time when Banks fumbled on the end of a 36-yard run. He finished the first quarter with 64 yards.
    Georgia Southern only allowed 5 of 15 third-down conversions, and seniors Kyle Oehlbeck (14 tackles) and Blake Riley (11), each playing their last game in Paulson, both reached career highs in tackles.
“At the end of the third quarter I just kind of took some time to walk down to the other side and soak it in,” Oehlbeck said. “It was good to go out with a win. I’m going to miss it.”
“When I saw him taking a little time at the end of the field, he reminded me,” Riley added. “He said, ‘This is the last time we’re going to play on this field.’ It’s a great feeling being here with all the seniors and playing that last game.”
Senior Lavelle Westbrooks intercepted two WCU passes, and freshman Matt Dobson also had two picks. Dobson’s second sealed the game in the fourth quarter. It was tipped in the air by Westbrooks.
    “Lavalle tipped it and all I had to do was catch it,” Dobson said. “That was the easy part.”
    The Catamounts completed only 18 of 40 passing attempts, and the Eagles held them to only 158 yards through the air.
    “We’ve struggled against the pass a little bit this year, but we had a great gameplan this week and we came out and executed,” Dobson said. “The defensive line did a great job getting some pressure for us, and I thought that was big.”
    It didn’t take long for the Eagles to find the scoreboard after the game started, despite kicking off first. On the second play of the game, Mitchell threw his first interception to Westbrooks.
    GSU’s first play from scrimmage was a reverse throwback. Wide receiver B.J. Johnson took the reverse from McKinnon, and McKinnon ran downfield for the Johnson pass, but the Catamounts were flagged for pass interference.
    The next play was a 23-yard touchdown on an option keeper by McKinnon. The Eagles led 7-0 only 36 seconds into the game.
    McKinnon tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Da’Quan Heard to extend the GSU lead in the second quarter, and McKinnon ran one in from 36 yards out to give the Eagles a 21-6 advantage at the half.
    WCU punted on every drive of the second quarter except one, a series that ended with a Dobson’s first interception, which he returned 25 yards to set up the second McKinnon touchdown.
    McKinnon is still playing through a sprained ankle he suffered on Oct. 26, at Appalachian State.
    “He ran better than he did a week ago,” Monken said. “He had some nice runs for us. He’s such a competitor.”
    The Eagles will play the program’s final SoCon game on Saturday at 3 p.m., on the road at Elon.
NOTES: Georgia Southern’s marching band, Southern Pride, said goodbye to the Southern Conference by spelling out “SoCon” on the field. The band followed it up by spelling out “Sun Belt,” the conference Georgia Southern will join as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014. … McKinnon’s second rushing touchdown gave him 41 for his career, to tie him with Georgia Southern Hall of Famer Tracy Ham. … Heard’s touchdown reception was the first of his career. … Safety Deion Stanley left the game with a knee injury suffered during the blocked PAT. His status was not known at press time. … The last time a GSU player intercepted two passes in a game was when McKinnon did it on Dec. 10, 2011, against Maine in the FCS playoffs. … Announced attendance was 13,507.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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