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Attack hatches in 2nd half as Eagles roll
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Georgia Southern quarterback Jayson Foster leaves West Georgia tacklers in the dust on a 56-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of Saturday's 45-21 win. Foster rushed for a career high 231 yards and three TDs. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    The yellow buses are back and so are gray facemasks and nameless jerseys.
    But equally as noteworthy Saturday evening at Paulson Stadium was Georgia Southern’s return to winning.
    The Eagles had their hands full during their season opener with what should have been an overmatched West Georgia team but rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit for a 45-21 win in their first game under new coach Chris Hatcher. The victory was witnessed by 21,489, the eighth largest crowd in Paulson Stadium history, and snapped the team’s five-game losing streak.
    “It’s always a relief to win the first game,” junior defensive back Chris Covington said. “It’s just a great feeling to come out here in front of all these people and put a big win up. It always feels good.”
    Coming off of a three-win 2006 season and still adjusting to their third coach in three seasons, the Eagles saw plenty of hope for the season, namely senior quarterback Jayson Foster and true freshman running back Zeke Rozier, who helped turn a close game through three quarters into a rout.
    The Eagles trailed 21-10 at the break before pitching a second-half shutout and scoring 35 unanswered points, including 21 in the final period.
    “We made some mistakes, and we had a chance to put the game away early, we just couldn’t do it,” said Hatcher, who drove the first team bus. “But I was real proud of the way we came out in the second half. Probably the best thing that happened to us was to get down and find out what we were made of right off the bat.”
    Foster shined in his first start at quarterback since 2005, finishing with a career-high 232 rushing yards and three touchdowns, which tied his career best, on 11 carries. He also completed 6 of 9 attempts, throwing for 124 yards and one score. It was the third time in his career he’s rushed and passed for at least 100 yards in the same game.
    Rozier helped Eagle fans breathe a little easier and showed he’s ready to play at the college level by helping GSU regain the lead for good, 24-21, with a 41-yard TD haul – his first collegiate rush - with 3:04 to go in the third.
    After that, the Eagle offense was unstoppable as Foster connected with Michael McIntosh for an 81-yard TD pass, Rozier had a one-yard TD run and Foster broke loose for a 74-yard scoring run.
    Trailing 21-10 midway through the third, Foster trimmed West Georgia’s lead to four on a 56-yard TD run. He started right, then broke left and dodged two UWG defenders while sprinting to the end zone for his second score of the night.
    For the first three quarters, the Wolves didn’t show many signs of being a team that went 1-9 in Division II’s Gulf South conference a year ago. They silenced the crowd in the first half, racking up 14 first downs to GSU’s 4 and 225 yards of total offense to the Eagles’ 135.
    The last two periods were a different story as Georgia Southern (1-0) amassed 446 yards of total offense to finish with 601.
    West Georgia (1-1) took its first lead – a 14-10 edge 13:50 before the half - on a 7-yard TD pass from Keats Baldwin to Daniel Johnson. The drive followed a Foster fumble, which sent the Wolves offense to work at their 35.
    West Georgia pushed it lead to 21-10 on Baldwin’s 11-yard run with 2:51 left in the second quarter. Georgia Southern was poised to trim the two-touchdown deficit on its first possession of the second half, but quarterback Travis Clark fumbled at the GSU 5.
    Georgia Southern struck first on the night, needing only 32 seconds and two plays to score its first touchdown of the year, a 54- yard keeper by Foster.
    Junior Tim Camp gave the Eagles a huge opportunity late in the opening quarter when he blocked a West Georgia punt, allowing GSU to take over at the UWG 4. But the Eagle offense stalled and was forced to settle for Jesse Hartley’s 21-yard field goal, which gave the Eagles a 10-7 edge.
    “We started slow,” Hatcher said. “I guess it was first-game jitters. (West Georgia) played an outstanding ballgame, and we were just a little bit too much in the second half.”
    The Eagles travel to Coastal Carolina Saturday for a 7 p.m. game.

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