Jeff Hawkins, NCAA.com
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — One play after losing control of the football for the first time, leading to an early Georgia Southern touchdown, Wofford quarterback Mitch Allen again lost his grasp.
The ball bouncing freely on the ground, defensive end John Douglas returned the turnover 20 yards, lunging into the end zone.
Two mistakes. Two turnovers. Two touchdowns. All in 15 seconds.
“That was tough to swallow,” Allen said.
In an NCAA FCS quarterfinal game Saturday before 11,823 at Gibbs Stadium, Georgia Southern benefited from early miscues and held off the Terriers’ second-half rally, securing a 23-20 victory.
Georgia Southern will play No. 3 Delaware, a 16-3 winner against UNH on Friday night, in an FCS semifinal next Saturday.
“We are lucky to be where we are,” Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken said. “I am proud of the players. Nothing has been easy for us all year.”
Taking a shortcut to rebuilding, Monken, in his first year commanding the Eagles program, carried the club from an uncertain offseason, through a tumultuous beginning, to a spot in the FCS semifinals.
“We are who we are,” Monken said, noting his club is not considered as “athletic” or “fast” as the Terriers, but found the will to advance. “We are a tough team who cares.
“We certainly benefited [from Wofford's six fumbles, two lost] and the scoop and score by Douglas.
“Then we gave one back at the end. It was a tremendous effort by our team to hold on and win.”
Competing before the third largest in-stadium crowd in school history Saturday, the Eagles scored first, taking advantage of blown secondary coverage. Quarterback Jaybo Shaw connected with wide receiver Tray Butler on a 25-yard pass at 3 minutes, 59 seconds of the first quarter.
Capping a run-dominant drive, highlighted by two Shaw first-down keepers, the Terriers’ defense appeared baited into thinking the ninth play they would face would be their ninth run. Wrong. Butler was left open by nearly 10 yards.
The Terriers’ first-half problems were just beginning. At one point, covering a span of nine first-half plays, they fumbled four times.
“Jeff and his team were well-prepared,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “We made too many mistakes in the first half. I felt we had an opportunity if we just executed. They created problems for us.”
Following a punt return into the Terriers’ territory, the Eagles were positioned to score again, which they did, 1:04 into the second quarter, on a 33-yard field goal by Adrian Mora.
The Terriers’ lone first-half score capped an unorthodox effort. Enduring two fumbles, both of which were safely recovered, and two quarterback changes, the Terriers settled for a 21-yard field goal by Christian Reed.
Two fourth-down conversions aided the Terriers’ first touchdown, with Allen hitting speedy wide receiver Brenton Bersin in stride on a 37-yard pass at 7:36 of the third quarter, cutting their deficit to 20-10.
Then a 17-play drive nearly collapsed when Allen again fumbled, on the final play of the third quarter, but it was recovered by halfback Mike Rucker. The Terriers eventually pulled to within 20-13 with 13:07 remaining, on Reed’s 27-yard field goal.
Buoyed by a 58-yard kickoff return by Laron Scott, the Eagles regained a 10-point lead on their next possession, capped by Mora’s 37-yard field goal.
It didn’t last long.
This time, it was the Terriers who benefited from a fumble.
Fighting for extra yardage, Georgia Southern fullback Robert Brown fended off no fewer than five hits, spinning and juking his way into a mass of defenders, allowing cornerback Preston Roseboro the chance to strip the ball from Brown’s hands. The bouncing ball was picked up by defensive end Alex Goltry and returned 19 yards for a score, pulling the Terriers to 23-20 with 5:13 left.
“It was a tale of two halves, quite frankly,” Ayers said. “The second half showed what kind of team we really are. A lesser team, I promise you, things would have gotten ugly.”
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