ATHENS – Georgia Southern unveiled its two-quarterback system on Saturday in the season opener, a 45-21 loss to No. 1 Georgia at Sanford Stadium.
Redshirt sophomore Lee Chapple and true sophomore Antonio Henton both led the Eagles on scoring drives and improved their play throughout the course of the game after rocky starts. Henton finished 10-for-18 for 102 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Chapple was 9-of-18 for 82 yards with his touchdown coming on the ground.
"They both looked good at times – and both made some poor decisions," said GSU coach Chris Hatcher after the game. "We got two good ones. Both of them bring different things to the table and next week we’ll play ‘em both again."
Chapple got the start between the hedges. In his first 10 snaps, the Eagles (0-1) gained just six net yards and GSU receivers dropped three passes. In the middle of his third series, Southern sent Henton in, and Chapple wouldn’t be on the field for two consecutive snaps again until midway through the third quarter.
"I didn’t feel any nerves," said the Greater Atlanta Christian product. "It was more of a thrill than anything else. (When Henton came into the game) I just had to respect coach’s decision. I didn’t have a problem with it – I wasn’t upset. Whoever the teams responds to is the guy that’s going to play."
Chapple was told he would start on Friday afternoon in a team meeting, but it looked as though his day would be shorter than expected when Henton took over the huddle on a 4th-and-1 from the Georgia 43.
The Ohio State transfer picked up the first down with his legs then drove GSU to the nine before a fourth down set up a 36-yard field attempt, which was no good.
Three plays later, after a UGA fumble, Henton returned and put the Eagles in their best chance to score in the first half. But with a firstt-and-goal from the 1, Southern couldn’t crack the endzone. On third down from the 10, Henton’s toss to the back of the endzone was easily intercepted by Dannell Ellerbe, ending the threat.
"I was looking for my guy the whole time – I didn’t see the Mike (linebacker) back there until I released it," Henton said. "That’s why I gotta go back and watch film and learn from my mistake."
With Georgia Southern’s offense still struggling in the third, Chapple was sent back out with 5:47 left in the third period. He immediately began to find some room in Georgia’s secondary, passing for 26 yards and guiding GSU to the one.
From there, Chapple took it upon himself to get the ball over the goal line, helping GSU avoid its first shutout since 1995.
"They told if me, if you’re going to keep read, just dive, dive at the guys’ knees and you’re gonna score," Chapple said, laughing. "It was exciting."
Chapple continued his good work through the fourth, leading Southern on a 12-play, 82-yard drive over 4:39. Samair Baker scored on a two-yard run to complete the march.
Henton finished the ball game and showed some of his scrambling ability on GSU’s final score. On fourth-and-9 from the UGA 34, Henton felt the pocket collapse, stepped up and floated the ball down the middle of the field where a flashing Leander Barney appeared to haul it in for six.
"It was just a play where everything broke down," said the Peach County native. "I saw the guy open, I threw it up and let him make the play."
In all, Chapple was behind center for 33 snaps while Henton took 44. Henton also rushed for 21 yards on nine carries. Both highly commended each other’s play during Saturday’s loss.
Hatcher insisted that fans can expect more of the same in terms of QB play when the Eagles open the season at home against Austin Peay next Saturday.
"You guys like to make such a big deal about the darn quarterback situation," said the second-year coach, smiling. "They both played good, they both had a scoring drives and we’re going to continue to play both. Henton had the hot hand early, so we kept playing him. Then Chapple got the hot hand, so we put him in. We got two good ones."