Georgia Southern football coach Jeff Monken said it was "thrilling."
Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder called it a "shootout."
It was both.
GSU and Old Dominion on Saturday combined to score 103 points, the most points the Eagles and an opponent have ever combined to score in a playoff game, in the GSU’s 55-48 victory in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The previous high was 101 points in GSU’s 72-29 first-round victory over Northern Arizona on Nov. 27, 1999.
A Paulson Stadium crowd of 13,226, GSU’s fourth-largest home playoff crowd, watched as the third-seeded and No. 3 Eagles (10-2) outlasted No. 10 Old Dominion (10-3) to advance to the quarterfinals.
The Eagles, who improved to 31-3 at home in the playoffs, will play host to Maine, which beat Appalachian State, 34-12, in Boone, N.C., on Saturday.
GSU will learn today from the NCAA and ESPN if it will play at 8 p.m. Friday or 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
"What an unbelievable football game," said Monken, whose Eagles gained 607 yards of total offense on 73 plays, including 477 yards rushing on 62 carries, the most yardage Old Dominion has ever allowed. "I thought our crowd was tremendous. They were loud and into it. Boy, what a thrill for us. What a thrilling game. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to move on to the next round."
Despite all of the offense, it was Nico Hickey’s recovery of a fumble in the end zone that provided GSU with a 55-41 lead with 2:03 to play.
Old Dominion, in its third season of football after a 69-year hiatus and in its inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association, gained 560 yards on 74 plays, including 349 yards passing.
"I’m incredibly proud of our offense," ODU’s Wilder said. "Taylor Heinicke today, he played as well as you can play as a quarterback. For his season, he throws 25 touchdown passes and one interception on a Hail Mary at the end of the Towson game. I think he’s the best quarterback in the country right now at the FCS level. And I thought he played like it today."
Heinicke, a freshman from Collins Hill High School in Atlanta, finished 25-of-44 passing for 341 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. He ran seven times for 75 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown that cut the score to 55-48 with 39 seconds to play.
Old Dominion attempted on onside kick but the game officials ruled that the ball did not travel the required 10 yards before it was touched by the Monarchs’ Blair Roberts, and GSU was awarded possession.
"What the game came down to was a call that I didn’t fully agree with at the end," ODU’s Wilder said. "I was certain that we had run the bounce kick and Blair Roberts had caught the ball on the 40-yard line. From my vantage point it looked like he was right on the 40 when he high-pointed that ball. (With) 49 seconds left in the game and two timeouts, I not only thought we were going to score, but at that point I had already planned that we were going to go for two and win the game. It’s disappointing that it came down to that. But I’m very proud of our team’s performance."
GSU was led by B-back Dominique Swope, who ran 31 times for a career-high 255 yards (the fourth-best ever by an Eagle) and two touchdowns of 2 and 76 yards. The SoCon’s Co-Freshman of the Year said he was happy with his performance but upset that he committed two of GSU’s six fumbles. The Eagles lost two fumbles, one of them Swope’s, which Hickey recovered in the end zone.
GSU quarterback Jaybo Shaw finished 7-of-11 passing for 130 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown to Kentrellis Showers. Shaw did not throw an interception and he ran for two 1-yard touchdowns. Robert Brown gained 83 yards on four carries. Darreion Robinson ran seven times for 54 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown.
"We couldn’t stop them," ODU’s Wilder said of GSU’s triple-option offense. "It was a helpless feeling.
"What hurt us in this football game is we did not tackle well. We just did not tackle well. We were in position to make tackles and we didn’t do it, and that was the difference in our inability to stop them."
The teams were tied at 28 at halftime.
Early in the fourth quarter, with GSU leading 41-35, ODU’s Nick Mayers forced GSU’s Shaw to fumble during a pitch and the Monarchs’ Craig Wilkins recovered at ODU’s 2-yard line.
Old Dominion drove 57 yards on nine plays to GSU’s 41-yard line, but the Monarchs’ drive ended when GSU linebacker Josh Rowe forced Mayers to fumble. GSU cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks scooped up the ball and returned it 27 yards to ODU’s 32-yard line.
"We couldn’t stop them," Monken said. "We were struggling to get them off the field. … It was a big play. We needed to get the ball back and go score."
Two plays later, Shaw connected with Hickey for a 25-yard gain to ODU’s 4-yard line. Two plays after that, Shaw scored on a 1-yard dive up the middle, and Swope ran for a two-point conversion, giving the Eagles a 49-35 lead with 8:15 to play.
Old Dominion cut the score to 49-41 with 6:21 to play when Heinicke connected with Prentice Gill for a 19-yard touchdown. Jarod Brown’s extra-point attempt was blocked by GSU’s Josh Gebhardt, and the ball glanced off the middle of the crossbar and missed. Gill finished with eight catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.