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Eagles win another close one, top Texas State 40-38
GS Football
Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts races around the edge for yards during Saturday's victory over Texas State at Paulson Stadium. Werts scored three first-half touchdowns.

For some reason, the Georgia Southern football team seems intent on keeping its fans in suspense until the final moments each week.

At least the Eagles continue to author happy endings to the continued suspense stories.

Facing a one-win Texas State squad on Saturday at Paulson Stadium, the Eagles quickly jumped out to a 20-7 lead and seemed poised for a runaway victory. But the Bobcats scored twice to briefly take a first half lead and were on the Eagles’ heels the rest of the day. In the end, the Eagles were able to rattle off enough yards to run out the final few minutes and escape with a 40-38 victory.

“I’ll tell you what. We’re making it a habit, each and every week,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “But we’re finding a way and I’m proud of our guys.”

Georgia Southern (6-2, 4-2 Sun Belt Conference) celebrated Senior Day on Saturday and Shai Werts was one of 26 seniors honored on the field before the game before the fourth-year starting quarterback spent the next four quarters running all over it.

Werts carried 21 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns. His 29-yard scoring run in the first quarter vaulted him into first place all-time on the Sun Belt quarterback rushing list.

But for every punch Werts and the Eagle offense delivered, Texas State (1-9, 1-5) was able to find an answer.

Following Werts’ first score of the game on a 1-yard run on the Eagles’ first possession, the Bobcats’ Jeremiah Haydel took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards. And after falling behind 20-7, Texas State got an 11-yard touchdown run from Calvin Hill and a 46-yard pitch and catch from Tyler Vitt to Marcell Barbie to take a 21-20 advantage.

Georgia Southern regained the lead before halftime thanks to Werts’ third touchdown of the day. 

For much of the season, the Eagle defense has been heralded for being one of the league’s top units and - at times - keeping the team in the game when the sporadic offense wasn’t scoring. The roles were reversed Saturday as the Eagle offense kept its nose out in front of Texas State throughout a back-and-forth second half despite the defense giving up some uncharacteristic big plays.

Texas State backup quarterback Brady McBride replaced a mostly ineffective Vitt in the second half and threw a third quarter 59-yard touchdown strike to Javen Banks.Trailing 40-31 late in the fourth quarter, McBride again drove Texas State down the field and hit Jah’mare Sheread for a 24-yard score to give the Bobcats a chance.

“I thought the defense played well in the first half,” Lunsford said. “The scores we gave up were with a kick return and a drive where a turnover set (Texas State) up with good field position. I wish we could have finished better in the second half. We’re still looking for that complete game where everything comes together in all phases of the game.”

The offense had its counterpart’s back this time around.

In addition to Werts’ three touchdowns, Wesley Kennedy III added an 8-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter. The special teams also contributed in a big way as Alex Raynor was perfect on four field goal attempts from 20, 35, 39 and 41 yards.

The biggest offensive drive of the night was one that didn’t put up any points.

Following McBride’s second touchdown pass, Texas State elected to kick deep with 2:45 to play. Pinned at its own 14 to begin the drive, Georgia Southern got a huge 27-yard third down run by Matt LaRoache and Werts converted another third down near midfield to bleed out the clock and seal the victory.

“Our offense did a lot of good things today,” Lunsford said. “We were 6-for-6 in the red zone. We maybe had to settle for more field goals than we wanted to, but I’m really proud of that last drive and how they put the game away.”

With the win, Georgia Southern remains in third place in the Sun Belt East, trailing Coastal Carolina, which was off due to a COVID postponement, and Appalachian State, which barely held on for a 17-13 win over Georgia State.

After playing their last three games at the friendly confines of Paulson Stadium, the Eagles will now hit the road as they make their first ever trip to Army West Point next weekend.