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So long to the SoCon

So long to the SoCon

So long to the SoCon

Georgia Southern fullback Nardo Govan...

    ELON, N.C. — For the last time in program history, the Georgia Southern Eagles played a game on grass painted with a Southern Conference logo.
    They left with their highest-scoring SoCon affair of the season.
    The Eagles knocked off the Elon Phoenix, 38-20, on Saturday in Rhodes Stadium, in the program’s last game in the league.
    “It’s been a great run for Georgia Southern in this league,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “This league’s been really good for Georgia Southern.”
    The program finished 116-49 all time in SoCon games.
    Georgia Southern (6-4, 4-4 SoCon) rushed for 398 yards and got 5 rushing touchdowns against Elon (2-9, 1-6) -- all by freshmen Kevin Ellison and Irving Huggins.
    Ellison played quarterback throughout, while senior Jerick McKinnon did not play. He continues to nurse an ankle sprain suffered at Appalachian State on Oct. 26, and re-aggravated on Nov. 9, against Western Carolina.
    “He probably could have limped around and played,” Monken said about McKinnon. “All through the week at practice he was really limited. We hardly used him at all. There’s no use sending him out there if he’s hurt. Where we were at with him, Kevin is just going to be faster and better on his feet than Jerick. Hopefully we’ll have him next week.”
    Ellison didn’t play like a freshman quarterback. He ran for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns and completed 5 of 11 passes for 104 yards. Ellison, Huggins, freshman Matt Breida and sophomore Nardo Govan, who is playing for the first time this season, combined for 331 of GSU’s 398 rushing yards. Freshmen Tay Hicklin, Rafael Hardee, Lennie Richardson, Jay Ellison and Darius Jones all contributed multiple tackles on defense.
    “It’s good for our future,” Monken said about all the freshmen in the game. “They’re getting some valuable experience. I’d much rather be playing with a bunch of fourth- and fifth-year seniors, but a lot of those guys are back home in Statesboro with casts on their legs or knee braces after surgery or shoulder harnesses. That’s just where we’re at. I’m really proud of this team we brought here today.”
    Huggins rushed for his career-best third touchdown in the fourth quarter with 5 minutes remaining in the game for the final margin. All three scores were from 2 yards out, and the first opened the scoring in the third quarter to give the Eagles a 24-6 lead.
    “Everybody did their jobs, and that’s why I scored as much as I did today,” Ellison said. “Elon came out and did their job, and we executed better than they did.”
Kevin Ellison scored later in the quarter from 14 yards out to put GSU ahead 31-6.
Elon (2-9, 1-6) responded with a 23 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Quinn (22 of 33, 197 yards) to Kierre Brown. It was the first second-half touchdown by the Phoenix since Sept. 21, against Appalachian State. Quarterback John Loughery threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Demetri Allison for the game’s final score.  
Elon outgained GSU 171-78 in the first quarter but trailed 7-6.
The Phoenix settled for field goals of 44 and 24 yards by John Gallagher, the latter set up by a 55-yard run by Karl Bostick, his longest of the season.
The Eagles erased the Elon lead with a 53-yard run by Ellison on the next drive.
    Elon started the second quarter with a missed 45-yard field goal by Gallagher.
    Georgia Southern’s next drive featured a 49-yard run by Govan who exploded up the middle and made it to the Phoenix 23. The drive stalled when Govan was stuffed on 4th-and-goal from the 2 by Elon defensive linemen Jay Brown and Michael Pearson.
    Elon punted away its next two drives, setting up a pair of GSU scores.
    A 30-yard pass from Ellison to Zach Walker and a 15-yard run by freshman Matt Breida got the Eagles down to the Elon 2. Breida’s run came off an option pitch from Ellison, who was hit as he tossed it.
    Huggins punched it in for a 14-6 GSU lead.
    GSU kicker Younghoe Koo kicked a 49-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the half to help the Eagles to a 17-6 lead at the break. The kick was set up by a 56-yard run by Ellison.
    The field goal was a career long for Koo, a true freshman. He said he wasn’t thinking about the distance.
    “I try not to let it affect me. I just stroked it like I do every kick, then I just hoped it went through,” Koo said. “It felt awesome.”
    The teams combined for 514 first-half yards.
    The win was Georgia Southern’s first this season on the road.
    The Eagles close the 2013 season on the road on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla, against the Florida Gators. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.
NOTES: Ellison had his third 100-yard passing game of the season. HIs total yardage and two rushing touchdowns were career highs. … Freshman Lennie Richardson recorded his first-career sack. … Huggins’ three touchdowns were a career high. It was the second three-touchdown day this season for an Eagle (William Banks). … Among Elon’s 10 seniors honored on Senior Day, former Screven County Gamecocks quarterback Ed Burns was honored by the Phoenix and was joined by his family before the game. … Announced attendance was 6,104.

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

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