SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Georgia Southern was staggering when it crossed the finish line, but the Eagles still had enough gas in the tank to hold off Wofford 23-20 on Saturday in an FCS quarterfinal playoff game.
The victory over propelled the Eagles into an semifinal matchup with No. 3 seed Delaware. The game will be played at Newark, Del., either Friday or Saturday.
The day of the game and time will be determined Sunday by the NCAA. The Blue Hens (11-2) beat New Hampshire 16-3 on Friday night. The semifinal games will be televised by one of the ESPN networks.
In the other semifinal, Villanova (10-4) will play at No. 5 seed Eastern Washington (11-2), which defeated North Dakota State 38-31 in overtime.
The Wildcats, the defending FCS champions, earned their way in to the semifinals by beating Appalachian State 42-24 on Saturday in Boone, N.C. The two winners will meet for the national championship on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
With more than 5,000 Georgia Southern fans in the crowd of 11,823 urging them on, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead and then held on against the Terriers, who won the teams’ regular-season matchup 33-31 in Statesboro.
Georgia Southern’s win was the sixth straight win by the visiting team in this Southern Conference rivalry. The past five games have been decided by a total of 14 points.
“Nothing has been real easy for us all year long,” head coach Jeff Monken said. “We have been able to battle through and put some games together here at the end of the season. It was a tremendous effort by our team today to hold on and win. That was an outstanding Wofford team. There is no lead that’s safe.
“I think you saw that (Sunday). You have to play 60 minutes if you’re going to win.”
It was the Eagles’ sixth straight victory, and three of them, in particular, have been impressive.
The streak started with a 21-14 overtime win over then No. 1 Appalachian State, and on Dec. 4, the Eagles hammered Colonial Athletic Association co-champion William and Mary before turning back the Terriers.
“The Southern Conference title?” cornerback Carson Hill asked. “Forget it. That’s not in our grasp. We’ve got our eyes set on something better. We’re one of four teams left.”
It looked as if the Eagles were letting that opportunity slip from their grasp when Alex Goltry scooped up a Robert Brown fumble -- Georgia Southern’s only turnover of the game -- and ran it in for a touchdown with 5:13 to play.
A 17-3 halftime lead had been winnowed down to three, 23-20, and Wofford had momentum on its side.
But the Terriers never got the ball back thanks to a gritty Georgia Southern offense, and a third-down face-mask penalty call that spelled the end for Wofford.
It was one of six penalties for the normally mistake-free Terriers who also had six fumbles, losing two. And, they were big losses.
On their opening drive of the game, the Terriers had no trouble in marching from their own 20 to the Georgia Southern 20 when quarterback Mitch Allen was stripped of the ball by nose tackle Brent Russell and the pigskin went bouncing backwards.
Terico Agnew recovered the ball for the Eagles back at the 31, and from there, quarterback Jaybo Shaw marched his team 61 yards for the touchdown.
Shaw threw a 25-yard pass to Trey Butler for the score, with 3:59 left in the first quarter.
Fifteen seconds later, it was 14-0 as Allen again fumbled, this time having the ball knocked from his grasp by Roderick Tinsley. John Douglas alertly picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.
The start was similar to the regular-season game between the two except in that game it was Wofford that had jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
The Eagles made it 17-0 on 33-yard field goal by Adrian Mora, one of three by the junior who also had a 28-yard miss.
When Mora missed, only his second of the season in w 20 attempts, Georgia Southern was looking to break it wide open.
The Eagles had a first-and-goal at the 8 in the second quarter.
After Brown gained 4, yards everything broke down. Shaw lost 1, and a holding call at the 1 on a scoring run by Brown moved the ball back to the 11.
Wofford drove to the Georgia Southern 3 only to have to settle for a field goal from Christian Reed with 1:05 on the clock..
The Eagles quickly to the Terriers’ 4 and Mora kicked a 21-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
Georgia Southern got the ball to start the second half but found out quickly it was a different game.
The Eagles gained only 6 yards in the third quarter, and the Terriers clawed their way back into it with Allen passing 37 yards to Brenton Bersin for a touchdown, and Reed kicking a 27-yard field goal.
After Mora hit from 37 Goltry got the fumble recovery for a score with 5:13 left in the game.
But that was the end of the road for Terriers who could not get the ball back.
Ironically it was Goltry who was called for the face mask call on Shaw on a third-and-10 play with a little more than two minutes to play.