By ALEX PELLEGRINO
CULLOWHEE, N.C. – It was a win Georgia Southern desperately needed – a 10-point road victory over a Southern Conference foe.
The Eagles bounced back from last week’s disappointing loss at Chattanooga with a 24-14 win over Western Carolina Saturday to avoid a 0-2 start in league play for the first time in a decade.
The victory marked Georgia Southern’s 12th straight over the 24th-ranked Catamounts and marked Brian VanGorder’s first road win as coach of the Eagles.
“I heard the announcer say before the game that this was ‘must-win Saturday,’” said running back Chris Covington, who ran for a game-high 106 yards and two touchdowns. “Two losses in this conference and you’re done. Winning tonight was good, and we’ve got to do it again next week.”
Georgia Southern (2-2, 1-1) rode to the win with a balanced offensive attack and a defense that pitched a shutout for three quarters. Quarterback Travis Clark threw for 195 yards and tailbacks Covington and Lamar Lewis combined for 203 of GSU’s 208 yards on the ground. Lewis finished with 97 yards on 18 carries.
Covington scored Georgia Southern’s final touchdown of the night on a 33-yard run to highlight a 99-yard drive by the Eagles that tied a school record.
“Tonight is a good night,” VanGorder said. “It’s a win on the road, and it’s another good experience for (our) guys.”
Georgia Southern’s offense scored on its first two possessions, including the first play from scrimmage, a 65-yard touchdown pass from Clark to Darius Smiley. It was a career long pass and reception for both Clark and Smiley.
After Covington’s one-yard touchdown run capped the Eagles’ second drive, Clark ran in ball in the end zone for a two-point conversion to put the Eagles up 14-0.
Sophomore Patrick Bolen was successful in his debut as Georgia Southern’s placekicker, hitting his first career field goal and 1-of-2 extra-point attempts. His first extra-point try was blocked. Bolen’s 33-yard field goal with 11 seconds before halftime gave GSU a 17-0 edge.
“It felt good getting out here,” Bolen said. “I just had to trust my technique. I felt good all week coming in.”
Senior John Mohring and sophomore Dawayne Grace tied for a team-high nine tackles. Bolen’s field goal was set up by Mohring’s interception – Western’s third turnover of the first half.
Mohring displayed the Eagles’ aggressiveness by leveling WCU’s starting quarterback Bennett Swygert on a blitz early in the third quarter. Swygert never returned to the game.
“We saw an opening on film and we decided to put a new blitz in for me,” Mohring said. “I took advantage of it and got a sack.”
Western broke up Georgia Southern’s bid for a shutout with a 5-yard pass from backup quarterback Todd Spitzer to Michael Hines with 8:50 remaining. Prior to the play, the Eagles had held the Catamounts scoreless for more than 104 minutes, dating back to Oct. 8 of last season when GSU shut out Western for the final three quarters. Saturday’s three-quarter shutout marked the first time Georgia Southern has held an opponent scoreless for consecutive quarters since last year’s game against the Catamounts.
“We tried to come out and have a better showing than we did last week,” Mohring said. “We are upset we didn’t get the shutout – we wanted that. But we got a victory, and that’s a step in the right direction.”
Like the offense, Georgia Southern’s defense also started strong, holding the Catamounts without a first down on their first two drives. The Eagles were flagged for a season-high 12 penalties for 97 yards.
Western (2-2, 0-2) turned the ball over four times during the night – three interceptions by Swygert and one fumble - but the Eagles only managed three points off of the turnovers.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, we might win that game,” Catamount coach Kent Briggs said. “It’s become a trend that we are starting slowly and falling behind.”
The Eagles step outside of SoCon play to host No. 11 North Dakota State next week at 1 p.m.
Dudley continues to kickoff
Senior Jonathan Dudley, who lost his role as the Eagles’ extra-point and field-goal kicker after the Chattanooga game last week, kept his job as GSU’s kickoff specialist.
s John Mohring – Interception, sack and nine tackles.
s Chris Covington – 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
s Lamar Lewis – 97 yards rushing.
s Eagle offense – No turnovers.
s Eagle defense – Forced four turnovers.
‰ Key play
Georgia Southern’s first offensive play of the game. Travis Clark had excellent protection and found Darius Smiley sprinting open down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. The Eagles quick score set the tone, as they built a 24-0 lead.
“We saw an opening on film and we decided to put a new blitz in for me” – John Mohring on his sack that knocked out Western’s QB.
Georgia Southern 14 3 7 0 — 24
Western Carolina 0 0 0 14 — 14
GaSo—Smiley 65 pass from T.Clark (kick blocked), 14:32.
GaSo—Covington 1 run (T.Clark run), 7:33.
GaSo—FG Bolen 33, :11.
GaSo—Covington 33 run (Bolen kick), 13:40.
WCar—Hines 5 pass from Spitzer (pass failed), 8:50.
WCar—Hines 23 pass from Spitzer (Malone run), 3:21.
First downs 17 15
Rushes-yards 42-208 30-93
Passing 195 216
Comp-Att-Int 12-22-0 16-38-3
Return Yards 24 17
Punts-Avg. 7-40.4 5-42.2
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 12-97 9-94
Time ofPossession 31:37 28:23
RUSHING—GSU, Covington 18-106, L.Lewis 18-97, J.Foster 2-10, T.Clark 3-(minus 1), Team 1-(minus 4). W. Carolina, Fudge 22-97, L.Davis 2-4, Malone 5-(minus 3), Swygert 1-(minus 5).
PASSING—Georgia Southern, T.Clark 12-22-0-195. W. Carolina, Swygert 9-21-3-98, Spitzer 7-17-0-118.
RECEIVING—Georgia Southern, Covington 2-35, McCutchen 2-29, Campbell 2-7, Smiley 1-65, Andrews 1-16, Giacomarro 1-14, L.Lewis 1-13, Scarborough 1-10, J.Foster 1-6. W. Carolina, Hines 5-57, Cohen 4-57, Fudge 2-9, Malone 1-44, L.Davis 1-18, Allen 1-13, C.Jefferson 1-11, Jo.Clark 1-7.