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Southern Tops State

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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Georgia Southern runs for over 600 yards in a 69-31 win at Georgia State. 

ATLANTA – Number 300 will go down as one of the more memorable wins in Georgia Southern football history – not so much because of the game itself but rather because of the opponent, location and atmosphere surrounding it.

The Eagles clinched the 300th victory in the program's modern history by rushing for a Sun Belt Conference record 613 yards and 10 touchdowns and outscoring the Panthers 21-0 in the third quarter to top Georgia State 69-31 Saturday afternoon.

It was the first meeting in this highly-anticipated, freshly-minted, years-in-the-making rivalry and took place before a crowd of 28,427 in the Georgia Dome, Georgia State's home stadium. But Georgia Southern fans, affectionately known as Eagle Nation, were very well represented in the Dome, effectively giving the Eagles a home field advantage.

"Our fans are special, and Eagle Nation was fantastic today," said Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. "They were here, and they were exceptionally loud."

Matt Breida rushed 12 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns to lead Georgia Southern (6-2, 5-0), and Kevin Ellison carried 15 times for 115 yards and a score. L.A. Ramsby rushed 12 times for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Breida's four rushing TDs are the most by an Eagle since Jerick McKinnon had four against Old Dominion in the FCS playoffs in 2012, and the sophomore topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

Georgia Southern's rushing total was a Sun Belt Conference single-game record and the most by the Eagles against an FBS opponent.

"We did a tremendous job of running the football, just an incredible job," said Fritz. "Our offensive line was great and our receivers and backs were excellent. It's tough to block on the perimeter and hold a block for three or four seconds, and we did a great job with that. We had great ball security too, pitching the ball around like we did with no turnovers."

In an offensive contest in which both teams combined to score on six of the first seven possessions of the contest, the turning point in this one came right before the half. Trailing 27-17, Georgia State moved the ball to the Eagle 27-yard line, looking to cut into the lead before halftime, but Georgia Southern corner Darius Jones had other ideas.

Nick Arbuckle completed 24-of-38 passes for 408 yards and four TDs, and Donavan Harden caught all four TDs and finished with 11 receptions for 186 yards to lead Georgia State (1-7, 0-5).

Arbuckle tried to throw it away on 2nd-and-8 but was hit as he threw, and the ball went up into the air around the 12-yard line. Jones out-jumped Avery Sweeting, tipped the ball to himself and came down with it before it hit the turf for a highlight reel interception and the Eagles' 11th pick of the season.

"That was a huge, huge takeaway," said Fritz. "They are a great offense – I've been telling people that all week. They go with an empty backfield a lot, and their quarterback is smart enough to go to the right place. We had confidence we would put up points but knew we needed to get some stops, and we had some timely takeaways."

The Eagles maintained their 10-point lead at the break, and Breida took a pitch from Ellison on the opening play of the third quarter, went around the right side, picked up some outstanding blocks and promptly went 75 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest run of his career and his sixth this season over 50 yards.

The Georgia Southern defense forced a 3-and-out to give the Eagles the ball back. Ellison keyed a 66-yard drive with a 22-yard pass to Montay Crockett, and Breida punched it in from a yard out as the Eagles extended their lead to 41-17 midway through the frame.

The Panthers moved the ball down to the Eagle 31-yard line, but after three straight incompletions, had to settle for a 48-yard field goal try by Will Lutz. The junior missed the career-long attempt, giving the ball back to the Eagles with good field position.

Favian Upshaw rushed twice for 27 yards, and Ramsby carried four times for 30 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run, giving the Eagles lots of breathing room at 48-17 with 1:32 left in the quarter.

A 39-yard completion from Arbuckle to Sweeting put the Panthers deep inside Georgia Southern territory on their first drive of the game. Georgia State struggled from there as two penalties backed them up, and after three straight incompletions the Panthers settled for a 44-yard field goal by Lutz.

Georgia Southern took to the ground game early on its first drive, going 89 yards in 9 plays to open a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard bull-dozing run by Breida. All but two yards came on the ground as Breida, Ramsby and Devin Scott carried the load.

The Eagles made the margin 14-3 just before the end of the first quarter when Ellison capped another long drive with a 9-yard run. The sophomore quarterback rushed for 51 of the 82 yards in the drive.

Arbuckle completed 6-of-7 passes for 84 yards on the Panthers' ensuing drive and hit Harden with a 3-yard touchdown pass to trim the margin to 14-10 early in the second quarter.

A 46-yard kickoff return by Montay Crockett gave the Eagles great field position, and wide receiver Zach Walker took the pitch and went 19-yards for his first career rushing touchdown just four plays later. Georgia Southern missed the extra point, but pushed the margin to 20-10.

The Panthers came back with a score just over a minute later when Arbuckle threw over the Eagle defense to a wide-open Harden for a 59-yard touchdown to trim the lead to 20-17.

Another great kickoff return, this time a 60-yarder by Derek Keaton, put the Eagles in Georgia State territory again. After Ellison converted a 3rd-and-2 with a 6-yard run, Ramsby churned his way into the end zone from 8 yards out, and Alex Hanks added the point after for a 27-17 Eagle lead.

The Eagles have a short week before playing host to Troy, Thursday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m. in Paulson Stadium. It's Pack Paulson as Eagle Nation attempts to break the stadium's 25-year-old attendance mark of 25,725 in front of a national TV audience on ESPNU.

GAME NOTES: Breida is the first Eagle to rush for over 200 yards in a game since 2011… It was the most points scored in a Sun Belt game for the Eagles and the most points scored in the Georgia Dome this year… The win assures the Eagles of finishing with a winning Sun Belt record; outside of the conference's first season of play in 2001, only once has an inaugural member finished with a winning record overall or in conference play (2004 – Troy – 7-5, 5-2 Sun Belt).… The attendance was the second largest in the Dome for a Georgia State game… It's the Eagles' best start in conference play since 2011… Breida's rushing TD in the first quarter was the sixth time he has scored the Eagles' first TD of the game… The Panthers' 59-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter was the longest scoring play against the Eagles this season… Arbuckle's INT was his first in 124 passing attempts… Keaton's 60-yard kickoff return was the longest of the season… Georgia Southern's streak of three-straight road wins matches the 2012 streak (the Eagles had 5 in 2010).

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