Delete GREENVILLE, S.C. — It was an all-or-nothing kind of day for Georgia Southern.
Of the Eagles’ 440 total yards, 238 of them came on six plays, and every other yard was hard to come by as the third-ranked Eagles scored 35 points in the second half to knock off the Furman Paladins, 38-17, Saturday at Paladin Stadium.
Most of the scoring came in the second half, after Furman (2-6, 1-4 Southern Conference) led, 7-3.
“We got after those guys pretty good at halftime, and they deserved it,” said GSU coach Jeff Monken. “They weren’t playing very good. They weren’t as focused and intense as we needed to be. We said, ‘We had a really intense, physical game last week against Wofford, and we’ve got to come back and do it again.’ It’s difficult to get a team to do that, and I thought we did a lot better in the second half.”
The longest plays of the game came after the break. Zach Walker caught a 75-yard touchdown pass – his first of the year – for a third-quarter, 17-10 lead, and slotback Johnathan Bryant scored a 42-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth to put GSU up, 24-10.
Bryant led GSU in rushing (6 carries, 75 yards) and receptions (2-55). He also subbed for J.J. Wilcox as the team’s kickoff returner after Wilcox briefly left the game with an injury, but the Paladins’ deep kicks kept him without a return.
“Whatever my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m involved in doing,” said Bryant. “Whatever my team needs.”
The Eagles (6-1, 5-1) scored a season-low three first-half points, but the big plays started on the first drive of the third quarter. Quarterback Jerick McKinnon set up a one-yard touchdown run with a 32-yard scamper, and a blocked extra point left the GSU lead at 9-7.
Furman re-took the lead with a 48-yard field goal by Ray Early, but the pass to Walker, which came on the first play of the next drive, and a two-point conversion on a run by Darreion Robinson, gave GSU the lead for good.
The Furman deficit got bigger when, trailing 24-10, Furman quarterback Reese Hannon (19-26, 184 yards) fumbled a snap and GSU defensive end Dion Dubose scooped it up and returned it 44 yards to the 5-yard line.
“I came off my block, and I just saw the ball on the ground,” said Dubose. “My eyes got wide, I picked it up and I just started running. When I got to about the 15, I thought, ‘My legs aren’t going anywhere, but I’m still gonna try, I’m still gonna try.’ When I got to the 5, I got tackled.”
Two plays later, fullback Dominique Swope punched it in for a 30-10 GSU lead, which stayed that way after Alex Hanks missed the extra point. Swope also scored the game’s last touchdown, with 20 seconds left, and punched in a two-point conversion for the final margin.
Furman’s lone second-half touchdown came on a two-yard pass from Hannon to running back Jerodis Williams, who led all rushers with 17 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles scored on five of six second-half drives.
“The coaches challenged us (at halftime) to score every time we got the ball. They said we only had four opportunities in the first half, so do our best to score four out of four. In the first half, we felt like we let the defense down. They were playing really hard.”
The teams combined for four first-half punts, and the only times the Eagles got close to scoring were a 32-yard field goal by Hanks and a fumble on 1st-and-goal at the end of the second quarter. Before the last drive of the half, the Eagles gained only 106 yards of offense, the bulk of which on a 41-yard pass from McKinnon to Bryant in the first quarter to set up the Hanks kick.
They finally got a spark from backup quarterback Ezayi Youyoute with 1:50 remaining in the half, but nothing resulted from his eight-play, 65-yard drive. Youyoute connected on 3 of 4 passes for 46 yards and rushed four times for 26 yards on the drive, but fumbled on 1st-and-goal from the 10 with 35 seconds left in the second quarter. The Paladins took the opportunity to kneel out the half and take a 7-3 lead in the locker room.
Furman had several missed chances in the first half. A Ray Early field goal attempt clanged off the left upright on the game’s first drive, and the Paladins converted a first down on 3rd-and-4 from the GSU 29, but the play was called back for holding and the drive resulted in a punt. Georgia Southern returns to action Saturday at 6 p.m., on the road at Chattanooga.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.