Eagles earn first conference victory

Will Cheney

The Georgia Southern University football team defeated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 23-21 on Saturday in a game filled with storylines.

One of the major storylines from Saturday’s game was that senior Jerick McKinnon, with his 172 rushing yards, passed GSU legend Tracy Ham for seventh all-time on GSU’s career rushing yards list. McKinnon now has 3,264 rushing yards in his career.

The atmosphere after the win was dampened after news came of junior All-American running back Dominique Swope being sidelined for the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery. Swope will be placed on the medical redshirt list.

“It’s unfortunate. He’s a big part of our offense,” Monken said. “He played in the Wofford game with (the injury) and we were hopeful that we could rehab and treat it to get him through the year, but we had an MRI done and it just wasn’t one he was going to be able to make it through.”

The Eagles were looking for redemption after the loss to Wofford College two weeks ago in the Southern Conference opener. With the bye week last week, GSU had two weeks to bury the Wofford loss in the past and prepare for a tough UTC team.

McKinnon returned as the starting quarterback on Saturday and would put together a memorable evening. Mckinnon drew the first points of the game as he punched in a one-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 7-0 early.

In the next possession, however, UTC sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman would have an answer. Huesman, who was a nuisance to the Eagles’ defense for the second year in a row, broke a 51-yard touchdown run to tie the score up at 7-7.

A reversal play to GSU redshirt freshman receiver Montay Crockett would lead to a 10-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 Eagle lead after the first quarter of action. The score was Crockett’s first career rushing touchdown.

The second quarter would see a 32-yard field goal by GSU freshman kicker Younghoe Koo and a rushing touchdown by UTC junior running back Keon Williams to bring the score to 17-14 in GSU’s favor at halftime.

UTC began the second half with fireworks, as Williams broke a 57-yard reception to the end zone to give UTC its first lead of the game at 21-17. That was, however, the last that would be heard from the Moc’s offense.

In an interesting sequence of events in the third quarter, the GSU Southern Pride Marching Band was given a warning by officials for playing while UTC’s offense was in formation at the line of scrimmage. This prompted the crowd of 16,827 fans at Allen E. Paulson Stadium to become even louder. The level of noise stayed that way for the rest of the game, which contributed to the Mocs’ 11 penalties for 75 yards.

“Any time Paulson gets cranked up like that, it only pumps us up more on defense,” senior linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck said.

The fourth quarter of Saturday’s SoCon matchup became somewhat of a coming-out party for Koo, who was named SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week. He drilled two key field goals in the fourth quarter to put GSU ahead. The first was a career-long 40 yarder and the second was a 26-yarder to put the Eagles ahead by two points with less than two minutes to go.

“He did a nice job and I’m glad we had him,” GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. “He stepped right in there and drilled them through and it’s a credit to him. He’s worked really hard and he’s a good kicker. It’s a thrill for him and hopefully that’s a good sign for us.”

The game ended just after 8:30 p.m. as a Huesman pass was intercepted by GSU senior defensive end Josh Gebhardt with two seconds left on the clock.