The Georgia Southern Eagles went into the 2012 season with sky-high expectations, a boatload of talent and two huge concerns — the secondary and the kicking game.
So, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that in a game that was thoroughly dominated by GSU statistically on Saturday, the Eagles lost to The Citadel on account of a pair of missed field goals and a pass interference call on 4th-and-3 on the Bulldogs’ eventual game-winning drive.
The difference between that loss and the 2011, 35-7 loss to North Dakota State in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals was simple — this time, the better team didn’t win.
North Dakota State flat-out beat GSU last December, and against The Citadel, the Eagles beat themselves.
It started with a fumble by fullback Dominique Swope that gave the Bulldogs the ball on the GSU 27-yard line.
Their four-play drive ended with a 19-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
It continued when a late, errant pitch from quarterback Ezayi Youyoute to slotback Johnathan Bryant gave the Bulldogs the ball on the GSU 39.
Four more plays later, and The Citadel was in the end zone again.
The Eagles (1-1, 0-1 Southern Conference) ran only six plays, and were already trailing 14-0.
Tying the game was no problem.
Neither was getting into field-goal range before the half to try and tie it again down 17-14.
But freshman kicker Ryan Nowicki, playing for the first time on the road and needing a 31-yarder to tie a game in which the then-third-ranked Eagles were heavily favored, kicked it low, and it was blocked by Domonic Jones.
And then, of course, there was the kick at the end of the game.
There were other problems, too. Luke Cherry booted a couple of kickoffs out of bounds and gave the Bulldogs the ball at the 40-yard line, but the talented GSU defense kept The Citadel out of the end zone in the final three quarters.
Cherry also pinned a punt at the Bulldogs’ 3-yard line.
There were three other fumbles, and another that was ruled an incomplete pass, but the Eagles out-hustled the Bulldogs and recovered their own miscues after the first quarter.
Georgia Southern out-rushed The Citadel 307-168, got 23 first downs to The Citadel’s 12 and converted 7 of 12 third downs. The Citadel was 3 of 14 on third down, but was also 2 of 3 on fourth down, and those two fourth-down conversions resulted in a touchdown and a game-winning field goal.
At the end of the day, it was pretty clear that GSU was the more talented team.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the Eagles dropped only eight spots in the FCS media poll to No. 11, and it’s also why the Bulldogs (No. 21) are ranked for the first time this century.
Because there’s no substitute for experience.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.