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Georgia Southern defense comes up big in the clutch
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Teammates begin to celebrate as Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox, center, wrestles a pass away from Old Dominion wide receiver Nick Mayers, bottom, for an interception of quarterback Taylor Heinicke with 2:28 left in the game to help ice a 49-35 victory. After the interception, GSU scored a late touchdown to ice the victory. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

 

In a game that featured over 1,000 yards of offense and 84 total points, it was three big plays by the Georgia Southern defensive unit that helped the Eagles to their 3rd straight FCS semifinal appearance.

Trailing 35-28 in the fourth quarter Old Dominion was driving for what could have been the final stake in the Eagles’ coffin.

Facing a 3rd-and-6 from the Georgia Southern 13-yard line ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke was blindsided by Dion Dubose who managed to strip the ball loose, and Patrick Flowe recovered, giving the Eagles’ offense an opportunity to march down and tie the game at 35-35.

"The defense, they made some great stops." said Eagle quarterback Jerick McKinnon. "They gave us some room to get on the field as an offense and make plays."

That play was followed on the Monarch’s next series by a bizarre call on 4th-and 6 by ODU head coach Bobby Wilder to go for it from his own 39 yard line which resulted in John Stevenson breaking up a pass intended for Tyree Lee.

"Certainly the 4th-down stop there was big." Said GSU head coach Jeff Monken. "That certainly changed the momentum."

The Eagle offense turned that into 7 more points to take a 42-35 lead. And then the icing on the cake came on arguably one of the most impressive defensive plays of the year for the Eagles as on 1st-and 10 from their own 25 Heinke passed across the middle to Nick Mayers who appeared to make the catch only to have the ball ripped away by Eagle safety J.J. Wilcox.

"It happened just like in practice." Wilcox said. "And I was just in the right spot at the right time."

Georgia Southern then put the game on ice with 7-play, 35 yard drive capped off by McKinnon’s fourth touchdown of the game.