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Eagles limping to the finish line
GS Football
Georgia Southern's Amare Jones, center, is met by a crowd of BYU defenders as he pushes for a first down on a third quarter reception at Paulson Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 20. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

There may not be such a thing as moral victories but when the No. 14 team in the country comes in and you are playing your third string quarterback and a bunch of freshmen because of injuries a 34-17 loss can be viewed as acceptable. 

The Georgia Southern football team has had to deal with injuries throughout the season. Entering Saturday’s game with No. 14 ranked BYU even to have a chance the Eagles needed as many of their starters ready as possible. It’s safe to say quarterback is a pretty important position and just before the game it was announced that not only were the Eagles missing Cam Ransom who was out with a shoulder injury, but Justin Tomlin was out as well after suffering a head injury against Texas State.

Enter third string redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Cigelske. Cigelske has suffered his fair share of injuries over the past two seasons but playing in his first collegiate game the Marist product looked poised as he completed 11-14 passes for 122 yards and helped lead the Eagles down the field for 17 points in the first half. The Eagles actually led the 14th ranked Cougars 17-14 but BYU came back to outscore Georgia Southern 23-0 the rest of the way as they walked away with a 34-17 victory.

“I felt like we came out strong and matched BYU’s intensity,” said Eagle interim head coach Kevin Whitley. “It was a great crowd on both sides and we fed off the crowd. I am proud of the effort tonight but we just couldn’t play four quarters at the same level.”

Logan Wright led the Eagles with 50 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but it was Cigelske’s surprising performance against the 14th ranked Cougars that garnered much of the attention after the game.

“I told Connor at the beginning of the week that we have two guys down and you are going to have to step up,” said Whitley. “Credit to Connor I feel like he has been preparing for this since he’s been here. When he got the call, he was ready to go and I am extremely proud of him. He is a winner and comes from a winning program and I don’t believe the moment was too much for him.”

Cigelske not only showed his calm demeanor on the field, but in the press conference after the game as well.

“I was prepared to play all week long and I was relaxed out there,” said Cigelske. “After you get hit that first time the butterflies go away and you are just out there playing like you were when you were a kid. It was awesome out there even if it was on a much higher stage than I had been on before.”

Cigelske did have enough time to make sure his family was on hand for the special occasion.

“Getting my first career start in front of an awesome crowd like that was so fun,” said Cigelske. “I played hard and I think I played well, but I obviously have some room to improve. I am grateful to get my chance and I will be ready if they need me this Saturday as well.”

And while it was an exciting time in the early career of Cigelske, Saturday marked the final game at Paulson Stadium for this year’s senior class.

“I want to cry right now as it’s my last time playing here,” said senior defensive lineman C.J. Wright. “We have given our all day in and day out for four years. We didn’t get the win but I loved playing in front of this crowd, it was beautiful. I just wish we could have gotten the win with it.”

“It was my last time playing here and I’ve loved my whole experience here,” said senior running back Logan Wright. “The brotherhood is real, these are my brothers for real. This place has become a home away from home. We have all seen each other grow from being 17 or 18 to now 22 or 23 and some of us have kids now. We saw each other go from being high school kids to grown men now. Those are my brothers and I love them to death.”