There were plenty of big moments in Georgia Southern’s 34-23 victory over Ball State, but the play that possibly best exemplifies Eagle head coach Clay Helton’s belief in his team occurred in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles up 27-23 and just under five minutes to play, Helton elected to go for it on fourth down and less than a yard to go from his own 39-yard line.
Not a lot of coaches would have made that call, but Helton had full confidence his team could pull it off. For the first time this season the Eagles shifted from shotgun to under center, and quarterback Kyle Vantrease lunged forward for two-yards and a first down to help seal the deal and the victory.
“If you don’t make that play you are probably catching hell, but I have always felt like we need to play to win,” said Helton. “I want the team to always know we are going to trust them and be aggressive. We may not make that call every time, but I liked how our line was executing in the run game and I trusted them to go get it.”
Helton said not to expect the Eagles to go under center often, but they do work on it and may put it in games in the future.
“It is important for us to be able to go under center at times,” said Helton. “There are some huddle plays that we have that do require us to go under center so we do work on it every week. It isn’t always quarterback sneak as you will see some other plays under center. It is not an extended package it is something we carry into each and every game.”
Another instance where Helton trusted his quarterback was with just over 1:40 left in the game facing third and long, Vantrease tossed a 47-yard touchdown to a wide-open Amare Jones.
“We knew at that point that one first down would pretty much end the game,” said Helton. “We had told Kyle in the time out we are going to run this naked (bootleg) we really think it’s going to be there but if it’s not don’t throw the ball out of bounds and don’t throw an incompletion. They didn’t have any timeouts so we could just try and pin them deep with a punt and make them go the length of the field. Credit to Kyle though to pull the trigger with that courage that it takes to make that throw and I’m proud of him and for Amare to make the catch.”
Vantrease was coming off a UAB game in which he threw three interceptions and Helton had commented that he may have been a little impatient against the Blazers. Saturday Vantrease was 26-39 for 320 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“Obviously no turnovers is something we strive for and I strive for,” said Vantrease. “I am not going to be scared to throw the ball though. If an interception happens, it happens, that’s the game of football. I am not going to let that deter me from making throws, and trying to make throws. We won the turnover battle today and that was a point of emphasis and I’m proud we could do that.”
Vantrease took a pretty hard hit to the shoulder in the first quarter and seemed to be affected by it primarily on the sidelines as he moved his arm around a lot in what seemed to be discomfort. Monday Helton and Vantrease discussed his current health situation.
“We held him out Sunday,” said Helton. “He has had a shoulder separation before at Buffalo and he came down awkwardly in the first quarter. You could tell it affected him. I communicated with him and he felt confident enough to continue in the game. Throwing wise, he was still accurate and making good decisions and was effective. I thought he did a great job fighting his way through a sore shoulder. We took some time off for him Sunday and Monday is an off day and we will see where we are. Knowing him and his competitive nature I feel like we will be in good position.”
Vantrease admitted to being pretty uncomfortable, but felt like it wasn’t enough to prevent him from playing.
“It happened early in the game Saturday,” said Vantrease. “I had felt that same feeling before at the end of the season last year at Buffalo, but it wasn’t nearly as severe. I didn’t want to leave the field and wanted to keep playing. I knew it was going to be uncomfortable but I just pushed myself through it because I wanted to be there for my teammates.”
The Eagles rushed for 164 yards as a team Saturday. Jalen White had his streak of multiple touchdown games snapped Saturday but still led the team in rushing with 69-yards on 15 carries. Gerald Green added 38-yards and a touchdown while Vantrease rushed for a touchdown as well. Derwin Burgess Jr. led the way receiving with 133 yards, while Amare Jones had 94-yards and one touchdown.
The Eagles did not turn the ball over on offense and came up with their first forced turnover on defense since the season opener with Morgan State as Justin Birdsong picked off a John Paddock pass with just over a minute left in the game.
Next up for the Eagles they open Sun Belt play Saturday at 4:00 in Conway S.C. as they take on Coastal Carolina.