To say that all a team needs to do is stop the run when facing Georgia Southern is an understatement.
There's no doubt the Eagles are going to run the ball, the only question is, how do you slow them down?
Saturday, it was clear Old Dominion still hadn't figured out the GSU triple option attack.
Dominique Swope rushed for a game-high 186 yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Jerick McKinnon rushed for 171 yards and four touchdowns, and the fifth-seeded Eagles enjoyed a 602-yard ground assault on the way to a 49-35 victory over the fourth-seeded Eagles in the FCS quarterfinals.
Georgia Southern outscored ODU 28-0 in the fourth quarter to knock the Monarchs out of the playoffs for the second straight year. The Eagles (10-3) also advanced to the semifinals for the third straight year under third-year coach Jeff Monken. The six-time national champions will face North Dakota State next weekend in a semifinal rematch of a year ago.
NDSU won that matchup, 35-7, in Fargo.
"These kids just fought so hard, and I'm so proud of the effort of our players and everyone associated with our team," Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. "We got down 14 and battled and fought and believed in each other. We carry that black flag as a symbol that we will never surrender, and we did not surrender today and haven't surrendered all season."
Last season, in a playoff matchup at Georgia Southern, the Eagles totaled 607 yards and rushed for 477, in a 55-48 shootout. The results were similar Saturday as the Eagles finished with 632 total yards.
Georgia Southern overcame a 35-21 deficit after three quarters to tie the game on McKinnon's second and third touchdowns of the game.
On ODU's ensuing drive, coach Bobby Wilder gambled with a 4th-and-6 on his team's 39-yard line, and quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw an incompletion as ODU turned the ball over on downs.
"That was a huge shift in momentum, and you have to have things like that happen and go your way to believe," Monken said. "That was a big play in the game."
Three plays later, Swope scored a 12-yard run, giving Georgia Southern a 42-35 lead with 2:36 left in the game.
On ODU's next play, Heinicke threw his first interception of the 2012 playoffs - only his 14th of the season - as senior safety J.J. Wilcox snagged his pass away from Nick Mayers with 2:28 remaining.
McKinnon then sealed the win with his fourth touchdown with 46 seconds left.
Heinicke broke Steve McNair's FCS single-season passing yardage record on ODU's first offensive drive of the second half, with a 40-yard completion to Mayers. The sophomore went on to complete 31-of-44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns to become the first FCS signal-caller to surpass 5,000 yards with 5,076.
Heinicke set another FCS single-season record with 398 completions, surpassing Brett Gordon's 385 for Villanova in 2002. He also set the national record for 705 plays in a season with 705, surpassing Bruce Eugene's 680 for Grambling in 2002.
He also led ODU with 48 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Georgia Southern had two different place-kickers miss field goals in the first half. Alex Hanks missed a 46-yard attempt and junior Luke Cherry missed a 30-yarder on the first kick of his career, which allowed ODU to take a 21-14 lead into halftime.
The first turnover of the game for either team came during a crucial moment with ODU driving early in the fourth quarter. Heinicke was sacked by Dion DuBose, forcing a fumble which was recovered by the Eagles on their own 21-yard line. ODU led 35-28 with 11:04 to play.
McKinnon then led the Eagles on a 12-play, 79-yard drive and capped it off with his third rushing touchdown of the game, evening the score at 35 with 5:32 remaining.
Georgia Southern's Darreion Robinson rushed for 76 yards on four carries, Johnathan Bryant had 71 yards and Tray Butler added 46 yards.
Old Dominion totaled 534 yards of offense, and receivers Antonio Vaughan and Mayers had huge games. They accounted for 16 receptions for 296 yards and three touchdowns in the loss.
North Dakota State 14, Wofford 7
Fargo, ND (Sports Network) - Good teams find ways to win no matter what.
For North Dakota State, the defending FCS national champion, it might not have been the prettiest of wins, but when a team has a superb defense, it doesn't matter.
NDSU allowed 362 yards of offense, including 262 on the ground, but the Bison stopped the Terriers when it counted most late in the second half to hold on for a 14-7 victory in a national quarterfinal before 18,267 at the Fargodome Saturday.
The No. 1-seeded Bison (12-1) didn't allow an offensive touchdown, forced two turnovers and blocked a field goal in the win. Linebacker Grant Olson had a truly historic performance, setting a new school record with 29 tackles - topping a previous NDSU record of 26 set in 1989.
Running back Sam Ojuri and receiver Zach Vraa each scored a touchdown in the first half and the NDSU defense stopped Wofford twice in the fourth quarter, spearheading the victory.
Coach Craig Bohl's squad will host Georgia Southern (10-3) next weekend in the semifinals. It will be a rematch of a semifinal last season when the Bison won, 35-7, in Fargo.
Wofford (9-4) missed two golden opportunities in the second half which ultimately cost the team the game.
The first, which started late in the third quarter and went into the start of the fourth, occurred after NDSU running back John Crockett fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Wofford's Stephon Shelton.
The Terriers drove down into NDSU territory, converting a 4th-and-8 and a 4th- and-4 along the way. However, coach Mike Ayers decided to settle for a field goal and place-kicker Kasey Redfern's 26-yard attempt was partially blocked by Anthony LaVoy with 11:44 remaining, keeping the Bison lead at 14-7.
Wofford's defense played exceptional as well, limiting the Bison to 262 yards of offense and only 95 passing yards. The unit came up big again, forcing a North Dakota State punt following the missed field goal.
Wofford got the ball back at their 30-yard line and methodically drove down the field, getting all the way down inside the Bison 10-yard line. Facing a 4th-and-3 at the NDSU 7, Donovan Johnson was stuffed - fittingly by Olson - and NDSU survived the scare.
Wofford fullback and Walter Payton Award finalist Eric Breitenstein, playing in his final collegiate game, rushed for a game-high 135 yards on 24 carries. Brian Kass and Donovan Johnson added 63 and 42 rushing yards, respectively.
Wofford had 110 yards of offense at halftime, compared to 167 yards for the Bison.
The Terriers did not attempt a pass in the first half. In fact, the team's only points of the game came off a Blake Wylie 35-yard interception return for a touchdown, evening the score at 7 in the second quarter.
NDSU signal-caller Brock Jensen completed 13-of-18 passes for 95 yards and one touchdown. He added 60 rushing yards on 12 carries, although his interception resulted in Wofford's only points of the contest. Ojuri rushed for 72 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Both of NDSU's scoring drives in the first half lasted 10 plays. The team's final drive went for 97 yards, ending with a Vraa 16-yard touchdown reception with 1:02 left, giving the Bison their 14-7 lead.
Cole Jirek and Andre Martin Jr. recovered fumbles in the win.
The Bison have yet to lose an FCS playoff game at home and have not allowed an offensive touchdown through their first two playoff games this season.
Eastern Washington 51, Illinois State 35
Cheney, WA (Sports Network) - Injuries decimated the Eastern Washington football team last season, less than a year after the Eagles won their first FCS national title.
It's not easy to pick which was the most hurtful among the many injuries, but it is likely hard to look beyond All-America wide receiver Brandon Kaufman being lost to a broken metatarsal after four games.
He's come back in a huge way this season, and on Saturday he caught three of Kyle Padron's six touchdown passes in Eastern Washington's 51-35 victory over Illinois State in the national quarterfinals.
Kaufman, who finished with nine receptions for 191 yards, caught two of his touchdowns while the Eagles built a 21-point lead in the third quarter. His final one - a 76-yarder in the fourth quarter - answered Illinois State's rally after the Redbirds had pulled within three points.
The win put Eastern Washington back in the national semifinals for the second time in three seasons. The second-seeded Eagles (11-2) will host unseeded Sam Houston State (10-3) next weekend, with the winner advancing to the FCS championship game on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas. Sam Houston State was the national runner-up last season.
Eastern Washington knows quite a bit about Frisco as well, having beaten Delaware in the 2010 title game. Kaufman caught two touchdowns in the victory.
As the Eagles eliminated Illinois State (9-4), Padron completed 19-of-33 pass attempts for 358 yards and one interception. His favorite receiver was Kaufman, a 6-foot-5 junior who has caught 84 receptions and 13 touchdowns on a Big Sky-record 1,635 yards this season.
Eastern Washington had to withstand the second-half rally by Illinois State. The Eagles, who won a share of the Big Sky Conference title for the second time in three seasons, scored 28 unanswered points to turn a 17-10 deficit early in the second quarter to a 38-17 lead early in the third quarter.
But Illinois State scored 18 straight points in a 6-minute, 19-minute span to climb within 38-35 early in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps while the Redbirds were likely still reveling in Matt Brown's touchdown run and pass for a 2-point conversion with 13:55 left to play, Eastern Washington answered on the third play of its ensuing drive - the Padron-to-Kaufman 76-yard touchdown connection to vault the Eagles to a 44-35 left with 12:14 left. The score stayed there when Jimmy Pavel missed the extra point.
But Padron threw his sixth touchdown pass on Eastern Washington's next drive, a 10-yard pass to Ashton Clark to increase the lead to 51-35 with 7:42 left.
Illinois State's comeback from a 38-17 deficit started with Nick Aussieker's second field goal of the game, a 26-yarder with 5:14 left in the third quarter.
Brown's 22-yard touchdown pass to Lechein Neblett on the Redbirds' next possession then pulled them within 38-27 at the 3:03 mark of the third quarter.
Eastern Washington's 28-point run, starting with a Demitrius Bronson 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, allowed the Eagles to reverse a 17-10 deficit and take control with a 38-17 lead early in the third quarter.
Two Illinois State turnovers proved vital in the run.
Eastern Washington's Jordan Tonani recovered a fumble by Redbirds wide receiver James O'Shaughnessy at the Eagles' 8-yard line to deny the visitors the chance to break a 17-17 tie late in the second quarter.
Eastern Washington then drove 79 yards for the go-ahead score, a Padron 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zack Gehring with 10 seconds left in the quarter, which provided a 24-17 halftime lead for the Eagles.
Padron then threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Kaufman to give Eastern Washington a 31-17 lead with 11:16 left in the third quarter.
On Illinois State's ensuing play, Eastern Washington linebacker Ronnie Hamlin intercepted Brown at the Redbirds' 26 and returned the ball to the 17.
Padron and Kaufman went right to work, connecting on a 17-yard touchdown pass on the next play to increase the Eagles' lead to 38-17 with 11:01 left in the quarter.
The game was tied twice and the lead changed hands three times in the first half before Eastern Washington took a 24-17 lead into halftime. Included was Padron's 44-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Johnson for the Eagles' first touchdown.
Brown, the Missouri Valley Football Conference offensive player of the year, finished 27-for-48 for 373 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Illinois State outgained Eastern Washington, 520 yards to 478.
Sam Houston State 34, Montana State 16
Bozeman, MT (Sports Network) - Montana State entered its FCS quarterfinal matchup with a shot a redemption, after Sam Houston State ended its season in the playoffs one year ago.
In last year's FCS quarterfinal, Montana State allowed 428 rushing yards. Friday night, Sam Houston beat Montana State again, this time through the air, 34-16, to again reach the semifinals again.
Quarterback Brian Bell completed 11-of-21 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Chance Nelson in the second half, and the Bearkats picked up a huge road playoff win.
Sam Houston State (10-3), the national FCS runner-up in 2011, will visit Eastern Washington in the semifinals next weekend.
Coach Willie Fritz's Bearkats took control in the second quarter after the game was tied 3-3 through the first quarter. The visitors scored 17 unanswered points and shut down the Bobcats' offense, forcing them to punt on every possession in the quarter.
Richard Sincere scored a 12-yard touchdown on a direct snap to put SHSU ahead, 10-3, early in the quarter. The Bearkats then struck again less than five minutes later, as receiver Trey Diller broke free for a 56-yard touchdown pass from Bell with 9:41 left in the first half.
Montana State made a defensive stand inside the 10-yard line before halftime, holding Sam Houston to three points and a 20-3 lead at the break.
MSU opened the second half with a three-and-out, but on a 4th-and-4 inside its own territory, coach Rob Ash rolled the dice, faking a punt, and it paid off. The drive stayed alive and eventually quarterback DeNarius McGhee scored from 8 yards out with 9:05 in the third quarter. The lead was cut to 20-9 after a missed extra point.
Momentum shifted back to Sam Houston, after MSU receiver John Ellis had the ball striped from his hands by Dax Swanson, and Andrew Weaver recovered the ball on the Bobcats' 16-yard line.
One play later, Bell found Chance Nelson for a touchdown and the 'Kats led 26-9 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
The duo hooked up again on the team's next possession - this time on a 3rd- and-16 - for 45 yards to put the game away at 34-9 lead with 12:18 remaining in the game. The touchdown capped off a seven-play, 74-yard drive.
Nelson finished with five receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
Sam Houston rushed for 204 yards, with running back Timothy Flanders carrying the ball 31 times for 106 yards. Sincere added eight carries for 30 yards and the one touchdown.
Montana State was held to just 72 rushing yards and 1-of-12 on third down conversions. McGhee passed for 221 yards and one touchdown. However, his interception and the team's lost fumble led to 10 points for SHSU.
Bell added to his own school record for wins as a starting quarterback and now has 29 in his career. It's the second straight year the Bearkats advanced to the national semifinals.
Montana State was plagued by injuries to key players as leading rusher Cody Kirk and linebacker Jody Owens, the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year, were both lost in the first half.