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Eagles swept away by Tide
GSU fights hard, but bows out to Alabama
Georgia Southern Alab Heal
Georgia Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw (14) is taken down by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial (90) in the first half of Saturday'sl game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. - photo by Associated Press

      Watch the GSU Postgame Show following the Eagles' battle with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Click on link:


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Georgia Southern agreed to play Alabama for a $400,000 paycheck Saturday. The Eagles’ payoff was far greater -- they earned the Crimson Tide’s respect despite a 45-21 loss.

"That’s a good little team we played out there today," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "When I say little team, I don’t mean toughness. They really did a good job of running their offense. It’s a tough offense to get prepared for."

A Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd of 101,821 watched, often in disbelief, as GSU (9-2, No. 3 in the Football Championship Subdivision) masterfully executed its triple-option for 302 yards rushing. Alabama (10-1, No. 3 in the Football Bowl Subdivision) entered the game allowing only 51.9 yards rushing and 7.1 points per game.

"Georgia Southern is 9-1 for a reason," Saban said, forgetting to add his team’s win to the Eagles’ loss total. "They really should be 10-0. They are one of the better top couple teams in their division. They run an offense that is very difficult to defend … this has been a tough week for us from a defensive standpoint and I’m glad it’s over."

GSU is 0-16 against FBS opponents, but the Southern Conference champion trailed by only 10 points, 31-21, with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter.

"I’m disappointed we lost the football game," GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. "I’m never going to be happy when we lose, but I’m proud of our team and how hard they fought today. I thought our kids put forth a tremendous effort against one of the best football teams in the country, maybe the best in the country."

Alabama took a 3-0 when Jeremy Shelley capped the Crimson Tide’s opening drive by kicking a 32-yard field goal.

GSU’s opening drive ended with Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower blocking a 42-yard field-goal attempt by GSU’s Adrian Mora. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick returned the ball for a 55-yard touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 10-0 lead. It was the first kick GSU ever had blocked and returned for a touchdown in the program’s 30-year history. It also was Mora’s first failed field-goal attempt this season.

"When we gave up that blocked kick for a touchdown, that was a 10-point swing," GSU quarterback Jaybo Shaw said. "We could have folded up our tents right there and called it a day but we came back and responded, kept trying to fight and kept swinging. I’m proud of the guys for that effort."

Alabama went up 17-0 when Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron with 12:56 left before halftime. Richardson finished with three touchdowns. He ran for a game-high 175 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.

GSU responded on the first play of its ensuing drive as freshman fullback Dominique Swope ran for an 82-yard touchdown, cutting the score to 17-7.

"The offensive line’s blocks were outstanding. I’ve got to give them all the credit," said Swope, who finished with a career-high 153 yards rushing on 18 carries.

Alabama’s Richardson ran for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 24-7 with 6:16 left before halftime.

GSU answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Shaw’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Bryant, which cut the score to 24-14 with 56 seconds left before halftime. Shaw finished 1-of-5 passing for 39 yards.

"I bobbled it," Bryant said, smiling. "It hit my gloves as soon as I looked back (at Shaw). It was right there in my face. I’m glad that I caught it."

Alabama’s AJ McCarron threw the ball to wide receiver Marquis Maze, but GSU cornerback Laron Scott broke up the play in the end zone. The Crimson Tide’s Cade Foster then missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt wide left, and Alabama settled for a 10-point halftime lead.

Alabama’s Brad Smelley caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to give the Crimson Tide a 31-14 lead with 7:17 left in the third quarter.

But GSU’s Scott returned the ensuing kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown to cut Alabama’s lead back to 10 points, 31-21, with 7:03 left in the third quarter. Bryant-Denny Stadium quickly became much quieter.

"I was very disappointed on the kickoff return," Saban said. "We had good kickoff coverage until that one."

With a 1-yard plunge with 2:36 left in the third quarter, Richardson gave Alabama a 38-21 lead. The junior also scored his 20th rushing touchdown this season, breaking Shaun Alexander’s school-record 19 set in 1999.

With 9:20 left in the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-5, GSU went for it but Shaw’s pass intended for Mitchell Williford fell incomplete. Alabama took over on downs at its 8-yard line.

The Crimson Tide then capped a 15-play, 92-yard drive with McCarron’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Smelley, putting Alabama up 45-21, with 44 seconds to play. McCarron finished 14-of-19 passing for 190 yards.

"They made us better today," Shaw said of Alabama.


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.