The road to the Sun Belt Championship has come through Coastal Carolina the past few seasons. Saturday night the Georgia Southern Eagles planted a detour sign in the Chanticleers path as they handed Coastal their second straight loss with a 38-28 victory before the largest crowd to ever attend a game at Paulson Stadium.
With an announced crowd of 26,384 on hand the Eagles got another impressive performance from quarterback Davis Brin who threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The defense gave up 465 yards of total offense, but were able to come through with four interceptions including one for a touchdown as they did a great job of making things difficult for All-Conference quarterback Grayson McCall.
“This was a game we lost last year to Coastal, but this year we were able to do what we needed to down the stretch” said head coach Clay Helton. “Tonight was a major statement on national television to show what type of program we can be. Thank you to our university and our fans. Recourses are one thing, but when the fans come out like they did tonight that lifts the program.”
The Eagle defense struggled last season giving up over 31 points per game, created only 16 total turnovers and gave opposing offenses over 47 percent of their third down attempts. This year under first year defensive coordinator Brandon Bailey the Eagle defense is giving up 20 points per game They are tied for 16th in the country in turnovers with 10 and are tied for 16th in the country holding opponents to just 30 percent on third down.
“We talked about getting the three-time Conference MVP off the field and we did that,” Helton said. “The defesne held them to 4-14 on third down and four turnovers. That was the difference in being able to create the separation. When guys are getting to the quarterback and around his arms and legs those things add up. We were able to get pressure rushing three or four men and were able to play coverage on one of the best wide receivers in Sam Pinckney and the pass rush led to the interceptions.”
Helton felt the turning point of the game belonged to the defense as well. With the Eagles clinging to a 24-21 lead in the middle of the third quarter, linebacker Khadry Jackson picked off a tipped McCall pass and went 20-yards into the end zone to extend the lead to 31-21.
“That play by Khadry didn’t quite put the nail in the coffin but it gave us room to breathe,” Helton said. “The game was going back-and-forth and that swung the momentum our way.”
Players on offense and defense understand how big a momentum shift a turnover can be, especially if it’s a turnover that is returned for a touchdown.
“I think that was the turning point of the game and swung the momentum completely our way,” said quarterback Davis Brin. “I thought the defense played unreal tonight. When they get the ball back for us it is huge because it takes an opportunity away from them, and gives us a chance to get right back out and score.”
“We knew we had to get some pressure on McCall and make him uncomfortable back there,” said linebacker Marques Watson-Trent. “When you get him off his spots it’s hard for him to make those throws. This is a byproduct of all the work we put in with coach Baily in the off-season. We just have a bunch of guys who have bought in and really want it.”
The offense had the moments as well. After a slow start the Eagles finished the half strong as Brin found Anthon Queeley who hauled in a score after the ball was tipped at the goal line. A wild finish to the half saw Cam Williams make a tremendous one-handed interception with less than a minute to play. The Eagle offense then capped the ensuing scoring drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brin to Khaleb Hood.
“We had two scores in the last five minutes of the half to give us a halftime lead,” Helton said. “We were able to hold onto all three of our time outs at the end of the half. We were able to make a long run on a nice play call by Bryan Ellis to get Jalen White a 29-yard run to get us in good shape. We finished it off with a touchdown and going in up 21-14 was huge.”
The Eagles are currently 4-1 and 1-0 in Sun Belt play. They will be off this Saturday with their bye week and will next hit the road for James Madison Oct. 14.