KALAMAZOO, MI — Georgia Southern ran all over Western Michigan at Paulson Stadium last season.
Turnabout, as always, is fair game.
Western Michigan’s offense cruised up and down the field throughout the night and a few miscues on the Eagles’ end made things lopsided as the Broncos defended their home turf at Waldo Stadium with a 49-31 victory Saturday night.
For three weeks, Georgia Southern (3-1) had overcome shortfalls by a suddenly-less-potent offense and rode a dominant defense to wins. Facing a talented and determined Broncos squad, nearly every bad break turned its head on the Eagles.
Already trailing 14-10, The Eagles’ kick coverage unit - one of the best in the country dating back to the start of last season - never touched Darius Phillips as he raced 100 yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown. Attempting to come back from a 35-17 halftime deficit, Phillips again victimized the Eagles, this time intercepting a Favian Upshaw pass and returning it 70 yards to put the Broncos in control.
Aside from the singularly big plays, Western Michigan made plenty of the little things. WMU quarterback Zach Terrell passed for 270 yards and four touchdowns while the Broncos also bullied their way to 137 yards on the ground.
Georgia Southern seized control early in last season’s matchup, and had the tables turned on them in that area as well. The Eagles forced a three-and-out on the Broncos’ first possession, but returned the favor. Western Michigan then tore down the field and capped a 10-play, 56-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown plunge by Jamauri Bogan.
The Eagles responded when Favian Upshaw hit Wesley Fields for a 44-yard aerial strike, but WMU took the lead on a 37-yard pass from Zach Terrell to Michael Henry on the ensuing drive and never looked back.
When Younghoe Koo got the Eagles within 14-10 on a 34-yard field goal, Phillips answered back with his kickoff return. Western Michigan extended its lead to 28-10 on an 8-yard hookup between Terrell and Carrington Thompson and kept the cushion at 18 points when Myles Campbell’s 33-yard touchdown strike for the Eagles was matched by Corey Davis hauling in a 35-yard lob from Terrell with just over a minute to go before the half.
“We have to do a better job of being able to run the ball in the first half,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “And we didn’t create a turnover, had four turnovers, gave up a kick return for a touchdown and an interception return for touchdown and when you do all those things, it’s going to be tough to win the football game.”
Georgia Southern received the kickoff to start the second half, but immediately set to work at digging an even bigger hole.
On the second play of the half, Phillips tracked down an underthrown ball by Upshaw, picked up a wall of blockers and romped down the sideline to give the Broncos their biggest advantage at 41-17.
Upshaw was knocked out of action and never returned - remaining on the sidelines, but watching the action without his helmet or shoulder pads.
Pushed to the brink, but still fighting, Georgia Southern managed to keep the Broncos on edge as they mounted a pair of scoring drives to get back into contention.
Montay Crockett provided yet another circus catch to his already-impressive resume as he reined in a 44-yard lob and L.A. Ramsby powered in from 13 yards to make it a 42-31 game with 9:56 to play.
The Georgia Southern defense nearly held deep in its own territory, but Vegas Harley was flagged for a questionable targeting penalty that not only disqualified him from the game, but also set up a 7-yard Michael Henry touchdown reception from Terrell that put the icing on Western Michigan’s cake.
“The kids worked their tails off and believed after they scored in the fourth quarter that they were going to have a chance to win the game,” Summers said. “But we didn’t do enough on defense to get a stop and get off the field. We had some chances but didn’t do enough.”
To make matters worse for the Eagles, Kevin Ellison was sacked on the ensuing drive and left the game nursing his left arm, leaving third-stringer LaBaron Anthony to finish off the game for Georgia Southern.
Anthony was sacked and fumbled for the Eagles’ final turnover of the night before the Broncos took a knee to kill off the final seconds on the clock.
Despite the loss, Georgia Southern can still boast the Sun Belt’s only 2-0 conference record. That mark will be put on the line when the Eagles visit Arkansas State on Oct. 5.