Georgia Southern trudged out of Baton Rouge a week ago on the wrong end of a 55-3 shellacking by LSU. The Eagles weren’t able to produce as many fireworks as they would have liked in their home opener Saturday night at Paulson Stadium, but at least swung the momentum in the right direction with a 26-18 victory over Maine.
“We’re glad to get the win, but there are a lot of things that we’re going to be disappointed in when we look at the tape,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “It’s always good to win, but we’ve got a lot that we can improve on.”
Things were far from perfect for the Eagles as they struggled early on offense, turned the ball over in the Maine red zone, and had to settle for a field goal over a touchdown on multiple occasions. That said, it was still a step forward and a much-needed win.
Georgia Southern led by as much as 23-3 following an 11-yard touchdown run by Matt LaRoache (9 rushes, 154 yards) early in the fourth quarter, but Maine fought back through the air. The Black Bears (1-1) connected on a wide receiver pass from Earnes Edwards to Devin Young on a 21-yard strike and starting quarterback Chris Ferguson hit Jaquan Blair for 46 yards in the game’s dying minutes.
A successful two-point conversion brought the game into doubt with 1:27 to play, but Georgia Southern recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to notch its first victory of the season.
Any offense was going to be welcome after the Eagles were shut down in Baton Rouge, but Georgia Southern also faced the tough task of putting points on the board without starting quarterback Shai Werts. The Eagles’ 3-year starting quarterback was knocked out of the LSU game early and was a day-to-day decision all week before being ruled out entirely Saturday morning.
Justin Tomlin stepped in for Werts at LSU and was behind center for the entirety of Saturday’s game. The redshirt freshman did everything that could have been asked of him, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown while completing 4-of-9 passes for 63 yards.
Maine marched down the field on its opening drive and walked away with three points on a 27-yard Kenny Doak field goal, but the GS defense locked down from there until the Eagles had built a healthy lead.
Tomlin ripped off a 47-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles in front early in the second quarter and Bass hit a 37-yard field goal - his first of a career-high four on the night - to give Georgia Southern a 10-3 halftime lead.
Bass connected on another pair of field goals in the third quarter to extend the Georgia Southern lead, although penalties and fumbles kept the Eagles from putting even more distance between themselves and the Black Bears.
“We preach that Eagles don’t beat Eagles,” Lunsford said. “We didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t do a lot of our key things tonight. We’re glad that we won, and it’s hard to win games. But we won’t win a lot more unless we improve.”
LaRoache plunged in from 11 yards out to give the Eagles a 23-3 lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter before Maine threw its final punches. Bass was able to keep things from getting too tense as his final field goal of the night - a 40-yarder - was sandwiched between the two late Maine touchdowns and kept the Eagles ahead by multiple scores until it was time to recover the final onside kick.
Saturday’s game was full of highs and lows.
While Georgia Southern ripped off a handful of explosive plays that have been sorely lacking over the last few seasons, there were also more miscues and potentially game-breaking mistakes than at any point of the 2018 slate of games.
“We can be good,” Lunsford said. “We can be great. But there are a lot of things we’re doing right now that will hurt us and we have to clean that up.”
Georgia Southern now moves forward to another P5 test as the Eagles head to Minnesota next week. It will be the second P5 matchup for the Eagles in three weeks and Georgia Southern is still looking for its first victory over a P5 opponent since making the jump to FBS competition in 2014.