If a 14-day layover between games and a COVID-related addition of a brand new team to the schedule was supposed to be a hurdle for Georgia Southern, no one told the Eagles.
Playing for the first time since a dramatic Oct. 3 win at UL Monroe and facing Massachusetts following the postponement of a showdown with Appalachian State that had been scheduled for earlier in the week, the Eagles took everything in stride and steamrolled the Minutemen to the tune of a 41-0 shutout victory.
“It was invaluable to be able to play a game today and avoid three straight weeks without a game,” GS head coach Chad Lunsford said. “I credit our administration for working on the schedule and want to give a big shout out to Eagle Nation for showing up.
“As for the game, I thought we did a good job. Obviously, we’ll have to go back and evaluate the tape, but I think our guys played a complete game to go and get this win.”
Senior quarterback Shai Werts led the way for the Eagles (3-1, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference). Normally pacing the Georgia Southern option game with his legs, it was instead a barrage of aerial strikes that put the Eagles out in front.
After quickly advancing to midfield on the game’s opening drive, Werts found Malik Murray totally uncovered up the middle of the field, completing a 47-yard touchdown strike.
With the Eagle defense dominating UMass - which was playing its first game of the season after deciding just weeks ago to attempt to play in 2020 and have been trying to schedule other teams who are having games dropped due to an original opponent running into COVID issues - Werts continued to sling the ball. He found freshman tight end Beau Johnson for an 8-yard score midway through the first quarter and found him again in the second quarter for a 10-yard strike in the second quarter.
Shifting to the ground, Werts cruised in on his own from 4 yards out to give the Eagles a 28-0 lead they carried into halftime.
“We were really just running our base plays,” Werts said. “We weren’t sure what they were going to run since they haven’t played. When it came to it, the looks they were giving us made some passes open and we went out and executed.”
Saturday marked the fourth time in his career that Werts has thrown for three touchdowns in a game. He finished the day 11-of-16 through the air for 128 yards to go with the three touchdown tosses. Werts added another 76 yards on the ground.
Georgia Southern rushed for 308 yards as a team, but Wesley Kennedy III was the only Eagle to top 100 yards, gaining 106, with most of that coming on a 55-yard jaunt off of a reverse in the third quarter.
Alex Raynor covered the rest of the scoring for Georgia Southern as he connected on field goal attempts of 27 and 31 yards.
Any offensive highlights for the Minutemen were few and far between as the Eagles recorded their first shutout since a 52-0 pasting of South Alabama on Nov. 18, 2017.
Mike Fallon and Josiah Johnson threw for 41 and 39 yards, respectively, as UMass’s opener served as a sort of dress audition for a quarterback battle that couldn’t be decided in the quick run-up to Saturday’s game. Each quarterback threw an interception, with Derrick Canteen nabbing his first pick as an Eagle against Fallon before Darrell Baker Jr. lept to haul in a Johnson pass.
Massachusetts rushed 33 times for just 111 yards and the Eagles forced seven punts to go along with their pair of turnovers.
The lone chance for the Minutemen to dent the scoreboard came in the final seconds of the first half. UMass made its deepest penetration of the day into GS territory, but Cameron Carson misfired from 39 yards out on his first collegiate attempt as the first half ended.
The Eagles now return to Sun Belt Conference action. Next Saturday, Georgia Southern travels to Coastal Carolina in a matchup that will see the winner in great position to become a frontrunner in the Eastern division.