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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Samford Bulldogs looked like they may pull off an improbable fourth-straight win over Georgia Southern.
That is, until the second half.
The Eagles entered the third quarter with the game tied 7-7, but out-scored the Bulldogs 21-3 in the second half before putting in the reserves and holding on for a 31-17 win Saturday at Seibert Stadium.
The difference between the two halves was simple.
"In the second half we came out and executed," said GSU fullback Robert Brown, who led all rushers with 140 yards on 20 carries. "We did what we were supposed to, and we came out on top."
Brown scored on a nine-yard run late in the third quarter to put the Eagles ahead 14-7 and give GSU (1-0, 1-0 Southern Conference) a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Samford (0-1, 0-1) answered with a field goal, but the Eagles responded immediately.
Laron Scott fielded the ensuing kickoff at the goal line and returned it 99 yards to give the Eagles a 21-10 lead.
"JJ [Wilcox] just told me to run behind him and he was going to block," said Scott." I just made one cut and decided to follow the guys, and they did a good job of leading me down the field."
Early in the fourth quarter, a 41-yard field goal by Adrian Mora made it 24-10, and backup quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who also took snaps with an empty backfield and played wide receiver and slotback, scored his second touchdown of the game from 18 yards out to make it 31-10.
"He's one of our best players," said GSU coach Jeff Monken about McKinnon, "and we want to give him the opportunity to get the ball in his hands and we lined him up in a bunch of places and gave him the chance to do that."
Samford's last two drives resulted in an interception by GSU safety Derek Heyden picking off a pass and a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dustin Taliaferro to Kelvin Clay with 43 seconds to go.
Mistakes kept points off the scoreboard for both teams in the first half.
Samford committed six penalties in the first half and missed two field goals, and the Eagles had two second-quarter turnovers to keep the score low as the teams entered the half tied 7-7 despite combining for 387 first-half yards.
After the first GSU drive resulted in a punt, the second was kept alive by four third-down conversions, including two resulting from Samford penalties.
McKinnon entered the game for the first time as a running back as the second quarter began. He carried the ball on four of the second quarter's first five plays, the last of which was a two-yard touchdown run.
The second of GSU's two turnovers — a fumble by Brown — resulted in an SU drive that ended with a six-yard scamper by running back Fabian Truss (21-76) and tied the game at 7-7.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.