Despite jumping out to an early first half lead, it took a strong defensive effort and guts from the Red Wolves to take down Georgia Southern 38-33 Saturday night in Jonesboro.
A-State’s stellar receiving core showed out once again with Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt playing their last ever home game at Centennial Bank Stadium. Jonathan Adams also impressed for the Red Wolves (7-4, 5-2 SBC) as Adams led the team with 158 receiving yards on the night.
Adams caught two long touchdown passes in the first quarter to give the Red Wolves a 14-3 lead early.
“We came into the game with a chip on our shoulder from last year,” Adams said. “Last year they played tougher than us. This game we just came in and tried to play tougher than them and we did that.”
Quarterback Layne Hatcher impressed on the afternoon as he completed 19-of-24 passing attempts for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Bayless accounted for 113 receiving yards while Merritt chipped in with 41 receiving yards and a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against one of the best special teams units in the country.
Georgia Southern’s quarterback Shai Werts proved a challenge to defend as the elusive quarterback ran for 158 yards and one touchdown in the game. The Eagles had the ball on A-State’s 34-yard line in a fourth and eleven situation with the game on the line. If A-State got the stop, the game was over. Werts scrambled for 10 yards, but came up what seemed to be just inches short when the chains were brought out.
After the turnover on downs, A-State kneeled the ball to end the game. A-State head coach Blake Anderson praised Werts and talked about the thrilling end to the game.
“It came down to fourth down stops (again),” Anderson said. “We made it closer than I wanted it to be on fourth and eleven. You just knew, you flat out knew, that the guy (Werts) was going to pull it down and run it. It came down to inches. I’ve never prayed and hoped for a chain to be longer in my life than I was right then because I did not want to see them snap it again.”
The Red Wolves were flagged many times throughout the game and some were questionable calls. Anderson sarcastically commented on the flags in the game.
“I didn’t see any flags tonight, did you see any flags?,” Anderson asked sarcastically at the post game press conference. “I got no explanation. Zero. None. Frustrated as I’ve ever been with a group of officials. I know they have a tough job, but I felt like they took over the game and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
A-State’s defense proved pretty successful against Georgia Southern’s triple option attack. Anderson talked about how A-State was able to stop the Eagles’ base offense and how Werts really improvised for a lot of the big plays Georgia Southern succeeded with. Anderson gave his defensive coordinator Dave Duggan a lot of praise for the work his defense did on the field.
“We investigated some defensive schemes over the course of the summer about how to defend the triple option,” Anderson said. “We kind of had an idea of what we wanted to do. They really reevaluated the whole roster this week and wanted to make sure we were at least two deep at each spot. We basically trained them in this defense in this week for this game. I thought they did a great job playing it.”
Anderson was quick to mention what it meant for him and the team to win on senior night in such an exciting game.
“(I) couldn’t be happier with a group of dudes,” Anderson said. “Just all they’ve battled through and then another close one. That spot was about as close as it could get right there at the end. (I) was holding my breath. We wanted to make sure this was one the seniors never forget. This is one they’ll be talking about years from now.”
Georgia Southern used a 4 minute 10 second drive to bring the game within five in the middle of the fourth quarter. Werts found Mark Michaud in the end zone for a touchdown but then failed on a two-point conversion to make the game 38-33.
On the ensuing drive Blake Grupe missed a 48-yard field goal to set up the thrilling finish to the game.
On A-State’s first drive of the second half, the Red Wolves took the ball all the way to Georgia Southern’s two-yard line. However, the home team could not punch the ball in and settled for a 19-yard Grupe field goal.
Behind 38-19, a 64-yard run by Werts set up first and goal for Georgia Southern. Werts found Michaud on an eight-yard touchdown pass and Michaud physically brought the ball down for a score. Then, the Eagles went for two and Werts found Michaud on an equally impressive grab to bring the game to 38-27.
Grupe attempted a 47-yard field goal with 4:46 left on the clock but missed the kick wide right.
A-State mostly dominated the second quarter, although Georgia Southern did score nine points to end the period, as the Red Wolves went into the half with a 35-19 lead.
The Eagles created a lot of problems for themselves during the second quarter and it started with a fumble recovered by A-State at the Eagles’ 32-yard line.
The Red Wolves instantly turned the turnover to points as Hatcher found Bayless on a 32-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-3 lead.
Georgia Southern did answer on a 10-yard rushing touchdown by Werts after the redshirt junior quarterback kept the ball on an option play to make the scoreline 21-10.
A-State’s explosiveness on the afternoon was highlighted on the ensuing kick off. Merritt returned the ball for a 94-yard touchdown completing A-State’s first kick off return for a score since Blaise Taylor’s touchdown in the 2015 New Orleans Bowl.
Georgia Southern suffered from a series of unfortunate events as the Eagles first fumbled a kick off out-of-bounds which led to terrible field position as they started with the ball at their own 13-yard line.
Then, after punting deep from their own territory, the Eagles ran into A-State’s B.J. Edmonds who had called for a fair catch.
With great field position after the penalty, the Red Wolves struck quickly again on the first play after the punt. Hatcher found Merritt on a 27-yard touchdown pass as the senior receiver leapt into the air to bring the ball down. The Red Wolves went ahead 35-10.
Georgia Southern almost answered back, but on fourth and goal from A-State’s three-yard line, the Eagles ran a Philly Special type play. Werts was wide open in the end zone, but the pass towards him was not a good one. A-State escaped from the threat just barely.
Despite the stop, just two plays later Hatcher was brought down in his own end zone as A-State gave away a safety.
With the score now at 35-12, Georgia Southern drove down the field and converted on a fake field goal to set up a touchdown.
The teams went into the half with A-State leading 35-19.
Despite Georgia Southern gaining momentum early, the Red Wolves stormed back as Adams completed a monster first quarter.
On A-State’s first drive of the game, the Red Wolves attempted to run for a first down on fourth down at the Eagles’ 29-yard line. Georgia Southern stuffed the run and turned the stop into three points as Bass made a 26-yard field goal to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
A-State battled back as Hatcher found Adams on a 32-yard touchdown pass in a play that had to be reviewed. The call stood after video evidence showed Adams rolling into the end zone with the ball crossing the plane before he was down. This put A-State ahead 7-3.
The Red Wolves then pulled off a huge fourth down stop of their own at A-State’s 23-yard line.
A-State was quick to capitalize on the turnover-on-downs when just three plays later Hatcher found Adams once again but this time on a 63-yard bomb. The Red Wolves ended the first quarter ahead 14-3.
The Red Wolves finish the regular season on the road Nov. 29 at South Alabama. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.
Leave a Reply