STATESBORO, Ga. -- It would be hard to just single out one hero in Georgia Southern’s 23-21 win over Chattanooga Saturday. Freshman placekicker Younghoe Koo knocked in a 26-yard field goal with 1:56 left that would give the Eagles their margin of victory in a series that has gone down to the wire more times than not. Freshman Rafael Hardee tipped a Jacob Huesman pass in the fourth quarter forcing the Mocs to punt. Senior Kyle Oehlbeck had a big momentum-stopping tackle and Josh Gebhardt ended any Moc hopes with an interception at the end of the game. Offensively, the triple option went behind senior Jerick McKinnon who rushed for 172 yards and put the Eagles on the board first with his touchdown.
There’s no intensity like fourth-quarter intensity, especially as the home team trailed by one, 21-20, in front of a Family Weekend crowd of 16,827. McKinnon started the Eagles’ possession at the 8:52 mark with a 15-yard rush, but a yellow hankie put Georgia Southern back at its own 25. After William Banks took the ball for a three-yard carry, McKinnon took the ball for the next six carries, picking up 45 yards to near midfield. Banks brought the Eagles eight yards farther and McKinnon for 13 more to the Mocs four-yard line.
On the next play, McKinnon, who played both quarterback and running back, had an errant pitch for a loss of six yards. Eagle teammate Tray Butler recovered the football, spotted back at the nine. With 1:56 left, after Georgia Southern chewed up 7:04 on the previous 13 plays, Koo stepped up and hit his third field goal of the night to give the Eagles a 23-21 lead, one that would hold for the win.
The last two games in the series featured triple overtime Eagle win at Finley Stadium and a one-point Eagle victory in 2011. The Mocs had 1:48 left in the game, but untimely incomplete passes by Jacob Huesman and two procedural penalties took the air out of their final drive. Oehlbeck’s pressure on Huesman forced him to throw his final attempt into the hands of Gebhart as the clock ticked down to three seconds.
Chattanooga had taken its first lead 21-17 early in the third quarter after a 57-yard pass from Huesman to Keon Williams capped a three-play drive for a touchdown. Georgia Southern responded, marching down the field to the Chattanooga 34, but the drive stalled out and a holding penalty gave the Eagles a second-and- 17 situation and eventually ended with a punt. The next drive for Chattanooga, a penalty-laden affair, featured three penalties for the Mocs and two by the Eagles, not including a warning given to the Southern Pride Marching Band.
McKinnon’s 29-yard rush with 27 seconds left in the third quarter put the Eagles at the Mocs 30. Three plays later, Koo would set up for a 40-yard field goal, a career long, to put Georgia Southern within a point, 21-20. Starting at its own 22 on the next possession, Chattanooga turned to its go-to guy. Huesman picked up a first down with back-to-back rushes of seven and eight yards. At the Mocs 40, Huesman broke free for a 20-yard gain, but it would be his pass to Tommy Hudson to the end zone that would take the breath of the crowd at Paulson Stadium.
Yellow flags allowed the Eagle Nation to exhale, for a second. Chattanooga was called for an ineligible receiver downfield. On the next play, Huesman connected with Faysal Shafaat for 16 yards, near the first-down marker and there was another collective hush. Another yellow flag for ineligible receiver downfield all but signaled the end of the drive.
Georgia Southern struck first in the contest, starting at the Mocs 40 after Brandan Thomas returned the first Chattanooga punt 26 yards. Junior running back Tray Butler converted more than the three yards the Eagles needed for the first down with a 17-yard rush. Banks went up the middle to bring the Eagles to the one and McKinnon punched it in for his fourth touchdown of the year.
Without missing a beat, the Mocs came right back and tied it up as Huesman bolted past defenders for a 51-yard gain to the end zone for a 7-7 score. In what might have appeared early to be a scoring competition, Georgia Southern followed the Moc’s 2:02 scoring drive with a nine-play drive that ended with a Montay Crockett reverse for a 10-yard score to put it back on top 14-7. McKinnon’s 31-yard rush, combined with a 16-yard carry by senior running back Johnathan Bryant fueled the Eagles drive.
Koo’s first field goal of the night, a 32-yarder, gave Georgia Southern it’s largest lead of the night at 17-7 before Chattanooga’s Keon Williams grabbed a pass from Huesman and finished with a 57-yard touchdown.
The Eagle defense kept Chattanooga scoreless in the final quarter and linebackers Edwin Jackson and Kyle Oehlbeck were one-two in tackles for Georgia Southern with eight and seven, respectively. Safety Matt Dobson finished with a career-best six tackles.