Nothing was pretty about the conditions or the gameplay throughout Saturday’s Sun Belt tilt between Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina.
But a scrappy - possibly ugly - win goes a lot farther than even the prettiest of losses.
For the second consecutive game, Georgia Southern was pressed into overtime. And for the second straight game, the Eagles were up to the task. The Eagles (3-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) escaped from a would-be grave on 4th-and-6 in the first overtime as they trailed by a touchdown before Shai Werts connected with Mark Michaud on a fade route to tie the game and force a second overtime period.
Werts and Michaud hooked up for another touchdown in the second OT period, only to see Coastal match it with a touchdown of its own.
But Coastal managed just a field goal in its third overtime possession and Georgia Southern kept on churning, eventually guiding Wesley Kennedy III over the goal line for a game-clinching touchdown to give the Eagles a 30-27 walk-off win.
“Our kids fought their butts off,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “There’s something special about this group. They believe in each other and they take care of one another.”
For the second straight game, Georgia Southern dominated the stat line, but didn’t make it show on the scoreboard.
The Eagles outgained Coastal (3-4, 0-3) 360-228 and possessed the ball more than 10 minutes longer than the Chanticleers, but once again weren’t able to turn those advantages into a decisive victory.
Instead, it was a Massimo Biscardi 45-yard field goal that knotted the game at 10-10 and ultimately forced overtime.
“We’re built for this,” Werts said. “We’re ready for all of these challenges. We’re going to keep working and getting better, but we know that we can be tough and win in situations like that.”
Kennedy’s first scoring run of the day gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter and the Eagles had more than a few chances to extend the advantage.
The turnover bounces that so often went in the Eagles’ favor last season continued to work against them this fall as J.D. King lost a fumble with the Eagles holding a lead and driving into CCU territory. Bad luck struck again when Werts went under center and a botched snap torpedoed another promising GS drive.
The tropical system that hung over Paulson Stadium for much of Saturday’s game could easily be blamed for any mishaps, but both teams were playing in the same conditions and it was Georgia Southern that was able to outlast its opponent.
Coastal entered Saturday’s tilt with one of the hottest offenses in the Sun Belt, but a combination of the tropical downpour and a relentless GS defensive front seven left the Chanticleers with only 228 total yards of offense.
The Chanticleers had been rolling up big point totals with an option offense that frequently broke loose into deep passing, but it was Isaiah Likely’s 35-yard grab off of a perfectly placed Bryce Carpenter pass that offered CCU’s only touchdown in regulation time.
Georgia Southern’s preseason All-Americn kicker Tyler Bass broke open the scoring with an early 45-yard field goal, but also had a kick blocked in the third quarter and missed left on a potential game-winner from 53 yards out with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
In the first overtime, Carpenter snuck in from a yard away, forcing the Eagles to score a touchdown or take the loss. The Eagles weren’t very aggressive and dug themselves into a 4th-and-6 hole, but Werts lofted a perfect pass to Michaud and the senior receiver from New York perfectly fended off his coverage while immediately controlling the ball and getting a foot down in bounds.
After a couple of minutes, the GS offense began the second OT period and Werts immediately found Michaud for another scoring strike.
“On the first one, we just knew that everyone had to make a play,” Michaud said. “I fought to get in position and knew I was going to get a foot down in bounds on the first one. After that, catching it was kind of a blur.
“As for the second overtime, I wasn’t really expecting it. I just tried to run a route and do my job. I looked up and the ball was coming right to me.”
Coastal was able to answer Michaud’s second touchdown with an 8-yard run by C.J. Marable, but the Chanticleers decided to settle for another Biscardi field goal in the first segment of the third overtime.
In the Eagles’ third overtime possession, Kennedy began by rushing twice for a total of eight yards. J.D. King was hit in the backfield on the third-and-short play, but stepped through the contact, bounced off of another hit and plunged to the CCU 3. Kennedy did the rest on the next carry, sending the Georgia Southern faithful home soggy, but victorious.
“This proves to our guys that they can win, regardless of the situation,” Lunsford said. “We tell our guys to not look at the scoreboard and to believe in what we’re doing. There are things that need to be fixed and that we’ll keep working on, but it was that mentality that helped us tonight. We believed and we fought hard, and when we looked up, we saw that we had the win.”
The victory pushes Georgia Southern right into the thick of the race for the Sun Belt East division. Appalachian State continues to lead and notched another decisive victory over UL Monroe on Saturday, but the Eagles’ win over Coastal keeps them in control of their own destiny for the time being.
Georgia Southern will take its final step outside of Sun Belt competition next week as the Eagles welcome New Mexico State to town for homecoming festivities.