Of all people, the hero was GS kicker Tyler Bass, who easily connected on three field goals, including a 40-yard game winner as time expired. Bass has been a hero for this turnaround team all year long, guiding footballs through the uprights from unfathomable distance the way most people guide the family car into a parking spot.
The other hero for the Statesboro Eagles was, of course, quarterback Shai Werts. He scored two rushing touchdowns on 79 ground yards, but the big play for Werts was his do-or-die run on 4th & long when GS was down 21-20 late and all seemed lost. The sophomore not only got the first, he single-handedly got Southern into field goal territory.
After that there were nervous moments left, sure. Nobody who has watched Bass all year could have been too worried though. He was 9 of 10 on field goals of 40-plus yards for the year, and became 10 of 11 on the final play of the 2018 Georgia Southern football season.
For head coach Chad Lunsford, the ball sailing through the uprights one more time sealed an incredible turnaround: 2-10 to 10-3 in 12 months. Again, how is that even possible? What does one coach, or even a full coaching staff, say or do with their players to cause such a stark change in performance?
I don’t know, and neither do the fans who rode down on charter buses paid for by Lunsford and Cole Swindell, but we’ll take it.
Full credit to Eastern Michigan. The other Eagles came in looking for their first bowl win since 1987 and did all they could to earn it. It was frustrating as a Southern fan to watch them break so many tackles in the second half, especially Blake Banham and Arthur Jackson, and yet I couldn’t help but admire the determination it conveyed. They played to win and very nearly did.
Southern more or less dominated the opening half, outgaining Eastern 230-93 and going into the break with a 17-7 lead. GS held firm command over time of possession as well, 20:29 to 9:31.
In the second half it was EMU who dominated. Eastern outgained Southern 208-134 and outscored GS 14-6 in the third and fourth quarters. Mike Glass is a very good quarterback, showing his skill via 204 passing yards, with 17 completions on 25 attempts. And all of it came against a secondary which had been Southern’s best unit all year. Meanwhile, GS went 0 of 5 on third down for the second half.
Both teams played clean football. Neither threw an interception or lost a fumble (though GS tried, coughing the ball up and falling back on it three times, one of which somehow went for a first down).
That’s not to say there weren’t debatable calls. Had the blue Eagles lost, a big talking point would have been Lunsford’s conservative playcalling. Southern chose not to go for it on fourth and short multiple times, while the green Eagles were rewarded for doing so on their final touchdown.
In the end, it didn’t matter.
Georgia Southern has won 10 games for the first time in the FBS era. The Eagles could be in position to win even more in 2019. Werts and Bass both come back, and so will Lunsford. If the coach can take a team from 2-10 to 10-3, what can he do when starting with a strong squad?
We’ll see starting next September. But for now, let’s just enjoy this win. Hail Southern.