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99-yard drive gives Eagles offense confidence

Resulting TD sealed win against Western Carolina

By ALEX PELLEGRINO
apellegrino@statesboroherald.net

    Georgia Southern’s 11-play, 99-yard scoring drive during the third and fourth quarters Saturday at Western Carolina was the ideal confidence booster for the team’s young, transitioning offense.
    “When you can take the ball down the field for that kind of length - that says a lot about discipline, some good decision making and some good play calling,” first-year Eagle coach Brian VanGorder said. “It was a good thing to happen.”
    The 99-yard haul, which tied a school single-game record, was capped with a 33-yard touchdown run by Chris Covington to put GSU up 24-0. The Eagles won the game 24-14 to improve to 2-2 on the year and 1-1 in Southern Conference play.
    “Our goal is to get two first downs when we are pinned in, and last week we didn’t do that,” receiver Darius Smiley said. “It builds a lot of confidence to know that you can drive 99 yards on a good defense.”
    Covington, who rushed for a game-high 106 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, gave high praise to Georgia Southern’s offensive line.
    “I’ve told everybody that I’ve talked to that behind those big guys, we can run it from the inch-line every time,” he said. “We’ve got big guys who can push anybody around in the middle.”
    Covington’s score was set up two plays earlier when the Eagles were facing third-and-13 from their own 45 and Travis Clark hit Raja Andrews on a 16-yard pass to keep the drive alive.
    “We still have a long ways to go to really reach full potential with this football team, but there are some good signs,” VanGorder said. “We’ve got to keep working hard. The experience helps.”

Big play gives
Eagles fast start
    Before Western Carolina’s defenders felt the grass underneath their feet, the home team was in a 6-0 hole thanks to a 65-yard touchdown pass from Clark to Smiley on Georgia Southern’s first play from scrimmage. It was the third straight time the Eagles scored a touchdown on their opening drive.
    VanGorder credited the play to offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw.
    “That was his call all the way,” he said. “He saw it during the week. He liked it and opened up the game with it. It gave us a chance for a fast start.”
    The 65-yard launch was a career-long pass completion and reception for the sophomore quarterback and the senior receiver.
    Smiley said the team has been working on the play since fall camp.
    “Coach told us this week it was going to be open,” Smiley said. “He came in (Friday) night and told us it was going to be the first play of the game, so I just came out and ran my route perfect. Travis threw a perfect ball and I scored.”

Eagles struggle
in red zone
    Georgia Southern was 2-for-4 on red-zone scoring chances Saturday and has converted 11-of-16 opportunities (68.75 percent) this season.
    GSU stalled at Western’s 2-yard line after Terrione Benefield’s third-quarter interception sent GSU’s offense onto the field at the Western 25-yard line. From there, the Eagles moved 18 yards in six plays but couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone and turned it over on downs.
    “We’re not real big,” VanGorder said. “You get down there in some of the tough yardage things and you’ve got to play with great leverage. You’ve got to come off of the ball a little bit better, and our backs have to get it down and get the tough yards.  We’ve got to be able to get the tough yard when we need it.”
    On Georgia Southern’s final possession, the Eagles opted not to run up the score and took a knee at the WCU 1.

Next up
    Georgia Southern opens a three-game home stand Saturday with a 1 p.m. game against No. 11 North Dakota State.
    The Bison improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2001 after a 17-9 win at Stephen F. Austin Saturday. NDSU’s victories include a 29-24 road win over Division I-A’s Ball State on Sept. 23.
    After claiming five D-II national championships between 1973 and 2003, North Dakota State moved to I-AA and is entering the fourth year of a five year reclassification period. The Bison run a West Coast style offense and return 15 starters, including their quarterback, junior Steve Walker, who completed 20-of-24 passes for 217 yards Saturday.
    It will be the first meeting between Georgia Southern and NDSU.

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