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Eagles Show Potential in Defeat

By BJ Bennett
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Even in a losing effort, Georgia Southern still made a statement.

We did a lot of good things, but we sure wanted to get out of here with a win.
~Willie Fritz

Even in defeat, Georgia Southern's historic FBS debut was an impressive one. In the team's first game since upending Florida 26-20, the Eagles opened 2014 on the road at North Carolina State. Behind the strength of quarterback Kevin Ellison and running back Matt Breida, Georgia Southern jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead. Ultimately, a late touchdown pass from the Wolfpack, followed by a failed fourth down conversion by the Eagles, resulted in a 24-23 NC State win. Georgia Southern, however, still made a statement.

The Eagles compiled 438 yards of total offense, averaging over five yards per rush and eleven yards per pass. Just one turnover marred the box score, a fourth quarter fumble at the visiting 1-yard line that could have, instead, given Georgia Southern a 27-10 lead. Quite remarkable is the fact that the Eagles were whistled for penalties just three times in new head coach Willie Fritz's first game. Georgia Southern played with the confidence and swagger of a six-time national champion.

Players like Ellison, Breida, receivers Kentrellis Showers and Zach Walker, tackle Jay Ellison, linebacker Edwin Jackson and corner Caleb Williams are among those who had standout performances. The Eagles also got exceptional play on special teams; kicker Alex Hanks was three-for-three on field goals and did not allow a single kickoff return and punter Ryan Nowicki averaged over 50 yards per boot. 

In addition to throwing for 184 yards and a touchdown and running for a game-high 116 yards, Kevin Ellison showed gritty toughness and leadership in fighting through a late shoulder injury to return to the game.   

"There's disappointment in the locker room right now, but we know we have a lot more football to play," the sophomore quarterback acknowledged. "We can't keep our heads down. We have to prepare this week for Savannah State."   

Nearly beating another major conference opponent while dealing with scholarship limitations, Georgia Southern has the Sun Belt's attention. Next up for the Eagles is their home opener with the nearby Tigers, followed by a trip to Atlanta to face former head coach Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech. You can bet the Yellow Jackets are aware of all that "true blue" can do. Georgia Southern will play its first-ever game in the Sun Belt on September 20th at South Alabama.

As Erk Russell would likely tell you, the Eagles don't settle for moral victories. Positives, though, were easy to identify.

"We're very disappointed because we feel like we had the opportunity to win the ball game," Fritz explained. "The kids played hard, and it was the first game and a hot day. We played really well in spurts on offense, defense and the kicking game. We did a lot of good things, but we sure wanted to get out of here with a win."

In many instances, it takes a team a couple of games to get comfortable with a new regime. The Eagles, offensively and defensively, looked very comfortable under Fritz. From the top down, Georgia Southern was aggressive and attacking. The Eagles asserted themselves at the line of scrimmage, showcasing a palpable physicality against an ACC foe. Even still, they will continue to improve.

Saturday was yet another afternoon where Georgia Southern turned heads. While the overall mission wasn't quite accomplished, a goal of competing on college football's highest level certainly was.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports