Georgia Southern seemed to have some momentum and even carried a lead into halftime, but New Mexico State pulled ahead on the first play of the fourth quarter and the Eagles couldn’t bounce back as they suffered a 35-27 homecoming loss Saturday night at Paulson Stadium.
Trailing 27-21 as the fourth quarter began, the Aggies (3-4, 1-2 Sun Belt Conference) were sitting on the GS 18 yard line. NMSU quarterback Tyler Rogers - who threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns on the night - had been clicking, so the Eagle defense was quick to flock to receiver Conner Cramer when Rogers swung a quick pass out to his left.
But Cramer had taken two steps back at the snap, and Rogers’ pass was, in fact, a lateral. Three GS defenders had a line on Cramer, but Cramer calmly tossed the ball into the end zone to a wide open Bryce Roberts. The PAT by Dylan Brown put NMSU ahead 28-27 and the Aggie defense held from there.
Georgia Southern (0-5, 0-2) benefitted from a 15-play, 67-yard touchdown drive on its first possession. The Eagles also got a 48-yard touchdown run from Wesley Fields (13 carries, 103 yards) and a 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dexter Carter Jr., but ultimately sputtered when the game was in the balance, gaining just 14 yards and no first downs over their final three drives of the night.
“It’s another tough loss and a hard pill to swallow,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “I know you’re tired of hearing me say it, but these kids are playing extremely hard. We should be in a position to be celebrating right now, and we’re not.”
In their previous game, the Georgia Southern pass defense had come up with four interceptions, but had also allowed nearly 400 passing yards and far too many big plays in a loss to Arkansas State. The Eagles pulled a similar Jekyll-and-Hyde act Saturday as Monquavion Brinson picked off Rogers twice, but the senior quarterback was also able to sit mostly untouched in the pocket and convert on eight of the Aggies’ 13 third down plays.
With Cramer’s 17-yard touchdown pass added to Rogers’ solid night of work, the Aggies ended up with 399 yards through the air.
“We didn’t get the job done,” Brinson said. “I thought the line got enough pressure and the linebackers covered well. I think the coaches put us in good coverages, but we just didn’t make enough plays when we needed to.”
Rogers hit a pair of passes for at least 20 yards on the Aggies’ opening drive and ran in on his own from 5 yards out for the early lead. The Eagles’ lengthy first drive was capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by L.A. Ramsby, but NMSU answered right back as Rogers converted on 3rd-and-10 before finding Gregory Hogan for a 59-yard touchdown strike.
Georgia Southern tied the game at 14-14 on the final play of the first quarter when Fields took an option pitch from quarterback Shai Werts and outran the Aggie defense for 48 yards.
Brinson’s first interception of Rogers led to a 32-yard field goal by Tyler Bass to give the Eagles a 17-14 lead.
New Mexico State then marched 75 yards in just 10 plays — capped of by a 5-yard strike from Rogers to Jaleel Scott — to edge ahead at 21-17, but the ensuing short kick saw Carter get around the left side of the blocking wall and outrun all Aggies to reclaim the lead for the Eagles.
Unfortunately for Georgia Southern, that’s where the fireworks stopped.
Bass added a 41-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half, but that was the last of the scoring for the Eagles.
The Georgia Southern defense held for a while, but lengthy NMSU drives coupled with quick GS possessions seemed to wear on the Eagles in the final minutes.
The Eagles added to another unfortunate streak as they had a player ejected for the fifth consecutive game. In fact, three Eagles left early as both Tomarcio Reese and R.J. Murray were flagged for targeting penalties in the first half while Curtis Rainey was ejected for fighting in the fourth quarter.
Georgia Southern has lost two home games in the last 10 days and — if it wants to finally find its first win of the season — will have to take care of business on the road. The Eagles travel north next week to take on the 0-6 Minutemen of Massachusetts.
Something’s got to give.