Eagles fall to NDSU 23-20 to end season

Jackie Gutknecht

The Georgia Southern University Eagles see their season come to an end with a 10-4 record, while the No. 1, and defending FCS champions, North Dakota State University Bison move to the finals to compete against the winner of Sam Houston State University and Eastern Washington University.

Bison junior quarterback Brock Jensen scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:05 left in the game to life NDSU to a 23-20 victory.

A 40-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Ezayi Youyoute to sophomore wide receiver Zach Walker moved the ball into Bison territory and the Eagles set up a 50-yard field goal try with 31 seconds left in the game. Junior defender Drew Ruggles, a GSU men’s soccer player who joined the football team this week, had his kick blocked by Bison sophomore linebacker Carlton Littlejohn to seal the Bison win.

Junior quarterback Jerick McKinnon posted his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game with 168 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries, he threw for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Sophomore fullback Dominique Swope finished with 77 yards on 14 carries and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass. Youyoute was 3-for-3 for 68 passing yards in the game.For NDSU, Jensen finished with nine complete passes for 76 yards and ran 10 times for 58 yards and a touchdown. Bison junior running back Sam Ojuri logged 71 yards and a touchdown on six carries and sophomore running back John Crockett rushed 13 times for 60 yards and a score.

“It was a great football game; we just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win it,” GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. “We had opportunities. We had the two foolish penalties on one drive and had a chance on fourth down and just couldn’t get the stop we needed.”

Senior safety J.J. Wilcox opened the scoring game when he punched it in from four yards out on 4th-and-1. It was his first carry since last season’s FCS semifinal game against the Bison and first rushing touchdown allowed by NDSU in the playoffs this year. NDSU blocked the extra point attempt, leaving the score at 6-0.

Jensen’s 26-yard run kicked off a NDSU scoring drive, and Crockett scored on a one-yard run to tie the game. The Eagles returned the favor when senior defensive tackle Brent Russell blocked the extra point attempt and the game remained tied 6-6 at the end of the first quarter.

McKinnon passed to Swope for a 49-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, and freshman kicker Alex Hanks aided by adding the extra point after to open a 13-6 Eagle lead.

Jensen used the offense to drive the Bison down the field at the end of the half, but on third-and-eight from the GSU 19-yard line, senior safety Darius Eubanks pressured Jensen, forcing an incompletion. Bison sophomore kicker Adam Keller  kicked a 36-yard field goal, and the Eagles led 13-9 going into the half.

The Eagles drove into NDSU territory on their first possession of the second half with a 16-yard carry by McKinnon. McKinnon then fumbled two plays later at the Bison 41-yard line. NDSU took advantage of the error as Ojuri broke free for a 53-yard touchdown giving the Bison their first lead of the game at 16-13.

The Eagles went three-and-out on their next possession, causing them to have to punt from deep in their own end zone, but the Bison were flagged for roughing the punter, giving GSU a second chance. McKinnon threw a 42-yard pass to junior SLOT Johnathan Bryant on third-and-three to set up a McKinnon 25-yard touchdown run later in the drive. The Eagles took a 20-16 lead with 5:02 left in the third quarter.

After senior defensive end Dion DuBose sacked Jensen on third-and-four to force a Bison punt, the Eagles milked 4:45 off the clock, sending the game into the fourth quarter.

On the next NDSU possession, junior linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck got the Eagle defense off the field by pressuring Jensen into an incompletion on third-and-six from the Bison 40. Bison freshman punter Ben LeCompte’s 58-yard punt was downed at the two, and the Eagles scratched another 3:34 off the clock by moving the ball out of their own 20 before having to punt right back to the Bison.

“We have a great bunch of kids,” Monken said in a news release. “They fought so hard and worked so hard to get to this point, and we just came up short.”