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  • Stevenson's strip preserves GSU win over Elon, 26-23

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    Statesboro, GA - Freshman kicker Alex Hanks nailed a 32-yard field goal, and Darius Eubanks recovered an Elon fumble deep in Georgia Southern territory to preserve a 26-23 Southern Conference football victory for the 10th-ranked Eagles at Paulson Stadium Saturday night.

    Eubanks recovery came on 3rd-and-13 from midfield for the Phoenix when Thomas Wilson completed a 38-yard pass to Kierre Brown over the middle. But Eagle linebacker John Stevenson got both hands on the ball and ripped up, popping the ball up in the air, and Darius Eubanks caught it and went 14 yards the other way.

    "Weíre taught to play the eyes and hands of the receiver, and I saw his eyes get big and his hands go up," said Stevenson. "I stuck my hand in and started ripping, and I felt the ball start to come loose. So I gave it the biggest pull I could, it came out and Darius was there. Itís part of our never surrender mentality. It was a dire situation, and the game depended on it."

    Georgia Southern (2-1, 1-1 SoCon) picked up a first down on 3rd-and-1 on a Jerrick McKinnon 3-yard scamper and was able to run out the clock. The victory extended the Eaglesí win streak in Paulson Stadium to 12.

    Quarterback Ezayi Youyoute led the GSU offense with 106 yards on the ground and passed for 66 yards and a touchdown, while McKinnon rushed 16 times for 96 yards. Johnathan Bryant had two carries for 82 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown run, and Kentrellis Showers finished with 60 receiving yards and 26 on the ground.

    Thomas Wilson completed 22-of-36 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns to lead Elon (2-2, 0-1 SoCon), and Brown finished with five receptions for 110 yards. Aaron Mellette caught nine passes for 68 yards and two scores.

    Three Eagle first-half fumbles, all in Georgia Southern territory and one inside the 10-yard line, led to all 13 of Elonís first-half points and put the Eagles in a dogfight. The second half saw four lead changes and two ties.

    The final lead change came on the 32-yard field goal by Hanks, making his first start as the placekicker, with 3:40 left in the contest. Youyoute ignited the drive with a 16-yard run but appeared to cramp up on the play. In came McKinnon, who promptly ran 37 yards down to the Elon 18-yard line on the next play to set up the field goal.

    Elon converted a 3rd-and-2 on their next possession when Wilson found Brown for a 23-yard completion to the GSU 47-yard line. Brent Russell came up with a sack for the Eagles, and Josh Gebhardt got in Wilsonís face, forcing a quick throw and an incompletion to bring up 3rd-and-long and set up Stevensonís heroics.

    "Relief," said Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken when asked how he felt about the win after the Eagles lost at The Citadel in their last outing Sept. 8. " The knot Iíve had in my stomach for two weeks finally disappeared. Iím sure for a lot of our guys it was the same way."

    Trailing 13-6 at halftime, the Eagles came out of the locker room sharper offensively, and on the second play from scrimmage, Bryant took the option pitch and raced 78 yards for a touchdown. Hanks added the point after to tie the score just over a minute into the second half.

    The defense gave the offense a short field as Valdon Cooper made a diving interception of a tipped Wilson pass, giving the Eagles the ball at the Elon 40. Youyoute keyed the scoring drive with runs of nine and 13 yards, and Hanks knocked in a 27-yard field goal to put the Eagles on top 16-13 midway through the third quarter. It was his first career field goal.

    Elon came right back and went 76 yards in 1:48 to retake the lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Mellette. Wilson hit Brown for 32 yards on 3rd-and-6 from his own 28, and the senior connected with Jeremy Peterson for another 32 yards to key the drive.

    Georgia Southern answered right away as JJ Wilcox took the kickoff and scampered 52 yards to the Elon 41-yard line. Showers went 26 yards on a reverse on the third play from scrimmage, and on 2nd-and-goal from the two, Dominique Swope rushed for a touchdown as the Eagles retook the lead 23-20.

    A 45-yard pass from Wilson to Peterson put the Phoenix back deep in Eagle territory. But on 3rd-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Javon Mention came up with a big sack, and Elon had to settle for an Adam Shreiner 33-yard field goal that tied the score 23-23 early in the 4th quarter.

    Georgia Southern came back down the field and set up a Hanks 45-yard field goal try midway through the fourth quarter, but Phoenix defensive back Jeremy Gloston jumped up to block the kick just as it passed the line of scrimmage.

    Georgia Southern scored on its first possession of the contest after the Eagle defense forced a 3-and-out for Elon to start the game. After three straight rushes by McKinnon and a quarterback keeper by Youyoute moved the ball inside the Elon 40-yard line, Youyoute hit Showers with a short pass along the right sideline.

    The sophomore receiver made a nifty move, broke free and scampered 38 yards for the score and the first touchdown reception of the year for Georgia Southern. The Eagles went for the two-point conversion but did not get it.

    The Georgia Southern offense struggled with ball security for the rest of the half, fumbling three times in its own territory. The first one was recovered at the Eagle 22-yard line. Elon picked up one first down, but the defense forced Wilson to scramble on 3rd-and-goal from the 9-yard line. The Phoenix settled for a Shreiner 22-yard field goal, trimming the lead to 6-3 with 4:30 left in the period.

    Another Georgia Southern fumble, this time at their own 41-yard line, led to a second field goal for Elon. The Phoenix marched down to the 8-yard line with the help of two Wilson scrambles, one for 13 yards and one for 10. But the Georgia Southern defense came up with another stop, and Shreiner dropped in a 30-yard field goal to tie the score 6-6.

    "It was a great test of adversity, and we had to fight through it," said Youyoute. "Our defense did a great job of holding them when we needed to."

    The Eagles committed their third fumble on their ensuing possession, and Elon recovered at the GSU 6-yard line. Wilson hit Mellette with a 9-yard touchdown pass two plays later, and the Phoenix took a 13-6 lead with 3:48 left in the half.

    The Eagles continue SoCon play when they host Samford next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in Paulson Stadium.