How much will playoff experience be a factor when Georgia Southern faces North Dakota State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals in Fargo, N.D.?
Georgia Southern has won six national championships, but the last one was in 2000. Perhaps more beneficial for the Eagles is that they are in the FCS semifinals for a second consecutive season. They lost, 27-10, to Delaware last season.
"We learned a lot," GSU senior center William Maxwell said of the Eagles’ journey to the semifinals last year. "In the semifinals, the game is real important, more so than the other playoff games. There’s a lot riding on it, getting to the next game. This year, we’ve got more experience. I feel like we’ll be better prepared for it."
North Dakota State, meanwhile, advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time last season. The Bison lost, 38-31 in overtime, in the quarterfinals to eventual national champion Eastern Washington.
Saturday’s game at the Fargodome between third-ranked and third-seeded GSU (11-2) and fourth-ranked and second-seeded North Dakota State (12-1) will be televised on ESPNU.
GSU advanced to the semifinals by beating No. 13 Maine, 35-23, in the quarterfinals Saturday at Paulson Stadium. North Dakota State beat No. 6 Lehigh, 24-0, in the quarterfinals.
"I think this is a team that’s played really hard and competed all year in every game," GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. "I thought our guys did the same last year. I was really proud of the effort of our 2010 team and how hard they fought each week, and I think that really set a bar for this team and for teams to come that there’s a certain way we play, there’s a certain kind of effort that we expect. There’s a standard for it. And I think our team got better."
North Dakota State is 1-0 against GSU. The Bison beat the Eagles, 34-14, on Oct. 7, 2006, at Paulson Stadium.
GSU this season was supposed to play North Dakota State in Fargo, N.D., but the Eagles opted out of returning a road game and paid Presbyterian College $75,000 to come to Statesboro on Oct. 22.
Words like "chicken" and "scared" are being used to describe GSU by North Dakota State fans posting on various websites.
When GSU lost to North Dakota State, then-GSU head coach Brian VanGorder had scrapped the Eagles’ triple-option offense.
The GSU team that will play North Dakota State on Saturday is completely different from the version VanGorder guided to a 3-8 record.
Monken, in his first season, embraced the triple-option and took GSU to the semifinals. As an encore, Monken has the Eagles in the semifinals again.
In the other semifinal, top-ranked and top-seeded Sam Houston State (13-0) will play fifth-ranked and fourth-seeded Montana (11-2) at 8 p.m. Friday. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The national championship game is Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
Monken said he was particularly impressed with GSU senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw’s performance against Maine.
Shaw finished 7-of-8 passing for 116 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kentrellis Showers. Shaw did not throw an interception, but he fumbled one time during a pitch. He ran for 19 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
"Jaybo was throwing the ball great," Monken said. "He was throwing it as good as he has ever. I’ve seen him as a college player and I’ve been fortunate to be around him for four years."
Monken said Shaw gives the Eagles confidence.
"I don’t think there’s any question that when you have a veteran quarterback there’s a confidence that the team has and the coaching staff has when he’s in the football game," Monken said. "Jaybo’s a special kid. I’ve known him since he was a senior in high school and we recruited him at (Georgia) Tech. He’s always been mature beyond his years. He played for us as a true freshman at Tech. Won a couple of ball games as a starter.
"He just has a presence with our guys and I think they recognize what a great leader he is, and that he’s going to make decisions with the football that are going to keep our offense going and keep our offense moving."
Said Shaw, "That’s what we expect with our offense, to control the ball, to control the time of possession. We expect those long drives, and that helps our defense, too. That’s just our job, to go out there and run our offense and control the clock."
GSU gained 476 yards of total offense against Maine, including 360 yards rushing. The Eagles maintained possession of the ball for 42:24 compared to the Black Bears’ 17:36.
Monken said great blocking was instrumental.
"They were firing some linebackers in there in the gaps and I think that gave us opportunities on the perimeter," Monken said. "At times, we really blocked the perimeter well. J.J. (Wilcox) and Darreion (Robinson), J.B. (Johnathan Bryant), Nico (Hickey), Robert Brown, and all those guys at A-back did a nice job of getting the edge knocked down.
"And the wide receivers, that group of guys, (Zach) Walker, Kentrellis (Showers), (Patrick) Barker and (Mitch) Williford, they did a really nice job on the edge."
FCS semifinal tickets available
Tickets to attend Georgia Southern's Football Championship Subdivision semifinal against North Dakota State are still available, according to GSU ticket manager John Ramfjord.
The game will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.
Tickets are $27.50 per ticket. There are a limited number of tickets available through GSU's ticket office. The deadline to order tickets is noon Wednesday.
"We were allotted 500 tickets, and we have them available for sale through our office until Wednesday at (noon)," Ramfjord wrote in response to an email. "Fans can order them by calling 1-800-GSU-WINS or coming by the ticket office located off Lanier Dr."
GSU posted on its website that travel arrangements to Fargo, N.D., are being coordinated through Burns World Travel. Please contact Patty Burns at (912) 489-4040 for more information on travel arrangements.
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.