Georgia Southern put up a fight against Arkansas State on Saturday in Jonesboro, Ark., but the Eagles couldn’t overcome a first half blitz that saw them trail by as many as much as 35-10 before ultimately falling by a count of 38-33.
The Eagles (6-5, 4-3 Sun Belt) nearly dug themselves out of a huge hole over the final 2 ½ quarters of play, but came up short when their final drive crossed midfield with less than two minutes to play before stalling out to give the Red Wolves (7-4, 5-2) the win.
Georgia Southern took its only lead of the game as it scored the first points of the day via a 26-yard field goal by Tyler Bass.
But the Red Wolves reached the end zone on consecutive drives with touchdown passes from Layne Hatcher to Jonathan Adams - for 32 and 64 yards, respectively - and Arkansas State was off and rolling.
A 10-play, 63-yard touchdown drive for the Eagles was hard-fought, but was also mitigated by two more long scoring strikes from Hatcher to Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt, as well as a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown by Merritt.
The Eagles were reeling and - plagued by injuries and a deficit that didn’t suit their style of play - still managed to stay in the game.
Quarterback Shai Werts passed for 175 yards and three touchdowns, and receiver Mark Michaud had a career day with six catches for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns, to go along with a two-point conversion reception, but it just wasn’t quite enough for the Eagles.
The Georgia Southern secondary was repeatedly victimized throughout the first half. The GS defense has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance throughout the season as it has provided some game-breaking plays to pave the way to victories, but has also allowed plenty of big plays that have defined Eagle losses.
The end game was simple, and a familiar sight to anyone diagnosing previous Eagle losses this season.
Georgia Southern’s offense had some big plays, but didn’t perform well enough in big spots. Georgia Southern’s defense had some big stops, but also let far too many points slip past it.
The final outcome of Saturday’s game doesn’t change much for the Eagles. A win would have kept them in contention for a spot in the Sun Belt championship game, but that would have taken some outside help, and even that won’t benefit GS now.
Instead, the Eagles head into the final week of the regular season as a bowl team with no real postseason standing to gain, but with one big obstacle left on the season’s chore list.
Georgia Southern had a chance to keep the pressure on in the Sun Belt East, but failed. Now it has a chance to take on its in-state rival in Georgia State.
For all that was lost in Saturday’s disappointing performance in Arkansas, just as much can be reclaimed with a solid finish to the regular season. The Eagles return to Paulson Stadium next week for Senior Day and a regular season finale against Georgia State.
Georgia Southern has already qualified for a bowl game and has only the prospect of adding more wins to the 2019 team’s legacy to word towards, but that should make for plenty of motivation heading into next week’s game against Georgia State.