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Eagles get up off of the mat

Last Saturday was a good reminder of what college football is all about.

I went to Norfolk, Va., expecting the 2012 Georgia Southern season to come to an end.

Correction, I didn't expect it to end — I knew it was going to end.

Old Dominion had the best quarterback in the country, a group of talented wide receivers big enough to fill out an entire All-CAA ballot, a home game in a stadium that has never had an empty seat for an ODU game and a coach who was so determined never to let a repeat of GSU's 2011 playoff win happen again he canned his defensive coordinator 72 hours after the 55-48 loss in Paulson Stadium.

Besides, there were so many things I just knew the Eagles weren't going to be able to do.

I knew they weren't going to be able to make a field goal. (They couldn't.)

I knew they'd turn it over on downs at least once in the red zone because kicking was out of the question. (They did.)

I knew they were going to put the football on the ground. (They did. More than once.)

I knew they weren't going to have any sort of a passing threat. (They didn't.)

And, I knew they wouldn't be able to stop ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke from passing for a bunch of touchdowns and a boatload of yards, on his way to setting the FCS single-season passing records for yards and completions. (They didn't.)

In other words, I knew a win was going to be impossible.

Sure, everybody knew Georgia Southern was going to rush for a ton of yards.

But when ODU went up, 28-14, in the third quarter, I just knew that was it. It was over.

But then things started happening.

I knew GSU needed a lucky bounce. They got it when Devin Scott, on his 11th carry of the season, fumbled inside the 5-yard line. The ball hopped into the end zone, went through the hands of not one, but two ODU defenders, and finally gave GSU six points when Tray Butler recovered it.

After that, the teams traded touchdowns, and all appeared lost once again when fullback Dominique Swope got dinged up and went to the sideline for treatment.

I knew that was the end.

But backup William Banks came up big once again for GSU on a drive in which he carried it five times, including a 17-yard run that would have been a touchdown if he didn't run into his own blocker. Jerick McKinnon scored two plays later.

Of course, Swope came back into the game, and all he did was score from 12 yards out on his next carry.

But what set up that drive?

ODU inexplicably went for it on 4th-and-6 from its own 39, and GSU's defense made a stop. When it mattered.

That was what the fourth quarter was all about. Dion DuBose forced a fumble in the red zone. When it mattered.

J.J. Wilcox got an interception on a would-be, game-tying drive. When it mattered.

Not to mention, the Eagles didn't commit a turnover. When it mattered.

Now, the Eagles are in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs for the third year in a row. Jeff Monken is now 7-2 in playoff games, and the Eagles face No. 1 seed North Dakota State in a rematch of last year's semifinals.

I'm not going to pretend the Eagles aren't going to be underdogs. But I'm also not going to say it can't be done.

"A bad case of the wants," "One more time," "GATA," "Runts try harder," — I used to think those were just awesome things Erk Russell used to say. Something for the fans.

Turns out, they're true.

That's why they don't play the game on paper.

It's also why I'm done pretending to know what's going to happen in a football game when 11 guys take the field against 11 other guys.

And that is what college football is all about.


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