Good teams finish games, great teams cover.
Georgia Southern was good enough to do both at home Saturday night against visiting Ball State, pulling out a 34-23 win. The Eagles were particularly effective in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Cardinals 14-3 in the period behind a pair of Kyle Vantrease passing touchdowns.
Vantrease sealed the win for Southern with 1:40 left in regulation, with the Eagles nursing a four-point lead, 27-23. On a 3rd and 8 from the Ball State 47 and the home team looking to kill the clock, Vantrease rolled to the right after a play action, and found receiver Amare Jones deep for the game-sealing touchdown, giving GS an 11-point advantage.
The Eagles’ signal-caller finished the game 26-of-39, for 310 yards and a pair of passing scores. Notably missing was the typical Vantrease prayer heave, as the quarterback played a sharp game despite tugging at his non-throwing shoulder throughout most of the game. Receiver Derwin Burgess was Vantrease’s biggest target, hauling in five catches for a game-high 133 yards.
Defensively, Southern surrendered 338 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns to Cardinals passer John Paddock, but tightened up when it mattered in the fourth frame to keep Ball State from making a run at winning the game late.
As a part of the win, GS also broke a three-game streak in which it had not forced an FBS team to commit a turnover since last season’s contest against App State. Southern defensive back Justin Birdsong picked off a Paddock pass with time winding down in the fourth quarter to put the nail in the coffin.
BSU running back Carson Steele repeatedly gashed the Eagles front-seven throughout the game for 119 yards, but was unable to help the visiting team come away with a win.
All-in-all it was a solid win for Georgia Southern, which has now matched its 2021 win total just four games into the season. The team does still need to start faster on offense, and play much better on defense, as it now faces the prospect of 8 consecutive Sun Belt contests through the rest of the season.
Against better competition, the first half effort the team showed on both sides of the ball simply won’t cut it, as we saw last week against UAB.