Back Georgia Southern’s Silver Lining

Georgia Southern’s Silver Lining

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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As an FBS team, Georgia Southern has yet to win an FBS game. That said, the Eagles have made a statement.

Just three games into Georgia Southern's tenure as an FBS program, it's quite obvious that the Eagles fit in. Though 1-2 overall, a program founded on passion, persistence and pride in the early 1980s has made a seamless transition to college football's highest level. Traits like those are leading the way. Georgia Southern has six national championships, ten conference titles and 65 consensus All-Americans. It may be now, however, that the Eagles have the nation's attention.

In addition to an 83-9 victory over nearby Savannah State, Georgia Southern has lost games at North Carolina State (3-0) and Georgia Tech (3-0) by a combined five points. In both pairings, the Eagles dominated for large stretches of competition. Literal inches separate Georgia Southern from a pair of ACC victories and, just maybe, a spot near the national rankings.

The season started just as last year finished, with the Eagles turning heads. Playing the Wolfpack in Raleigh, Georgia Southern entered halftime with a commanding 17-3 lead. Early in the fourth quarter, it seemed, a signature drive was close to clinching another win. Starting at their own 9-yard line, the Eagles dashed 90 yards to the NC State goaline. Mere feet away from a 27-10 lead, a fumble gave the Wolfpack new life. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett responded with a 99-yard touchdown march, then, later, a game-winning 75-yard drive.

Victory was well within reach.

"A huge momentum shift," head coach Willie Fritz acknowledged. "We score there, and we're in the driver's seat. We just mishandled the snap. It's one of those situations – we're not under center a whole lot. We work on it like crazy, but just didn't get the snap."

This past Saturday's trip to Atlanta was a poignant one. The first-ever meeting between Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, Fritz led the Eagles to face Paul Johnson, who won national championships in 1999 and 2000 and went 62-10 in five years coaching the Eagles. Georgia Southern's previous coach, Jeff Monken, came from the Yellow Jackets as a member of Johnson's coaching tree. An estimated 10,000 fans in blue and white made the trip with the team.

Unlike week one, it was the Eagles who entered the break with work left to do. Down 35-10, Georgia Southern's resiliency was tested. Even in a losing effort, the Eagles passed. Led by gutsy quarterback Kevin Ellison, who threw for 164 yards and ran for 107 more, Georgia Southern scored four second half touchdowns and compiled 408 total yards. Georgia Tech won on a 13-yard scoring strike from Justin Thomas to Deon Hill with 23 seconds left to play. In between, however, came a call of great controversy.  

On 1st-down-10 from the Yellow Jacket 24-yard line, the visitors up 38-35 with under five minutes remaining, Eagle quarterback Favian Upshaw attempted to pitch the ball to Matt Breida. After the play was initially ruled an incompletion, further review reclassified the toss as a backwards pass and a fumble. Georgia Tech took over, then scored the game-winning touchdown eleven plays later. 

"Kevin got injured and couldn't go, and Favian played very well at the end of the game," Fritz stated on Saturday. "One errant pitch, which I'd like to go back and look at, but I thought both guys played a good ball game."

Through two heartbreaking losses to two major conference teams, Georgia Southern has scored 61 points, compiled 966 total yards and has two separate shutout quarters defensively. Perhaps most impressive has been the Eagles' effort. 

"I'm very disappointed, obviously, but proud of our kids for competing and continuing to fight," Fritz added after the loss to the Yellow Jackets. "When you play with the big boys, particularly week after week, and these types of games are always away, you have to play as close to error free as possible, and we just didn't quite do that."

As an FBS team, Georgia Southern has yet to win an FBS game. That said, the Eagles have made a statement.

Fritz has said it now twice; Georgia Southern doesn't settle for moral victories. Unrelenting expectations are part of what makes this program different. The Eagles simply won't accept almost. Regardless of place or opponent, they also won't back down.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com'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: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports