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EKU football falls in opening round of FCS Playoffs

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Posted at 9:56 PM, Nov 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-26 21:56:30-05

RICHMOND,   Ky. — EKU scored 14 consecutive points in the fourth quarter and racked up 498 yards of total offense, but could not erase a 25-point second half deficit as the Colonels fell to Gardner-Webb 52-41 in the first round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs on Saturday night at CG Bank Field at Roy Kidd Stadium. The game featured 1,021 yards of total offense and 58 first-half points.

Parker McKinney [ekusports.com] set a career-high with 454 yards passing and threw five touchdowns for the third time this season, completing 37 of his 57 attempts. Cornelius McCoy [ekusports.com] led EKU (7-5) with 155 receiving yards, while Jaden Smith [ekusports.com] and Jayden Higgins [ekusports.com] each caught two touchdowns. Smith finished with a career-high 123 yards receiving. Matthew Jackson [ekusports.com] led the team with nine tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss.

Gardner-Webb (7-5) marched 65 yards on its opening possession for a touchdown, but Braedon Sloan [ekusports.com] returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards and McKinney found Smith for a 27-yard score three plays later to tie the score at 7-7 with 11:14 to go in the first quarter. GWU reclaimed the lead at the 1:09 mark of the quarter, only to see EKU notch another quick strike when McKinney hit McCoy for a 69-yard catch and run on the Colonels' second play of the drive. However, the Runnin' Bulldogs found the end zone on the final play of the quarter to take a 21-14 lead into the second stanza.

EKU opened the scoring in the second quarter as Sloan broke loose for a 69-yard kickoff return and Patrick Nations [ekusports.com] converted a 22-yard field goal with 12:17 left in the half. The Colonel defense held Gardner-Webb to a field goal on its next drive and knotted the score as Smith hauled in his second touchdown catch of the half, this time from nine yards out, with 6:04 to play in the second quarter. GWU stretched its lead out to 31-24 with 2:44 remaining in the half, but Nations connected from 43 yards out with 14 seconds left to make the score 31-27 at halftime.

Gardner-Webb outscored the Colonels 21-0 in the third quarter to build a 52-27 lead. EKU snapped the GWU run with a three-yard touchdown toss from McKinney to Higgins with 13:01 to play in the fourth quarter. However, GWU notched a crucial interception in the end zone with 8:20 remaining to halt EKU's momentum. The Colonels battle back to within 11 points with a McKinney four-yard touchdown pass and a two-point completion to Higgins with 1:02 left to play, but the Runnin' Bulldogs recovered the onside kick to wrap up a wild night in Richmond.

EKU finished the season as co-champions of the ASUN and made its first appearance in the postseason since the 2014 campaign.