Raymond Gross rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown and Darryl Hopkins ran for two more TDs Saturday to lead Georgia Southern to a 36-13 win over Nevada-Reno and the Eagles' second consecutive Division 1-AA national championship.
The victory, which came on the Eagles' home field, marks Georgia Southern's fourth championship in six years - 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1990 - three of which came under legendary Coach Erk Russell, who fielded the first Eagles team in 1982.The Eagles lost a fifth championship try in 1988 with a 17-12 loss to Furman.
"I believe 50 football teams have come to our house and gotten beaten, and number 50 just went home empty," said Coach Tim Stowers, who lost three of his first four games this season after taking over for Russell but has been undefeated since Sept. 22.
Georgia Southern, 12-3, finished the season with 11 straight wins and improved their home record to 50-2 since 1982.
It was Nevada-Reno's sixth trip to the playoffs without winning a championship. The Wolf Pack finished the season 14-2.
"There were no excuses for losing the national championshiop, and I'm disappointed that we didn't have a better showing," Nevada Coach Chris Ault said. "I thought we could move the ball well through the air, but we found ways to self-destruct.
"Georgia Southern did nothing surprising. We just didn't pass-block well and couldn't take advantage of turnovers."
Joe Ross opened scoring for Georgia Southern, running it in from 14 yards less than five minutes into the first quarter. Gross added his touchdown with an 8-yard scamper with 2:38 left in the first half.
Kevin McElvie accounted for Nevada's only first-half points, hitting field goals of 37 and 44 yards, the last coming with only three seconds left before the break, to make it 14-6 at the half.
"Early in the first half we had chances to open a big lead, but fumbles hurt us," said Stowers, the first Division 1-AA coach to win the championship in his first year. "Except for putting the ball on the ground, this was probably the best football game we have played all year. Our 14 seniors did a great job leading us back from the 1-3 start. "
Georgia Southern lost four out of five fumbles but came out hot in the second half, dominating Nevada on both sides of the ball.
Hopkins padded the Eagles' lead 13 minutes into the third quarter when he took a pitchout around the left side 3 yards for a touchdown. The point-after attempt failed and Georgia Southern led 20-6.
"I've been overshadowed all year, but I knew I was capable of doing well," Hopkins said. "I really didn't know what to expect from their defense."