Georgia Southern senior Jerick McKinnon, who wore a boot on his sprained ankle throughout the week and even on the morning of the game, rushed for 125 yards on only 9 carries and scored the eventual game-winning touchdown.
7 — Georgia Southern had a season-high 7 tackles for loss against the Gators. They also had a season-high 7 pass breakups.
“That’s what playing college football is all about. It’s about having days like today, that they’re going to remember forever.”
— GSU head coach Jeff Monken
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It wasn’t the season the Georgia Southern Eagles were hoping for.
But it sure ended the right way.
The Eagles beat the Florida Gators 26-20 to end the season on Saturday, and it almost served as redemption for falling a game short of the national title game three years in a row, and even going 7-4 in 2013 in the program’s last year in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We had a chip on our shoulder this entire year, and we lost four games we weren’t supposed to,” senior linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck said. “We came in with the intent to win. It was the best feeling in the world. There’s nothing like it. It felt like the national championship we missed out on three years in a row.”
Senior fullback William Banks, who rushed for 94 yards and a score, couldn’t be happier with the way his career ended.
“From the beginning of the season we said we were going to go 11-0, and we let Eagle Nation down,” Banks said. “This makes up for it.”
McKinnon in the books
With his 66-yard run in the third quarter, Jerick McKinnon moved from fifth to third in the all-time Georgia Southern record books for career rushing yards. He also eclipsed the 1,000=yard mark for the second-straight season.
McKinnon passed Jayson Foster (3,835) and Joe Ross (3,876) to take third place behind Adrian Peterson and Jermaine Austin. He finished with 3,899 total rushing yards. He finished with 43-career rushing touchdowns.
Monken got it wrong
During the week leading up to the game, head coach Jeff Monken said the Eagles would have to play a perfect game to win.
He was wrong.
GSU committed two turnovers, muffed a punt to set the Gators up in field-goal range, got stopped on fourth down -- twice -- and converted only 3 of 10 third downs.
“We made some mistakes, and we were able to overcome them,” Monken said. “We didn’t play an absolutely perfect game. We made some errors, we put ourselves in some bad situations and we had some blunders, and we were still able to win the football game.”
Florida committed no turnovers, but managed only 279 yards of offense.
Another injured Eagle
Freshman defensive end Rafael Hardee went down with a knee injury on the game’s first series. Freshman Bernard Dawson took over for him.
“That’s a young group,” Monken said about the defensive line, which also saw seniors Blake Riley and Josh Gebhardt play their last game. “I hated to see (Hardee) go down, but I’m proud of the way they stepped up.”
Senior Johnathan Bryant’s family had some encouraging words for him the week before the Eagles played Florida -- sort of.
“My parents, they’re supportive, and even they said, ‘You’ve got Florida next week. Just do your best.’ I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to go out with a bang.’ It’s Florida,” Bryant said. “You face a big team like that, you’re back’s against the wall, and you can’t do nothing but fight.”
A non-passing trend
Georgia Southern did not complete a pass against Florida. In GSU’s history, the Eagles are 11-0 when not completing a pass.
“It confirms the fact that we should never throw the football,” Monken joked. “We’re 11-0 when we don’t complete a pass? That seems to work pretty good.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.