Georgia Southern faced a familiar situation midway through the third quarter of Thursday night’s game against South Alabama as the visiting Jaguars took a 17-10 lead.
The Eagles were locked up at 14-14 with Coastal Carolina last weekend, only to give way as Coastal scored 14 more in the final quarter to wrestle away a victory.
With the 200th win at Paulson on the line, the Eagles dug in and made sure that they had the last laugh this time around.
Georgia Southern rallied with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. Wesley Kennedy III scored from 14 yards out at the beginning of the final period to even the score and found paydirt once again midway through the final quarter to provide the winning margin as the Eagles (4-2, 2-2 Sun Belt Conference) earned a much-needed 24-17 win.
South Alabama entered Thursday’s matchup as the top team in the western division of the Sun Belt, having won its first two conference matchups. The Jaguars (3-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) played the Eagles tough as they had in their 2019 double-overtime loss in Mobile, but again fell short against Georgia Southern, falling to 0-7 all-time against the Eagles.
The Jaguars took an early lead when Diego Guajardo bombed a 54-yard field goal into a prevailing wind to claim a 3-0 advantage. Georgia Southern levelled the score when Alex Raynor connected from 29 yards out early in the second quarter.
J.D. King cruised - nearly untouched - into the end zone for a 10-3 GS lead midway through the second quarter, but Desmond Trotter (20-27, 200 yards) found tight end Brandon Crumb for a 3-yard touchdown strike to send the team into halftime knotted at 10-10.
Trotter struck again as he found Jalen Tolbert for a 12-yard score near the end of the third quarter, but that’s where Georgia Southern put its foot down.
Receiving a punt near the end of the third quarter, Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts and his offense embarked on a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off by Kennedy’s first scoring run of the night with 12:57 to play to pull the Eagles even at 17-17.
The Georgia Southern defense continued to hold strong and forced its seventh punt of the night.
Taking possession in Jaguar territory, Werts ripped off an 18 yard run to put the Eagles in scoring position quickly and Kennedy finished off another scoring drive when he strolled in from 15 yards out.
South Alabama bounced back and drove the length of the field, but a 4th-down heave from Trotter to Tolbert was bobbled out of the end zone on fourth down with just over a minute to play. Georgia Southern’s offense took the field once more, and a few kneel-downs ran out the clock for an Eagle victory.
The Eagles have lived on the edge all season. A completion on South Alabama’s final play easily could have spelled overtime and Thursday marked the fourth time in six games where the Eagles’ fate wasn’t known until a crucial play in the final minutes.
After surviving the short turnaround for a midweek game, Georgia Southern now gets a bit of a breather. The Eagles will have 10 days before their next game and will remain at home as they try to snap a three-game losing streak against Troy on Nov. 7 at Paulson Stadium.