STATESBORO, Ga. – There was no question in Maine quarterback Warren Smith’s mind that the Black Bears could move the football against Georgia Southern in their Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal Saturday.

However, to move the football you have to have possession of it.

Owning the football, especially in the first half, proved to be a problem the Black Bears couldn’t overcome against Georgia Southern and its vaunted triple option offense.

As a result Maine was eliminated by the third-seeded Eagles, who held the ball for 42 minutes and 24 seconds on the way to a 35-23 victory.

“We knew going into the game we could move the football,” Smith said. “We had seen film on their Old Dominion game, and we didn’t think they could stop us.

“We had three turnovers, and had we not turned the ball over it could have been a 37-35 game,” Smith said. “I thought our defense defended well in the first half. We didn’t give up a big play, but they are a four-down team with that offense.”

Quarterback Jaybo Shaw ran for two touchdowns and threw for another to lead the Eagles to their third win in as many meetings with Maine.

All three games have come in the playoffs — the last was a 31-7 loss in 2002 — and all have come at Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium, where 12,886 fans roared their approval from the outset.

The Eagles (11-2) had 476 total yards, including 360 rushing, in dispatching the Black Bears (9-4). Georgia Southern will play North Dakota State (12-1) either Friday night or Saturday afternoon in the semifinals. The Bison advanced by defeating Lehigh, 24-0.

“Our defense made some big plays,” Georgia Southern Coach Jeff Monken said. “They took a lot of criticism this past week, including some from me, but they gave up only 23 points, seven of those on a kickoff return, against a really good offensive team.

“We beat a really good football team today. They played hard. I couldn’t believe the stats at halftime. They had run nine plays, yet they had 10 points.”

J.J. Wilcox led Georgia Southern in rushing with 99 yards, and he scored on runs of 2 and 7 yards. Shaw had touchdown runs of 2 and 1 yards, and completed 7 of 8 passes for 116 yards.

Smith completed 15 of 29 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, but he was intercepted three times. Jerrick McKinnon had two interceptions for Georgia Southern.

Maine was hamstrung in the first half by the Eagle offense, a turnover, and its own ability to score quickly.

As a result, the Black Bears had the ball for 4:52 of the opening half, and had only 61 yards of offense on seven running plays and two passing attempts.

Georgia Southern scored on its opening drive, then made it 14-0 after McKinnon picked off Smith on Maine’s second offensive play.

After Wilcox scored on a 2-yard run, Roosevelt Brown answered for Maine with a 91-yard kickoff return.

The Black Bears finally came up with a stop when they held Georgia Southern on downs at the Maine 34 with 9:47 left in the second quarter.

On only its second possession of the game, Maine drove to the Georgia Southern 1. But All-America nose tackle Brent Russell blew up a third-down running play, stopping Pushaun Brown for 3-yard loss that forced a 21-yard field goal by Brian Harvey.

Georgia Southern answered with a 67-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard run by Wilcox on a on a pitch play to the right.

“Although we had the ball for only nine plays we were still in it at the half,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “We never felt we were out of it until that third interception.”

The Black Bears scored on the opening drive of the second half to trim the deficit to 21-17, but Georgia Southern answered again with a 56-yard scoring drive, then came up with an interception by Darious Eubanks on the Black Bears’ ensuing possession.

Eubanks’ interception of a pass intended for Justin Perillo gave the Eagles the ball at the Maine 27, and two plays later Shaw found a wide-open Kentrellis Showers in the end zone to make it 35-17.

Although the Black Bears answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive, the deficit was simply too much to overcome.

“Our program faced a multitude of challenges this year,” Cosgrove said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We got better as the game went on, but time ran out.”