To beat Georgia Southern in the playoffs in Paulson Stadium, you have to stop the triple option.
Central Arkansas stopped two of them.
Quarterback Jerick McKinnon — the third option — entered the GSU record books for rushing yards by a quarterback with 316, leading the Eagles to a 24-16 win on Saturday in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision tournament.
First, McKinnon passed Greg Hill, who rushed for 238 yards against Florida A&M in the 1998 playoffs. Then he passed Jayson Foster, who rushed for 279 yards against Wofford during the 2007 regular season — then the most by any GSU quarterback.
The only single-game rushing record he couldn’t touch was the one by Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 333 yards against Massachusetts in the 1999 playoffs — an FCS record that still stands.
Head coach Jeff Monken was on the field at Paulson for Peterson’s performance as an assistant.
"Adrian Peterson had the flu that day," Monken said after he was asked to compare the performance with McKinnon’s. "He came over to the sidelines to throw up on the wall out there. That was something else — 333 yards, and he had three 25-yard runs on the zone give. Everybody talks about "The Run" (against Youngstown State in the 1999 national title game), but I’m not sure the best run he had wasn’t the one here to finish the (UMass) game. He ran over a guy and made two guys miss. Jerick is a great runner. He’s strong. But they’re different guys. We needed a bunch of yards out of (Jerick on Saturday), particularly in the first half."
The Eagles (9-3) scored on every first-half possession except the first and last.
The Bears (9-3) got it back with 44.5 seconds left after the Eagles’ first punt gave them the ball on the GSU 45 yard line.
A seven-yard scramble by quarterback Wynrick Smothers and a 20-yard pass to running back Jackie Hinton, combined with a pass interference call in the end zone, set UCA up with a 30-yard field goal to leave the Bears trailing 24-9 at halftime.
Smothers was 16 of 41 on the day for 251 yards, and many of his incompletions came from shots taken down the field.
"I fully expected they’d take some shots on some deep balls. We’ve been hit on some deep balls this year. They hit on some today," Monken said. Sometimes they come down with it, sometimes it’s pass interference and sometimes it’s incomplete. We didn’t intercept any. They took their shots and I kind of thought they would."
The Bears had the opportunity for a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, but after Smothers completed a 10-yard pass to Dezmin Lewis, GSU cornerback Nic Wright delivered a hit and the ball came loose. The Eagles recovered with 50 seconds left.
The play, originally ruled down by contact, was overturned by an official review, one of several during the game.
The FCS institutes officials replay during the playoffs, after the play-in round.
"I didn’t know we had it until the first (review)," said GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell. "I thought coach Monken threw a challenge flag. It was like, ‘No, they’re reviewing it.’ There were a couple of reviews out there today. Some went our way, some went their way."
After turning it over on downs to open the game, the Eagles scored touchdowns on three-straight possessions — each answered by a UCA field goal.
McKinnon scored on a 52-yard run to make it 7-0 early in the first, and threw a 32-yard pass over the top to Robinson to make it 14-3.
McKinnon ran 52 yards to the UCA 5-yard line on the next GSU possession, and scored from six yards out two plays later.
McKinnon ran for 85 yards in the first quarter, 81 in the second and 105 in the third.
Central Arkansas kicker Eddie Camera had first-quarter field goals of 34 and 42 yards into the wind, and GSU’s Alex Hanks, who came into the game just 6 of 15 on field goals, was good into the wind in the second quarter on a 40-yard kick that snuck in just over the bar.
Hanks, a true freshman, improved to 38 of 40 on extra points in 2012. He missed a 27-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, which was GSU’s only scoring opportunity in the second half.
McKinnon (2 of 7, 79 yards) threw a third-quarter interception in the third quarter that set up the Bears’ only touchdown, a 19-yard run by Hinton.
The Eagles will advance to the quarterfinals, where they will travel to Norfolk, Va., to face Old Dominion, a team the Eagles met last season.
Old Dominion fell, 55-48, at Paulson during the second round of the 2011 playoffs.
The game will be on either Friday or Saturday, depending on which quarterfinal games get picked up for television. The Monarchs defeated Coastal Carolina, 63-35 on Saturday.
: The announced attendance was the lowest for a GSU home game under Monken, at 8,888. … The Eagles improved to 44-12 all time in the FCS (formerly I-AA) playoffs. They are 16-2 in playoff openers and 33-3 all time at Paulson in the playoffs. … Cornerback Valdon Cooper, who started 10 of GSU’s 11 regular-season games, was suspended for disciplinary reasons for Saturday’s game. … McKinnon’s 316 yards marked the fifth-straight game in which he rushed for more than 100 yards. His two touchdowns marked the third game in a row with multiple rushing scores. He has five in 2012. … Linebacker John Stevenson needs two more tackles to reach 100 on the season. Fullback Dominique Swope, who had 64 yards against the Bears, needs 17 to reach 1,000-plus yards for the second-straight season. … Before the game, a 9-foot bronze statue of legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell was unveiled at Paulson Stadium, in front of the Bishop Field House. It will be placed on the opposite end of the stadium after the Football Operations Center is built. Construction is expected to begin during the offseason.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.