In the final game of the regular season, the Georgia Southern Eagles made a statement.
The Eagles had already qualified for a bowl game, but needed one more win - over in-state rival Georgia State - to assure that they wouldn’t be passed over for the postseason.
Georgia Southern left no doubt, rolling State by a score of 38-10 Saturday night at Paulson Stadium.
“They were ready,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “This is a resilient football team. We went through a tough loss last week, but we were ready to get it done tonight.”
Georgia State (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt) opened up the scoring with an early touchdown, but it was all Eagles (7-5, 5-3) after that.
Beginning with their second drive - which started with 7:59 to play in the first quarter - the Eagles scored on six of their next eight drives while the Panthers managed just a field goal in the process.
J.D. King rushed for 107 yards and three touchdowns while Shai Werts ran for 55 yards and a touchdown with another 73 yards gained through the air on 7-of-10 passing.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to our line,” King said. “It all started up front. I know they’ve been banged up, but we preach ‘next man up’ and that’s what they did. They made it easy for us tonight.”
Georgia State struck first on a 15-yard run by Tra Barnett, but Werts answered with an 11-yard run of his own to tie things up in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, GS kicker Tyler Bass bombed a 49-yard field goal to take the lead and King scored his first touchdown of the day to give the Eagles a 17-7 lead heading into halftime.
Wesley Kennedy III helped Georgia Southern begin the second half with a touchdown on an 11-yard run and King’s second touchdown with just under four minutes to play in the half made it clear that the Eagles would be claiming a win on the day.
Georgia State’s Brandon Wright hit a 38-yard field goal in the dying seconds of the third quarter, but King slammed the door on the day with his third scoring run - this time from 30 yards out.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Lunsford said. “This has been a very adverse season and there are so many things going around this team that people don’t know about if they aren’t here everyday.
“We have seniors who went 7-17 at one point. After that, we’re 17-8. I know that not winning every game isn’t going fast enough for a lot of expectations, but this year’s seniors are going out strong.
The Sun Belt will determine its champion next week as Louisiana visits Appalachian State in a rematch of last season’s title game. The winner will advance to the New Orleans Bowl while the loser will join Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and Georgia State in either the Cure (Orlando), Lending Tree (Mobile, Ala.), Camilia (Montgomery, Ala.) or Arizona (Tucson) Bowls. Each game will be determined next Sunday, following the conference championship game.