STATESBORO, Ga. - Raja Andrews tied a Georgia Southern single-game record making nine receptions, but Andrew Wilcox's fifth field goal of the game was the difference as the Eagles dropped their Southern Conference opener to Elon, 22-20 at Paulson Stadium. Georgia Southern fell to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the league while Elon improved to 3-1 and 1-0.
In the fourth quarter the Eagles drove down into Elon territory but were facing 3rd-and-goal from the nine after a penalty. Antonio Henton scrambled to his left and found Demarcus Watts on the left corner for a touchdown. Adrian Mora's extra point put the Eagles ahead by one.
Elon eventually got the ball back with 4:12 remaining on its own 20. After a pair of first downs, Elon advanced to its own 42. The Eagles nearly came up with an interception down the sidelines on first down. Facing 4th-and-10, Riddle found Terrell Hudgins for 20 yards. Six plays later Wilcox lined up from 34 yards and nailed the kick with six seconds left.
Georgia Southern's desperation pass fell incomplete and Elon won for the second straight time in the series.
"Defensively, most of the night we held them in check. We gave up the fourth down where we gave up the hitch-and-go to get them close to field goal range. However, defensively we played well enough to win," said Georgia Southern head coach Chris Hatcher. "Offensively we couldn't make the plays when we needed to. We had some protection problems - they were giving our tackles fits all night long. We had a good play there to run the clock out but we got beat off the edge. The bad thing about it is, we had the chances to win the game and we didn't do it."
The Eagles held Elon to 3-and-out on its opening drive, just shy of a first down. Henton came out throwing, completing 3-of-5 passes for 37 yards and ran for another five, however, the drive stalled on Elon's 24. Mora connected on a 41-yard field goal, the first kicking attempt of his career in his first collegiate game played.
Elon drove into GS territory but on 3rd-and-short the defense held. Facing 4th-and-2 from the GS 29, J.B. Shippy, Dakota Walker and Brandon Echols stopped A.J. Harris for no gain, giving the Eagles the ball on downs.
On the first play, Henton found Andrews for 54 yards, a career-long reception for the senior wide receiver. Mora would eventually convert a 32-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Phoenix marched down to the Eagles' 11, but Bo Williamson could not haul in a TD pass from Riddle and Elon settled for a 25-yard field goal from Wilcox to make it 6-3 with 4:31 remaining in the first.
Wilcox added a 36-yard FG on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game. On the ensuing kickoff freshman Samair Baker took the kick on his own four, dodged through a couple of tackles, hit the right corner, picked up a key downfield block on the kicker and scored. It was the first time in 47 games an Eagle scored on a kickoff return (Jayson Foster 83 yards vs. Wofford in 2004), and Baker joined elite company becoming the 10th Eagle all-time to score on a kickoff return.
On Elon's next drive, Riddle eluded the blitz and connected with Hudgins on a 52-yard pass, then added a facemask penalty to put the Phoenix down to the seven. The two connected again for a record-setting TD. Riddle became Elon's all-time TD passing leader with his 39th (Burgin Beale threw 38 from 1965-68). Hudgins took sole possession of the SoCon career record with his 29th touchdown reception. He previously was tied with Furman's Chas Fox (1982-85).
Henton and Andrews connected for 52 yards on third down from midfield. The Eagles had 1st-and-goal but the drive stalled. Mora connected on a 22-yard FG but a personal foul gave the Eagles 1st-and-goal from the Phoenix two. Henton found Tim Camp in the endzone but the TD was called back on a holding penalty. The Eagles were pushed back to attempt a 40-yard field goal that fell short.
"We had the ball on the two after the penalty. I thought we could get it in from the two. We had a great call on first down and missed a block on the edge. Then we took a sack - we preach it every day in practice not to take a sack there - and kept going backwards and backwards. But it shouldn't have come to that. I don't second-guess that decision," said Hatcher.
Wilcox nailed a 33-yard FG with 1:10 left in the half to give Elon its first lead at 16-13. Elon out-gained GS 308-183 in the first half and held the ball for more than 7:30 longer (18:48-11:12).
Following a scoreless third quarter, Carson Hill nailed Riddle for no gain on 3rd-and-1 from the Eagles' six. Wilcox's 22-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter made it 19-13.
By the end of the third quarter Andrews had already set his career-highs, nine receptions for 143 yards. He missed most of the fourth quarter with an injury. Those 143 yards were the fifth-most in program history, surpassing his previous high by 20 yards which was set last week.
Henton completed 20-of-40 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 46 yards on 15 carries. His yardage is the 10th-highest total in program history, also making it two straight weeks the sophomore QB has thrown for at least 200 yards.
Baker registered a team-high 55 rushing yards to go with his 151 on four kickoff returns.
Quentin Taylor recorded 12 tackles and Terrione Benefield added a career-high 11 stops. Junior Ronnie Wiggins came up with two key interceptions, the first of his career. In fact, those two picks were the first by Georgia Southern this season.
Hudgins' record-setting night included 13 catches for 199 yards and a TD. The junior wide receiver now holds the SoCon career marks in receptions (226) and touchdowns.
Riddle completed 27-of-45 passes for 308 yards and a score to go along with his two interceptions. Brandon Newsome rushed for a game-high 148 yards. Brandon Wiggins made a team-high 10 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss.
Elon plays host to Samford next week. The Eagles conclude their four-game homestand next Saturday (Sept. 27), playing host to Wofford. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Paulson Stadium and the game will be televised live on CSS.