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Eagles outlast Troy in defensive struggle
GS Football
Georgia Southern cornerback Derrick Canteen (13), center, celebrates after intercepting a pass from Troy quarterback Jacob Free to snuff out a third quarter drive at Paulson Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 7. Canteen notched two interceptions, including a late one to preserve the Eagles 20-13 victory. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Georgia Southern entered Saturday’s game against Troy looking to put an end to a three-year losing streak against the Trojans. In fact, the Eagles were looking to make sure they maintained their streak of having never lost to any opponent in four consecutive years.

Once again, it was the defense that came up huge for Georgia Southern. What is arguably the Sun Belt’s best defensive unit didn’t allow an offensive touchdown from Troy and a Derrick Canteen interception near the goal line with just over a minute remaining to seal a 20-13 victory at Paulson Stadium.

As has become routine, the Eagle defense harassed would-be passers and ball carriers throughout the day. Starting in place of injured first string quarterback Gunnar Watson, Jacob Free completed just 21 of 47 pass attempts for 201 yards and was twice picked off. Any semblance of a running game for the Trojans (4-3, 2-2 Sun Belt) was also absent as they attempted just 14 rushes for a total of 34 yards.

With that kind of defensive effort, a win should have been pretty easy to come by, but that’s just not how things have gone for the Eagles (5-2, 3-2) this season. Georgia Southern’s first drive of the game ended in a failed fourth down conversion in Troy territory. The Eagles had to settle for a pair of Alex Raynor field goals when two other drives stalled inside the red zone and a missed third attempt by Raynor with 2:40 to play allowed Troy to launch its last gasp effort that was ultimately ended by Canteen’s interception.

Raynor’s two field goals both came in the first half and were sandwiched around a Dell Pettus 45-yard interception return that notched Troy’s only touchdown of the day. 

Evan Lagassey added a 35-yard field goal to make it a 10-6 Troy lead at halftime and connected again from 20 yards out after a goal line stand by the Eagle defense for a 13-6 advantage.

That’s when the Georgia Southern offense finally came to life.

The Eagles received a huge shot in the arm from an unlikely source. Pressed into action when starters J.D. King and Wesley Kennedy III were knocked out with injuries, freshman running back Gerald Green tied the game when he slipped through a hole on a dive play and showcased some nice speed in running away from the Troy defense for a 69-yard touchdown romp.

An incredible pitch-and-catch from Shai Werts to Najee Thompson on the Eagles’ next drive set up GS deep in Troy territory and Werts finished things off with a 5-yard run to take a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter. The offense couldn’t extend the lead further, but the Georgia Southern defense was up to the challenge and made the advantage stand through the final quarter of play.

Green was the offensive star of the day, rushing 10 times for 109 yards. Aside from the pick-six, Werts was economical through the air, completing 12 of his 13 attempts for 85 yards while adding another 50 yards on the ground.Logan Wright recorded 78 rushing yards and King carried for 61 before leaving with an injury.

With the win, Georgia Southern remains in contention - yet in need of some help - in the race for the top of the Sun Belt East. The Eagles will remain at home next week as they host Texas State in a game scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.