STATESBORO, Ga. -- It was so windy at Paulson Stadium on Saturday that Freedom, Georgia Southern's bald eagle mascot, could not make his usual pregame flyover.
That same gusting wind may have saved fourth-ranked Georgia Southern's football season.
The Citadel's Ryan Sellers watched in dismay as his 37-yard field goal with 13 seconds left sailed just wide of the right upright, allowing the Eagles to escape with a 14-12 victory before 18,408 fans.
"I thought I had made it," said Sellers, who also had two extra points blocked as the Bulldogs' kicking game missed out on five crucial points. "It was right down the middle, and the wind caught it the last couple of yards and it went wide right.
"It seemed like right after I kicked it, there was a gust. It was the best feeling in the world, then the worst."
Georgia Southern players were equally convinced they had lost.
"It was right down the middle," said cornerback Laron Scott, who blocked one of the extra points. "I couldn't even look, then I heard everyone yelling."
For good reason. Georgia Southern (8-1, 6-1) can now claim the outright Southern Conference title with a win next week at Wofford (7-2, 5-1). The Eagles also gained the seventh Division I victory they needed to qualify for the FCS playoffs.
All of that was in jeopardy if Sellers' kick had stayed true.
"We were fortunate, very fortunate to win," said Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken. "Now you see why The Citadel was able to come back on Chattanooga, come back on App State. They are a really good, tough football team."
The Bulldogs also are a 4-6 team with a 2-5 record in the SoCon. If not for two missed field goals in an 18-15 overtime loss at Elon and a third today, that record could have been much different heading into next week's final home game against Samford.
"When you play against a good team like Georgia Southern, you have to do everything right," said coach Kevin Higgins. "They got the job done, and we didn't hold up when we needed to."
The Bulldogs got almost every break they needed to pull the upset. Georgia Southern's All-America defensive tackle Brent Russell was a surprise suspension for breaking team rules and did not play. That opened up the middle for Citadel fullback Darien Robinson (92 yards on nine carries) and quarterback Aaron Miller (80 yards on 19 tries) as The Citadel outrushed Georgia Southern, 239 yards to 191.
The Eagles also fumbled five times, losing two, and quarterback Jaybo Shaw tossed in an interception.
"We did not play up to a championship standard," Georgia Southern's Monken said.
The Citadel put the Eagles on upset notice from the start, with Kevin Hardy taking the opening kickoff 51 yards and Robinson scoring from 26 yards out on the second play from scrimmage.
But Sellers' extra point was blocked by Scott, leaving the lead at 6-0. Georgia Southern answered on its first play, taking advantage of a blown coverage for a 63-yard TD pass from Shaw to Darreion Robinson for a 7-6 lead.
Miller led one of the Bulldogs' best drives of the season, a 17-play, 82-yard march that took 8:51 off the clock and ended with his own 2-yard TD. This time, GSU's Darius Eubanks came off the edge to block the PAT, and the Bulldogs' lead was only 12-7 in the second quarter.
Georgia Southern scored what proved to be the winning points with 3:53 left in the first half, slotback Nico Hickey running 14 yards for the TD and a 14-12 lead.
The Bulldogs lost one chance to win in the final period after Hardy went 25 yards with a reverse to the Georgia Southern 38. On the next play, Miller tried to hit Greg Adams on a post route into the wind, but left the ball a little short. Eagles cornerback Hudson Presume went over Adams' back to make the pick.
"I thought the receiver had him beat inside, and it got away from me a little bit," Miller said. "He made a good play on it. We had a lot of chances to win it."
Cit-D.Robinson 26 run (kick blocked), 14:04.
GaSo-Robinson 63 pass from J.Shaw (Mora kick), 13:53.
Cit-Miller 2 run (kick blocked), 8:08.
GaSo-Hickey 14 run (Mora kick), 3:53.
RUSHING-The Citadel, D.Robinson 9-92, Miller 19-80, Anderson 4-27, Hardy 1-25, V.Jones 4-10, Dupree 10-4, Martin 4-1, Team 1-0. Georgia Southern, Brown 17-90, McKinnon 11-46, Hickey 6-41, Robinson 7-28, Team 1-(minus 1), J.Shaw 7-(minus 13).
PASSING-The Citadel, Miller 1-5-1-17, Dupree 1-1-0-8. Georgia Southern, J.Shaw 4-7-1-129.
RECEIVING-The Citadel, Adams 1-17, D.Robinson 1-8. Georgia Southern, Robinson 1-63, Bryant 1-35, Hickey 1-26, Barker 1-5.