Despite its early season success, there was plenty of reason to believe that Georgia Southern would struggle as it traveled to New Mexico on Saturday night.
The Eagles have a track record of underwhelming performances on long trips out west and — seemingly following the script — GS fell behind 14-3 early at New Mexico State.
And then the Eagles made their biggest statement of the 2018 season, so far.
Playing with a hobbled starting quarterback and without its leading running back and nearly a third of its usual starting defense, the Eagles absorbed some big shots from the Aggies (2-6) before rallying hard to take a halftime lead and putting the game out of reach by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
Logan Wright rushed for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Wesley Kennedy III went for another 99 yards and two more scores, and Monteo Garrett and Shai Werts rushed for 78 yards each as the Aggies were bowled over time and time again by a relentless Eagle attack.
New Mexico State and its fast-paced spread offense made way early on. Christian Gibson opened the scoring with a 5-yard run and Jason Huntley’s 9-yard run midway through the first quarter gave NMSU a 14-3 advantage, but that’s when the Eagles took over.
Nursing sore ribs and avoiding the amount of contact that is normal for an option quarterback, Werts was able to contribute 155 total yards. Georgia Southern scored touchdowns on its final three drives of the first half and led by as much as 45-17 midway through the third quarter before both squads quickly transitioned to emptying their benches.
Josh Adkins (25-38, 295 yards) padded stats and kept the game moving over the final quarter of action.
Jason Huntley rushed for two of his three touchdowns in the final quarter, but only after the Eagles had taken a stranglehold of the action.
Georgia Southern was able to come away with the win despite dealing with a host of injuries.
Werts was protecting his ribs throughout the game, and he never as able to turn the ball over to Wesley Fields.
On the defensive end, linebackers Rashad Byrd and Todd Bradley were out, along with safety Sean Freeman.
But — as the Eagles have done all season — they adapted and overcame.
Saturday's win was another chapter in what has become one of the biggest turnaround stories in the country.
The Eagles finished 2-10 in 2017, but Chad Lunsford — named interim head coach midway through 2017 and given the permanent title before the end of the 2017 campaign — has been on a war path to put the Eagles back on the national scope.
The Eagles have found the spotlight. Now, it's just a matter of how well Georgia Southern can run with it.
Georgia Southern will get most of its celebrating over the NMSU win done as the Eagles catch a flight back to the Atlantic coast. A short week awaits before arch-nemesis Appalachian State invades Paulson Stadium on Thursday night in front of a nationally televised audience.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.