The Georgia Southern Eagles took out three years of frustration against the Georgia State Panthers on Saturday afternoon, picking up just their second win ever against GSU in the stadium formerly known as Turner Field.
#SouthernNotState, for at least the next 12 months.
It had been four years since Southern beat State. That’s something like 1,460 days, though I didn’t do the exact math. Southern fans once again far outnumbered their lighter hued counterparts on the overcast avernoon, though that wasn’t anything new. What was new was the outcome: a dominant 35-14 win, GS’s ninth of the season with a bowl game still to play. It was State’s 10th loss, matching Southern’s record for futility in 2017.
Were the Eagles really 2-10 just last year? How is that possible? Did Chad Lunsford magically rise from the waters of Eagle Creek to resurrect the program? I’d believe it myself if he hadn’t been around for 15 or so years already as an assistant.
Anyway, the game.
It looked like a lot of Southern wins this year, a slow burn rather than a burst of energy. Both teams exchanged punts on their opening drives, and the Eagles scored first courtesy of a Tyler Bass field goal.
GS got an interception, the first of Lane Ecton’s career (fun fact: Ecton and Bass were high school teammates), then squandered away the ensuing possession and punted again. It took a passing play (!) to finally open up the game, with Shai Werts hitting Darion Anderson for a 38-yard strike that made it 10-0. Anderson high fived a couple of fans afterward, which was deemed excessive by the powers that be, but it didn’t matter in the long run. State’s best chance of the half ended in a blocked kick, which led to a 49-yard Bass field goal that made it 13-0 at the half.
Statistically speaking, there wasn’t much to separate the teams in the first two quarters. Southern had one more first down that State, ran two more plays and had about two more minutes of possession. The Eagles’ big edge in rushing yards, plus a superior turnover margin and great special teams play made much of the difference.
For Southern fans, the party really began in the second half as the Eagles quickly put the game away. They roared after every big play. They did the Tomahawk Chop. They yelled “Southern” as loud as they could. But they really lit up when Gus, the mascot, ran out with a big “U” flag after a fourth-quarter score that made it 35-7.
Maybe the old “real GSU” thing is still alive after all.
The Eagles outgained their opponent 381-264. Running back Wesley Fields had a career day with 151 yards on 16 attempts, including a long of 63 that went for a touchdown. Werts was his usual self with 75 yards rushing plus 8-of-11 passing for another 105 yards. He accounted for three total touchdowns. Southern dominated on the ground with 276 yards (6.7 per rush) to State’s 94 (2.9 per).
Bass deserves a special shout-out. Not only was he money on field goals of 39 and 49 yards, he even connected a two-point conversion pass to Deshon Cooper.
It was a great day to be an Eagle. State, incredibly, still leads the all-time series 3-2, and still has yet to lose in Statesboro. That could be set to change when Lunsford’s bunch gets a shot again next year. Not that they’re worried about it.