An atmosphere of nostalgia and promise blanketed Rhodes Stadium as the Georgia Southern University football team defeated Elon University 38-20 in both teams’ Southern Conference Finale.
Elon, like other SoCon opponents the Eagles have faced this season, was looking to bring a bitter end to GSU’s time in the conference. At the start of the game, the Phoenix began to do just that.
Elon’s offense marched down the field for its first two drives and freshman kicker John Gallagher capped off both with field goals. Accompany that with two GSU drives that came up empty, Elon jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. Things began to turn for GSU at the end of the first quarter when freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison broke a 53-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles a 7-6 lead.
“It wasn’t pretty all the time,” GSU head coach Je ff Monken said. “The first couple of drives on offense, I was disappointed they stalled out. The defense did a great job. We gave up a couple of big plays and held them to field goals, and then we got going on offense.”
The second quarter of action was a similar story. The score remained 7-6 until redshirt freshman Irving Huggins punched in the first of his three rushing touchdowns to give GSU a 14-6 lead. The first half was capped off by a career-long 49-yard field goal by freshman kicker Younghoe Koo to give the Eagles a 17-6 lead going into halftime.
The third quarter would see more of Ellison and Huggins. Huggins found the end zone for the second time on a two-yard run and Ellison capped off a nine-play, 68-yard drive with a 14-yard rushing score of his own. With 40 seconds left in the quarter, Elon showed signs of life as junior quarterback Mike Quinn threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to bring the score to 31-13.
Huggins scored his third rushing touchdown of the game, all of which were two-yard runs, in the fourth quarter. This touchdown marked the first time an Eagle has scored three rushing touchdowns in a game since senior running back William Banks did it in September during GSU’s 59-17 win over Saint Francis University. The Phoenix scored one last touchdown with less than a minute left in the game to make the final score 38-20 in GSU’s favor.
Huggins was not the only Eagle to post a career-best performance that evening. Ellison rushed for a career-high 163 yards and became the first Eagle to total 100 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game since senior Jerick McKinnon did so last season against Appalachian State University. Both Ellison and Huggins also recorded their first games with multiple touchdowns.
“It all started up front with the offensive line,” Ellison said. “They did a very good job getting a lot of push and our coaches had a great game plan for us and the schemes were perfect. We came out and executed and got a big victory tonight.”
Both GSU and Elon have officially ended their time in the SoCon with the conclusion of this game. Besides GSU moving to the Sun Belt Conference next season, Elon will be joining the Colonial Athletic Association next season. In GSU’s time in the conference, the Eagles have been eligible for 20 championships and were a part of 10 of them.
“The SoCon is a great league. It’s been a great run for Georgia Southern in this league,” Monken said. “This league has been really good to Georgia Southern, it’s a respected league around the country and when you win this league or come out of this league with a good record, the playoff committee pays attention to that.”
With the SoCon chapter being put behind them, the Eagles are now focused on the matchup against the University of Florida this Saturday.