#5 GSU (10-3) at #1 N. Dakota St. (12-1)
Friday, 8 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
In order to simulate the crowd noise in North Dakota State's Fargo Dome, Georgia Southern will be practicing with loud music and crowd noise coming from Paulson Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
Georgia Southern’s defense has had its moments this season.
For example, Eagle defenders had a big stop to preserve a 28-25 win over Elon, and twice Wofford was in first-and-goal situations and had to settle for field goals despite having Eric Breitenstein at fullback.
Breitenstein ran for 2,065 yards this season including a Southern Conference record 321 against Elon. But, he couldn’t get his team into the end zone.
However, considering the circumstances and what was at stake it is difficult to say the Eagles had a bigger defensive play than the one Dion Dubose made in last Saturday’s 49-35 win over Old Dominion.
With 11:04 to play and the Eagles trailing 35-28 Dubose got to ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke at the Georgia Southern 13 and stripped him of the ball. Freshman linebacker Patrick Flowe recovered.
At the time of the game’s first turnover Old Dominion had scored on four straight possessions, and a fifth straight score seemed a certainty.
From there Georgia Southern drove for a tying touchdown in a 28-0 fourth quarter run that propelled the Eagles into the semifinals for the third straight year.
Georgia Southern (10-3) will play North Dakota State at 8 p.m. on Saturday night in Fargo, N.D. The game will be televised on ESPN2, and the winner will advance to the championship game on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
The Bison (12-1) are defending national champions, and beat the Eagles in the semifinals last year, 35-7, in their cozy Fargodome, an indoor facility which seats 18,000. NDSU reached the semis with a 14-7 win over Wofford.
“We’ve had some big defensive plays this season,” Coach Jeff Monken said. “I don’t know if you can say that’s the biggest, but it was definitely a momentum changer.
“It created a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the sidelines. They were driving in for a two touchdown lead. We needed it (turnover).”
Unlike offensive players who can have numbers which will jump off the page it can be difficult to quantify the impact a defensive player can have on a game, a team or a season.
Dubose has turned in solid numbers this season: 47 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles.
At the time Georgia Southern (10-3) was in a deep hole. The Eagles trailed Old Dominion, 35-28, in the fourth quarter after cutting a two touchdown deficit to one.
“I was just trying to get a good jump on the snap count,” Dubose said. “I got it and went around the tackle. The defensive backs had a lot to do with it: they held their coverage and gave me the time. If I hadn’t gotten to him someone else would have.”
The Eagles then drove 79 yards on 12 plays to tie the game, 35-35, with 5:38 to play when quarterback Jerick McKinnon scored on a 2-yard run, the third of his four touchdowns.
“The momentum definitely shifted when we got the fumble,” Dubose said. “We were down the whole game, but even when we were two touchdowns down we never let our heads get down.
“We got the ball back when we needed it, and then the offense did its job by scoring a touchdown. Seeing them do that gave the defense a big lift, too.”
The stunned Monarchs never recovered.
On Old Dominion’s next two possessions it turned the ball over on downs and Heinicke threw an interception. Both times the Eagles scored to complete the turnaround.
Now, it’s on to Fargo to play NDSU in its house of horrors.
But, Dubose is not worried about the Bison. He has already met his biggest challenge and mastered it.
“Every day, morning, noon and night it was just rehab, rehab, rehab,” Dubose said. “It was hard, real hard sitting in the stands knowing I could contribute. But, at the same time it gave me a lot of motivation. The wait has been worth it.”
In addition to facing the Bison he will also complete another significant journey on Friday.
Although Dubose will not be present to receive his diploma he will be one of 13 Eagle football players who will graduate Friday.
Other graduating players are Blake DeBartola, John Stevenson, Tyler Sumner, A.J. McCray, Brian Wilcher, Brandon Lane, Brent Russell, Darreion Robinson, Brandon Lane, Zach York, Russell DeMasi, and Zach Reckers.