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Eagles rebound, dominate Cats in win
092907 GSU FOOTBALL 04
Georgia Southern running back Chris Teal, center, snags a pass from quarterback Jayson Foster on the sideline in front of Western Carolina cornerback Carlton Bailey. Teal caught two passes and scored a touchdown on the ground Saturday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Under a crystal blue sky, Georgia Southern washed away any lingering disappointment from last week’s loss with an effort Eagle players and coaches considered their best yet.
    A balanced offensive attack and an improved defense fueled GSU to its third win of the season as the Eagles rolled to a 50-21 Southern Conference victory over Western Carolina Saturday in front of 15,486 fans at Paulson Stadium.
    “You never want to go down 0-2 in your own conference and have to want other people to win for you, so we came out here and had to make a statement today,” said senior quarterback Jayson Foster. “We had to win to control our own destiny.”
    The Eagle offense — which had previously been dominated by Foster — showcased plenty of weapons as six different players found the end zone including Mike Hamilton, Chris Teal, Mike McIntosh, Steve Cundari, Raja Andrews and Foster. The outpouring marked the most points scored by the team since it hung 63 on Morehead State in Nov. 2005.
    Foster demanded respect as a passer, hitting all 10 of his attempts for a career-high 147 yards and one touchdown. The senior is 27-for-30 in his last two games and set the school’s single-game passing percentage record Saturday. Foster also rushed for a game-high 96 yards and one score on 17 carries.
    Defensively, GSU succeeded in its goal of halting Western’s running game, holding the Catamounts to 27 rushing yards, the seventh fewest in Georgia Southern history.
    “As a team, it was a great stepping stone and a great effort for us,” junior safety Chris Covington said. “It seemed like every single aspect of the game made plays. The work that we put in this week just really showed tonight.”
    Georgia Southern improved to 3-1 overall and 1-1 league play while the Catamounts dropped to 1-4 and 0-1. The Eagles have won 13 straight over Western.
    The Catamounts were doomed by four lost fumbles while GSU didn’t turn the ball over until there was less than 10 seconds left in the game.
    A week after being on the wrong end of a 4-0 turnover discrepancy, the Eagles took advantage of three consecutive second-quarter fumbles by Western to turn a 10-point lead into a 27-0 edge 1:06 before the half. The Cats responded by driving to the GSU 1 two seconds before the intermission, but the Eagle defense made a goal-line stand to keep the shutout in tact and take the momentum into the locker room.
    GSU defensive end Larry Beard recovered two fumbles during Western’s second-quarter woes, and tackle Brandon Daniel came up with the other lose ball. The Eagles capitalized on all three turnovers, scoring on a 27-yard Jesse Hartley field goal, a 2-yard run by Hamilton and Teal’s 3-yard dash, respectively. It was Teal’s first-career touchdown.
    “I felt better about our team after (last week’s loss to) Chattanooga than I probably have all season because I wasn’t sure how they would react at first,” GSU coach Chris Hatcher said. “We had a great week of practice, and it came out and showed. We pretty much dominated from the get-go.”
    Western avoided the shutout when senior receiver Eddie Cohen reeled in a 52-yard TD pass from Adam Hearns with less than a minute to go in the third quarter. The Eagles answered early in the fourth quarter, going up 37-7 on Foster’s 29-yard pass to McIntosh, who tiptoed into the left corner of the end zone.
    Another Catamount turnover set up Georgia Southern’s next score, a 2-yard pass from Billy Lowe to Cundari. It was first career touchdown for both Lowe and Cundari.
    The points kept coming for the Eagles, who went up 50-7 with 10:18 to play on junior Andrews’ first career punt return for a touchdown. He sprinted 49 yards for the score.
    “I’m really disappointed because I thought we really improved over the past four weeks,” Western coach Kent Briggs said. “Our guys were ready to play, I felt like, and came out with the right attitude and tried to play hard but just didn’t do the right things and made too many mistakes.”
     Cohen scored all three of Western’s touchdowns and finished with eight catches for a game-high 212 yards.
    Hartley nailed a 20-yard field goal on GSU’s first possession of the game to give the Eagles an early 3-0 lead. Foster kept the drive alive with a 19-yard sprint on fourth-and-5, which moved the Eagles to the Western 11.
    Georgia Southern stretched its edge to 10-0 on its next drive when Foster scrambled for a 34-yard TD run.
    “I’m very pleased with our effort,” Hatcher said. “In the first half, we came out firing on all cylinders and all three phases of the game.”
    Georgia Southern steps out of conference play next week for a 2 p.m. home game with South Dakota State.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.