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Eagles put an end to a frustrating trend
On Saturday, the GSU football team dominated the second half for the first time all year
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    For the first time this year Georgia Southern dominated its opponent in the second half, a feat that led directly to the Eagles’ third win Saturday.
    The 28-21 come-from-behind victory over Elon was just the second time this season Georgia Southern has outscored its opponent in the second half. The Eagles racked up 18 points after halftime to the Phoenix’s 7.
    In the second half alone, North Dakota State held an edge of 20-0, Western Carolina 14-7, Chattanooga 20-14 and Central Connecticut State 7-0. Aside from Elon, Coastal Carolina is the only team Georgia Southern has outscored (14-7) after intermission.
    “This week we really focused on just finishing the game,” said senior wide receiver Reggie McCutchen, who set a new school record with 191 receiving yards on seven catches. “In the second half of practice, the coaches picked it up on us. I’m really excited that we had the chance had to finish. That’s probably the biggest thing right there – it might get us over the edge and get us around that corner.”
    Saturday’s game was also the first time Georgia Southern’s defense has shutout an opponent in the second half. Elon’s lone score after halftime came on an interception returned for a touchdown.
    “That was a big emphasis this week,” said sophomore defensive end Larry Beard, who recorded a pair of tackles, one interception and two pass breakups. “We had to finish practice strong just to even come close to this. We made very few adjustments, which was really good.”
    Trailing 14-10 at the half Saturday, Georgia Southern kicked a field goal in the third quarter and racked up 15 points in the final period.
    “It’s the first time we’ve been down at the half all season,” said junior Jayson Foster, whose 40-yard kickoff return on Georgia Southern’s final possession set up Lamar Lewis’ game-winning touchdown with 1:03 to play. “We don’t want to get down at the half every time, but if we are going to play like this in the second half, it’s a good thing.”
    Improving their performance late in the game is something the Eagles talk about frequently, quarterback Travis Clark said.
    “We were in the locker room (Saturday) at halftime, and we just said, ‘Hey, let’s go out there like we do in the first half and let’s just get points on the board.’ That’s what we did, and that’s what you have to do every game. You just can’t go in there after the first half and say, ‘Hey, we’re done on offense.’”
    Elon coach Pete Lembo said his team couldn’t match Georgia Southern’s effort after the break.
    “I think they outplayed us in the second half,” he said. “They made more plays and made big plays when they needed to. We came up with one late, but it was too little, too late.”
    With the win, Georgia Southern improved to 3-3 and 2-1 in the Southern Conference.
    “This win is everything,” senior center Lance Wayne said. “We control our destiny. We needed this week before we play next week. We threw that pick and a lot of teams will crumble after that, but championship teams will come back and do what we did – marched right down the field and scored.”
Clark’s streak ends
    Clark’s fourth-quarter interception Saturday was the sophomore’s first pick in 149 attempts and first since the season opener. True freshman Karlos Sullivan returned the interception 32 yards for the game-tying touchdown with two minutes to play.
    “They brought blitz up the middle,” Clark said. “I threw it off my back foot. I was getting hit, and I saw that the flat was wide open and a guy undercut me. I shouldn’t have thrown it, but I stayed with my throw. Stuff happens. It was just a mistake on my part. I’ll take the blame.”
    It was the first time an opponent has returned an interception for a touchdown since Nov. 4, 2000, when Furman’s Richie Jackson picked off a J.R. Revere pass and returned it 29 yards in a 45-10 Paladin victory in Greenville, S.C.
Up Next
    One of Georgia Southern’s biggest rivals, defending I-AA national champion Appalachian State, will visit Statesboro this weekend for homecoming. The noon game will be televised by SportsSouth (formerly Turner South).
    The Mountaineers (6-1, 3-0) were ranked second in the nation last week and are likely to be No. 1 when the new polls are released today. Top-ranked New Hampshire lost to No. 13 James Madison on Saturday. App State’s only loss this year was to North Carolina State in the season opener.
    ASU is coming off a 14-7 home victory over Wofford and sits atop the Southern Conference standings with Furman (5-2, 3-0). The all-time series between GSU and ASU is tied at 10-10-1.
    The Mountaineers dominated Georgia Southern, 24-7, last year in Boone, N.C., while the Eagles slaughtered App State, 54-7, the previous year in Statesboro. App State’s only win in Paulson Stadium was a 35-28 victory in 1996 – the lone losing season in Georgia Southern football history.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.