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Ga. Southern takes the SoCon
Dominant second half takes down Wofford
Zach Walker (9) of Georgia Southern breaks the tackle of Blake Wylie (3) of Wofford to score a touchdown with no time on the clock in the second quarter. - photo by JOHN BYRUN/Spartanburg Herald-Journal

      Watch highlights of Georgia Southern's win over Wofford on "The Two-Minute Drill. Click on link to wach:

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- After losing at Appalachian State and squeaking past The Citadel with a two-point victory, one of the biggest questions Georgia Southern faced Saturday was how it would play against defending Southern Conference champion Wofford with a league title at stake.

The No. 4 Eagles answered with a dominant 31-10 victory over the No. 9 Terriers to win their first SoCon championship outright since 2002, and their first league title overall since 2004, which they shared with Furman.

“You could tell in everybody’s eyes that they were ready to play,” GSU fullback Dominique Swope said of the mood inside the Eagles’ locker room moments before kickoff.

A Gibbs Stadium crowd of 10,280 watched as GSU’s defense bottled up a Wofford offense that entered the game leading the nation in rushing with 374.22 yards per game. The Eagles held the Terriers’ triple-option attack to a season-low 192 yards rushing, while GSU’s offense ran the triple-option for 290 yards, the most Wofford has allowed this season.

GSU (9-1, 7-1) secured an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs, and likely assured itself of a first-round bye. The FCS playoff pairings will be announced Nov. 20, the day after GSU’s regular-season finale at Alabama.

Wofford (7-3, 5-2) will play at Chattanooga on Saturday.

“This is a great accomplishment for these kids,” GSU second-year head coach Jeff Monken said of his team, which played penalty-free football for the first time since facing Wofford in 2009. “The seniors on this team, two years ago, were 5-6. They’ve provided just tremendous, positive leadership for this team, and I’m just really proud of the effort they put forth and how determined they were to win this game this afternoon.”

With 45 seconds to play, GSU players dumped a bucket of ice-water on Monken to celebrate. When the game ended, several players ran to the bleachers and slapped hands with a large contingent of jubilant GSU fans.

“It’s amazing,” GSU senior cornerback Laron Scott said. “With this group of guys, we sweat and bleed doing everything in the offseason together. Just to be out there with those guys and be on top, and actually getting a (championship) ring, there’s no feeling like it. I know we’re going to be excited all the way home on the bus.”

Scott said SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino presented the team with the championship trophy inside the Eagles’ locker room.

“Just to see it, and feel it and have it in your hands … I did kiss it a couple of times,” Scott said. “It is amazing. Just to see it through the glass (trophy case at GSU), I know we’ve got a lot in our building, but just to have it in your hands, and it’s yours, no sharing, it’s amazing.”

GSU is now 11-7 against Wofford. The previous five games were decided by a total of 14 points. Last season, the Eagles lost, 33-31, to the Terriers in Statesboro in the regular season but won, 23-20, in the NCAA quarterfinals in Spartanburg, S.C.

The road team has won the last seven games in the series, dating to 2006.

GSU took a 3-0 lead on Adrian Mora’s 36-yard field goal with 9:47 left in the first quarter. It capped a 10-play, 61-yard game-opening drive.

Wofford went ahead, 7-3, early in the second quarter when Terriers quarterback Mitch Allen ran for a 31-yard touchdown to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive.

With 34 seconds left before halftime, Wofford’s Donovan Johnson fumbled and GSU’s John Douglas recovered. The fumble was forced by GSU’s Deion Stanley.

The Eagles produced a six-play, 46-yard scoring drive that was perhaps its best this season. Jaybo Shaw, who played the entire game at quarterback, completed a 30-yard pass to Jerick McKinnon, who caught the ball after it was tipped by a defender. The reception gave GSU a first down at Wofford’s 21-yard line with 12 seconds to play before halftime.

Two plays later, McKinnon dropped Shaw’s pass in the end zone.

On third-and-10, GSU’s Zach Walker caught Shaw’s screen pass, and Walker looked like he would be tackled. But the freshman shook off a defender, dove for the pylon with both hands outstretched and scored a touchdown as time expired. Mora kicked the extra point to give GSU a 10-7 lead at halftime.

“We knew we had to get that pass off quick,” Shaw said. “We threw it over to the sideline so we could get out of bounds, to Zach, and he made a great play, a spin move, and he tight-roped down the sideline and stuck the ball out for a touchdown.”

Said Walker: “I was just focused on the end zone because I knew we had to get in. It was either score or nothing.”

Early in the third quarter, Wofford tight end Joseph Inman was wide open but dropped the ball on a play that would have resulted in a touchdown to give the Terriers the lead. Wofford ended up punting.

“It was a defensive mess up, and we talked about it on the sideline,” GSU’s Scott said. “We went out and got it fixed. I’m just happy that they didn’t (score). That’s all you can be when somebody is wide open and they don’t catch it.”

GSU’s Shaw completed a 27-yard pass to tight end Tyler Sumner. Nico Hickey made a catch for 16 yards, and Shaw found him on the next play for a 12-yard gain. Three plays later, Shaw ran for a 3-yard touchdown to give GSU a 17-7 lead.

Shaw finished with 18 carries for 40 yards and three touchdowns, tying his career-high for rushing touchdowns. He was 6-of-12 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown without an interception.

GSU’s Swope ran for a game-high 165 yards on 27 carries, both career highs for the freshman. Sophomore Robert Brown ran five times for 19 yards.

“I’m happy to have an opportunity to play a role for my team,” Swope said. “No. 5 (Brown) was limited, but everything is alright because it’s all a team effort, and we pulled it off. Nothing is wrong with him. Coach (Monken) wanted to make sure that we had a fresh pair of B-backs in the game, so we kept switching on and off.”

Wofford’s Christian Reed kicked a 23-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the third quarter to cut the score to 17-10. A 47-yard pass from Wofford quarterback Mitch Allen to Brenton Bersin highlighted the drive.

GSU took a 24-10 lead on Shaw’s 1-yard touchdown with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter. The Eagles’ defense, sparked by Darius Eubanks’ sack on third down, thwarted Wofford’s drive with just under 7 minutes to play. Allen’s pass to Bersin was incomplete on fourth-and-12 from GSU’s 30-yard line.

GSU marched 70 yards on 11 plays, and Shaw ran for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 31-10.

“Being able to celebrate with my teammates, to see our goal finally reached in two years, and then to go after this Southern Conference championship, it’s just so special,” said Shaw, who transferred from Georgia Tech as a junior. “And we’re just so blessed as a team to have our coaches, to have our teammates. We’re all brothers. We’re just so happy for each other. Being able to celebrate just makes all the hard times worth it.”


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