Find a way.
It is a phrase that has been embraced by the Georgia Southern Eagles; players, coaches and fans alike.
Coach Chris Hatcher added it to “GATA” — a famous Erk-ism that was used during the reformation of the football program — and if there’s one thing the Eagles have had to do so far in 2007, it is just that. Find a way.
During the homecoming game against The Citadel Saturday at Paulson Stadium, Jayson Foster was kept in check by a well-groomed Bulldog defense, the banged up backfield was not as explosive as it had been at times and each GSU yard was hard-earned.
To accompany the Southern-Conference leading defense, The Citadel brought with it an offense — led by quarterback Duran Lawson, a solid passer who is also light on his feet — that used some well-disciplined misdirection, some well-timed and well-executed passing plays and a well-drawn-up scheme to pick apart the depleted Eagle defense.
Trailing 17-6 with less than a quarter to go, the Eagles had to find a way.
Facing a 4th-and-1 late in the game, Foster fought his way to the first down. Then, Georgia Southern found the end zone for the first time after Foster finally broke loose for a 15-yard touchdown scamper. The Eagles trailed 17-12, and needed a two-point conversion to close the gap to three.
In a play that most flag football teams would not even be able to dream up, a handoff turned into a reverse that turned into an option pitch that turned into a passing play. Foster started the play with the ball, and when it finally got back to him, he was able to loft a pass to a wide-open Raja Andrews in the back of the end zone. The Eagles needed those two points, and they found a way.
The Bulldogs, however, did not let up.
Right back down the field they marched. With the pace of the game being controlled by The Citadel, GSU could not afford to give up another touchdown. The Bulldogs got into field-goal range, but — right on cue — the Eagle defense found a way and tightened up. The drive stalled on the 29-yard line.
Sometimes, in order to find a way, there’s got to be a little bit of luck. The 45-yard field goal attempt by the Citadel’s Mike Adams floated to the left. It met the left upright head on and clanged right off. No good.
Foster rushed for a deceptive 153 yards in the contest. Half of those yards came on one play with under eight minutes left in the game. Having been kept in check for most of the contest, Foster took a second-down snap, sprinted to the left and ran un-touched 80 yards for the go-ahead score. When you run a big-play offense and the other team hasn’t allowed any big plays, you’ve got to find a way.
It all came down to a 4th-and-1. A Citadel team that — for most of the game — made plays when it had to, needed one yard to keep its final drive alive. The GSU D did not let the Bulldogs have that yard.
At the start of the 2007 season, it was improbable that GSU could make a quick turnaround. With the third head coach in three years installing the third new system for the Eagles, it seemed pretty clear that it would be a rebuilding year in Statesboro. After overtime losses to Chattanooga and Elon, it seemed more likely that the Eagles would take some time to bounce back.
Where GSU sits right now, it is fighting its way through the top half of the SoCon and — eight games into the season — the playoffs are still a possibility.
Things could be better right now, especially after those two heart-breakers, but with the team’s destiny in its own hands, the Eagles are still alive.
Nobody gave GSU a chance to make the playoffs, let alone be in position to take the conference, but here they are, eight games in, and all of those things are still a possibility.
It hasn’t been easy, but so far, the Eagles have been able to find a way.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.