Another big conference clash.
Another second half lead.
And another loss.
A disturbing trend continued for the Georgia Southern football team on Saturday night at Paulson Stadium. The Eagles took an early 14-0 lead and pressed ahead by a 20-17 count two plays into the fourth quarter, but another late letdown allowed bitter rival Appalachian State to escape Statesboro with a 34-26 win.
“We’re very disappointed in losing to a rival, especially at home,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “There are things we should have done better, but App State is a good team and they took advantage. They punched us in the mouth in the second half.”
Georgia Southern (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt Conference) carried a 17-7 lead into the second half, but the Mountaineers (8-3, 6-2) took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched down the field and App quarterback Zac Thomas found Thomas Hennigan for a 9-yard touchdown strike to pull within 17-14.
Chandler Staton tied the game for the Mountaineers with a 33-yard field goal on Appalachian’s next possession, but Eagle kicker Alex Raynor responded with a 47-yard blast to retake the lead early in the final quarter.
And then things fell apart for the Eagles once more.
Following Raynor’s field goal, Jalin Virgil took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to give the Mountaineers their first lead of the night. The Eagles went 3-and-out on their next drive and App made it a 31-20 lead in the blink of an eye as Nate Noel (13 carries, 103 yards) hit a seam and went untouched for 70 yards.
“The kickoff return and the long run were definitely a recipe for disaster,” Lunsford said. “I think a lot of it started with not being able to get that stop to begin the second half. We could have put the game away with disciplined football, but that’s not what we did.”
That was a far cry from the opening moments of the game.
Starting in place of an injured Derrick Canteen, David Spaulding picked off Thomas and returned it 28 yards for a 7-0 Eagle lead in the first quarter. In the second quarter, backup quarterback Justin Tomlin - starting his second consecutive game with starter Shai Werts out for the season - sliced through the Mountaineer defense for a 14-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead, but suffered a game-ending ankle injury in the process and pressed third-stringer Miller Mosley into action.
Appalachian State got on the board in the first half when Thomas found Virgil on a 16-yard strike and Raynor hit from 38 yards out to put the halftime score at 17-7 in the Eagles’ favor before things went south.
Mosley appeared for just the second time this season and saw his first real action on Saturday. The senior transfer from Wofford was able to mount the beginnings of a late rally when he hit Dexter Carter Jr. for a 78-yard catch and run touchdown to make it 31-26. However, Mosley also lost a fumble on a sack in the second quarter and threw a pair of fourth quarter interceptions - including an overthrow with just over 1:30 to play that allowed Appalachian to run out the clock.
“I prepared all week,” Mosley said. “(Knowing that Werts wouldn’t play) I took extra reps all week knowing that I had to be ready. Second string or third string doesn’t matter. If you’re playing quarterback at Georgia Southern, there’s a standard, and I didn’t meet it.”
With the loss, the Eagles will go into a holding pattern. Bowl invitations are expected to start flowing Dec. 20 and - while some teams have already declined consideration to extend their seasons - Lunsford said that his team plans to welcome any bowl that will have them.