Georgia Southern took a step in the right direction Saturday night, defeating South Carolina State 37-6 in the 2018 season opener.
The Eagles (1-0) weren’t quite the explosive offensive force of years past, but they were drastically improved from last fall’s 2-10 campaign as they racked up a 348-151 advantage in yardage gained and controlled the momentum throughout all four quarters.
It wasn’t quite a blowout, but that’s not what the Eagles needed most.
“Getting the ‘W’ is what’s important for us,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “Our fans want a blowout and we want to give it to them, but the important part is getting the win.”
Throughout fall camp and preseason scrimmages, it was the defense that stole many of the headlines. The Eagles are in a new 3-4 alignment this season, but a depth chart that is stacked with veteran experience seems to have shifted seamlessly into its new role.
The Eagles allowed just 2.9 yards per carry to the Bulldogs (0-1) and a trio of S.C. State quarterbacks combined to go just 2-for-10 through the air, including allowing the first career interception for GS linebacker Tomarcio Reese.
“We’re just flying around, sticking to our assignments and having fun doing it,” Reese said. “It’s fun to make that play and get an interception. It’s even more fun for us to be the best defense we can be.”
Offensively, Eagle quarterback Shai Werts looked as if his sophomore season might be primed for a breakout showing.
Heading up the Georgia Southern attack for a second season, Werts began 2018 with a career high 163 rushing yards. He also rushed for multiple touchdowns for the first time in his career. In fact, he found the end zone three times, extending an early lead in the final moments of the first quarter before capping off the Eagles’ big night with a pair of fourth quarter scoring runs.
Monteo Garrett put the first points of the season on the board for the Eagles as he powered in from a yard out in the first quarter. Those six points were all for GS initially as kicker Tyler Bass couldn’t connect on a two-point pass attempt.
Bass performed perfectly in his intended role in the second quarter, splitting the uprights on a 19-yard field goal to send Georgia Southern into halftime up 19-0.
Wesley Kennedy III set up GS with good field position on the opening kickoff of the second half. Werts directed an eight-play, 65-yard drive that was capped off by a 1-yard Wesley Fields touchdown run to make it 26-0.
South Carolina State fought its way down the field throughout most of the rest of the third quarter. After 9:12 of possession, Tyrece Nick powered over the goal line for the Bulldogs’ only points.
The ensuing extra point attempt was blocked by Georgia Southern.
Nick led the Bulldogs with 66 yards rushing on 21 attempts. Omar Cummings and Datron James rushed for 31 and 30 yards, respectively, while Nick, Dewann Ford and Corey Fields combined for 31 passing yards for S.C. State.
The Eagles were also wary of taking to the air, yet they were more efficient.
Werts connected on five of his seven pass attempts for 29 yards. Werts led the Eagles’ rushing efforts, with Matt LaRoche (39 yards), Wesley Fields (36), Monteo Garrett (30), Logan Wright (23) and Kennedy (22) all added at least 20 yards of rushing.
Georgia Southern will try to keep up the momentum through the week before hosting Massachusetts next week and trying to avenge a 55-20 loss from last season.
South Carolina State will face an even more daunting foe next Saturday as the Bulldogs travel to nationally-ranked Central Florida.