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Eagles bring down the Dawgs
Freshman defensive lineman Josh Gebhart (No. 90) picked up the loose ball and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. - photo by Jeff Whitte

STATESBORO — Georgia Southern lost starting quarterback Jaybo Shaw to injury in the first quarter, but it didn’t matter as the Eagles routed South Carolina State 41-16 Saturday in a first-round Football Championship Subdivision game.

Georgia Southern (8-4) ran for 323 yards on 77 carries against a defense that had been giving up only 70.4 yards per game on the ground, best in the FCS. The Eagles, who kept possession for 41:40, will play at No. 2 seed William & Mary on Dec. 4.

At times, the Bulldogs (9-3), who lost in the first round for the third straight year, were their own worst enemy. The Eagles scored two safeties off mishandled kickoffs and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

The Eagles were leading 9-0 with 6:10 left in the first quarter when Shaw left the game with what initially was feared to be a concussion. He watched the rest of the game from the sidelines with his pads removed, but is reportedly expected to play when the Eagles take on William & Mary.

Jerick McKinnon replaced Shaw, and after a shaky start he settled down to guide the Eagles to 22 second-half points.

"Jerick settled down and got comfortable," Monken said. "We didn’t get anything from them (South Carolina State) that we hadn’t prepared for this week.

"It was a tough situation for a freshman," Monken said. "The guys out there picked up their game. They knew they had to give him some support and confidence, and they did."

Freshman fullback Robert Brown led Georgia Southern with 77 yards rushing on 15 carries. Brown, however, also had three fumbles and was replaced in the fourth quarter by seldom-used senior Lee Banks, who rushed eight times for 56 yards.

Georgia Southern led 16-0 after the first quarter thanks to a 5-yard run by J.J. Wilcox, a safety and a 34-yard run with a fumble by Josh Gebhardt.

Wilcox, a wide receiver, had 50 yards rushing and he also had a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Third-team quarterback Russell DeMasi, playing in his first game of the season, made it 41-10 with 6 minutes to play on a 1-yard run.

"It shocked me," South Carolina State Coach Buddy Pough said of his team’s start. "I did not think we could come out and play so poorly.

"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Pough said. "We would get a drive going and then something would happen."

Georgia Southern made it 19-0 on a 32-yard field goal by Adrian Mora three minutes into the second quarter.

The Bulldogs got a 90-yard kickoff return by Lennel Elmore and a 21-yard field goal by Blake Erickson to make it 19-10 at the half. Their only offensive score came on a 58-yard pass from Malcolm Long to Elmore with 5:21 left in the game.

Long struggled, completing 12 of 25 passes, and he was intercepted three times. The Bulldogs managed only 223 yards offense while Georgia Southern finished with 344 yards.

This was Georgia Southern’s first playoff appearance since 2005, and their first playoff win since 2002 when they lost in the semifinals. They suffered first-round losses in 2003 and 2005.

It was the 14th consecutive first-round loss for teams from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

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