The 2022 Georgia Southern Eagles placed an amazing entry into the history book between Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
A 25-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Vantrease to Ezrah Archie capped a double overtime victory in the final regular season game at Paulson Stadium as the Eagles defeated the Mountaineers 51-48 and became bowl eligible before an impressive post-Thanksgiving Day crowd of over 18,000.
It was all hands on deck Saturday as the winning touchdown came from a sixth-year senior who had one reception for 4 yards entering Saturday’s game and a pair of walk-on running backs who scored their first collegiate touchdowns.
“We walked into this game and we said it would take everyone. I didn’t know it would literally be everyone,” said Eagles coach Clay Helton. “I truly believe that was a culture-driven win. That was 365 days of work and those kids coming together as a team and a brotherhood and accomplishing some amazing things.”
Ezrah Archie transferred to Georgia Southern this year from Monmouth University in New Jersey. An aspiring film student, Archie helped write a Hollywood script Saturday night.
Entering the game with only one reception, Archie was asked to step in as a last-minute starter for Marcus Sanders, who was a late scratch. Archie finished the game with five catches for 71 yards, including the game-winner in double overtime.
“For any kid out there listening, dreams do come true,” Archie said. “I couldn’t even imagine that happening earlier today. I was running a post route and protection broke down and I reversed field and put my hand up and Kyle saw me, trusted me and I made the play. I'm pretty sure if it was any of the other guys, they would have made the play too. We all play for each other in the receiver room. Derwin Burgess was coaching me up all game. We are more than a family.”
“Ezrah is an experienced guy and he knows how to find the empty grass on a broken play,” said quarterback Kyle Vantrease. “I saw where he was going and there was just a whole bunch of grass. I wish I would have thrown the ball a little higher as I was a little nervous, but we got the win and that is all that matters.”
For a team that suffered 14 season-ending injuries and had to delve deep into its roster in a game with postseason implications, Archie’s emergence was more than needed. It turned out to be pivotal.
“That is a story Ezrah will always be able to tell forever,” Helton said, “that you never give up on yourself and you always prepare to be ready for your teammates and your brothers and tonight he was.”
Archie wasn’t the only player to send Eagles fans scrambling for a program as starting running back O.J. Arnold twisted his ankle on the first series and Helton went to the bench and brought in a pair of walk-ons. Neither Tyler Jordan nor A.J. Brown had carried the ball in a game this season and Saturday night they combined for 73 yards and three touchdowns.
“We always say you never know when your opportunity is going to come,” Helton said. “As coaches, you have to have the discipline to coach everybody each and every week because you don’t know when it is going to be that next man’s turn. Sometimes the light comes on in game one and sometimes it is late November. Ezrah, A.J. Tyler, we were even on our third-string long snapper, it’s like a fairy tale. I am so proud of this bunch and the staff for preparing everyone like they are starters each and every week.”
Saturday was the highest-scoring game in the 35-year history between the two teams and the third overtime game. The Mountaineers still lead the series 18-14 but Saturday the Eagles snapped the Mountaineers streak of eight-straight bowl appearances and also snapped their record streak of 37-straight seasons of being .500 or better in conference play, which dates back to playing in the Southern Conference.
Vantrease continues to rewrite the passing records at Georgia Southern. Saturday, he threw for 385 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Vantrease currently holds virtually all the single-season and single-game passing records, and Saturday he moved past Shai Werts and Raymond Gross into second place in career passing yardage with 3,887. Only Tracy Ham has more with 5,757.
“When I came down here, everyone talked about the pride of this program and the tradition of the Appalachian State game,” Vantrease said. “If there was one thing I wanted to do when I came here that was to win this game. To be able to do that with this team and the adversity we have faced it’s nothing short of special and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this brotherhood.”
The Eagle defense gave up 48 points and 629 yards of total offense, but made a few big plays with the game on the line. The Eagles held ASU to 0-for-2 on fourth down, including a key stop on fourth and 1 with 1:46 remaining in the game and App. State on the Eagles 26-yard line. They also held the Mountaineers to a field goal in the second overtime.
Tied at 38-38, the Mountaineers missed a 30-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to send the game into overtime.
“This is a team that really fights for each other,” said linebacker Marques Watson-Trent. “This is the most amazing day of my life. As a defensive player, you want to be in a position where you have to make a play for your team. We knew it would come down to a couple stops, and I’m glad we could do it when it mattered.”
The win completes the Eagles 2022 regular season at 6-6 and makes them bowl eligible. Bowl bids are typically announced after conference championship games. Troy and Coastal Carolina will play for the Sun Belt championship Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Troy, Alabama.
But for Southern, Saturday’s breathtaking win might extend a 6-6 campaign that already has plenty of highlights.
“These seniors are going to look back on things like beating a Power-5 school, beating a top-25 ranked team and your bitter rival to go to a bowl, which they have earned,” Helton said.