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Eagles take on Buffalo in Camellia Bowl
GS Football
Georgia Southern tight end Jjay Mcafee, right, snags a 7-yard touchdown pass during a Nov. 5 game against South Alabama at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro.

The Georgia Southern Eagles may have spent the Christmas weekend away from home, but they are happy to have the opportunity to travel and practice with their teammates as they prepare for the Camellia Bowl which kicks off Tuesday at noon EST in Montgomery Alabama.  

Plenty of the Eagle coaching staff had their families join them this past weekend in Montgomery as well as the Eagle players. For Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease, a trip to Montgomery for Christmas is becoming a popular spot as he will have spent two of his last three Christmas’ in Montgomery. Vantrease led his former team Buffalo to a Camellia Bowl win over Marshall in 2020. 

“This is my second trip here to in three years and I’m excited my family is joining me here again,” said Vantrease. “I have friends here as well and we plan to spend as much free time as we can together. Not many quarterbacks have the opportunity to play in the same bowl game for two different teams with a chance at going 2-1, but it is pretty cool. To be able to see the town and the stadium with another group of guys is  cool too.” 

Vantrease will now be going up against the team he led to a bowl win in 2020 as the Eagles take on Buffalo. Vantrease had success in the Bulls system but has really flourished under head coach Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis. In his four years at Buffalo Vantrease threw for 25 touchdowns, which is what he has done in only one season at Georgia Southern, as well as throwing for nearly 4,000 yards. 

“You look at what he has been able to do since he has been here and I think he has put himself among the top quarterbacks in the country,” said coach Clay Helton. “I think he plays the game with a chip on his shoulder, but I think it is more about showing who he is and what he is about.” 

The two teams come in after very similar seasons. Both the Bulls and the Eagles were 5-3 and then proceeded to lose their next three games. Both had to come from deficits in their season finale in order to win a sixth game and become bowl eligible. For the Eagles it was a double overtime thriller against their biggest rival in Appalachian State. For the Bulls, they needed a 16-yard touchdown pass from Cole Snyder to Quain Williams with just over a minute to play to secure a win over Akron.  

“We feel we are going against a very well-coached football team that you could see get better and better throughout the year,” said Helton. “Watching that Akron game, you saw two teams really battling it out. We are excited about the opportunity and look forward to the game.” 

The biggest question marks for the Eagles entering the game revolve around who may be able to suit up Tuesday. The Eagles were forced to start two walk-ons at running back and a senior receiver with only one catch against Appalachian State. Of course, A.J. Brown, Tyler Jordan and Ezrah Archie responded by combining for three touchdowns, including the game-winner by Archie. 

Helton said before the Eagles took off, he expected running back O.J. Arnold to be back in the lineup. He also expressed optimism that running back Gerald Green, receiver Marcus Sanders Jr. and defensive lineman Justin Ellis may be able to suit up. 

Buffalo has been led by quarterback Cole Snyder who has thrown for 2,765 yards and 17 touchdowns this year. Like the Eagles, the Bulls played their last game without two of their top running backs in Ron Cook Jr. and Al-Jay Henderson. Cook had 600 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games and is expected to be a game-day decision. Mike Washington led the Bulls in rushing this year with 606 yards and seven touchdowns and is expected to play Tuesday. Buffalo averages 29 points per game and threw for an average of 232 per contest while rushing for 143 per game.

“Offensively they are a lot like us,” said Helton. “They like to spread the field and get it to their playmakers. They use a no-huddle offense and I felt like their quarterback was heroic in leading them to their win against Akron. They did a great job in their two-minute offense and actually won a couple games late, so we have tried our best to prepare for that.” 

On defense the Bulls run primarily with four down linemen, but mix in some 3-4 fronts. Helton expressed that he has been very impressed by what he sees from the Buffalo defense who come in allowing 27 points per game, The Bulls have allowed an average of 175 yards per game on the ground and 216 yards per game through the air. 

“They have some kids who have already declared to enter the NFL draft,” said Helton. “They are a quality defense just like what we have seen in our league throughout the season. They can really cause challenges and especially down the stretch against Akron they did a great job keeping themselves in the game and gave their offense a chance to win it.” 

Georgia Southern and Buffalo will square off in the Camellia Bowl Tuesday at noon EST in Montgomery Alabama in a game that can be seen live on ESPN.