Werts’ fourth down conversion saves historic season

McClain Baxley

Shai Werts walked into the media room Monday following the ULM game the same way he had all season, shoulders slumped wearing a black Georgia Southern sweatshirt. He casually stood at the podium, fielding questions with a discreet tone, per usual.

Remarkably, the 21-year old took complete blame for the upset shellacking that occurred just three days before in Louisiana. He didn’t make excuses, he didn’t call out his teammates or coaches, he didn’t waltz around the fact that the Eagles may have just forfeited the Sun Belt East title.

“Losing this game was a slap in the face, it definitely humbled us,” Werts said. “I put this one, as far as the offense goes, on me. I have to do a better job of getting us going. I have to do a better job of making plays for us.”

Four days later against Troy, the redshirt-sophomore quarterback threw for a career high 190 yards and scored a combined three touchdowns in the final game in Paulson Stadium of 2018.

Saturday night, Werts saved the turnaround season and cemented his place in GS football history with a 29 yard run on a 4th and 10. Moments later, Tyler Bass trotted out to make his 19th field goal of the season to give GS its second bowl victory in program history, defeating Eastern Michigan 23-21.

Facing a 4th down on his own 46 yard line, the redshirt-sophomore quarterback dropped back and looked across a field of Eagles covering Eagles.

“I really should have threw the ball, Ellis [Richardson] was wide open, but Wes[ley Fields] had made the block on the linebacker,” Werts said. “There was no one in front of me so I took off running, picked up the first down.”

The game-saving play, though a designed pass play, was set up by a rare fumble from QB1. Eagle Nation held its breath as head coach Chad Lunsford was forced to call a timeout, allowing Werts to collect his thoughts. GS came out of the huddle with an incomplete pass.

No timeout needed, Werts rushed his offense out and converted the first down.

“He just made a play, man,” Senior center Curtis Rainey said. “That was something that no one else could do, but him. He made that play.”

The 29 yard run from Werts was a culmination of what he was able to do in his second year in the starting position. Adding two more rushing touchdowns to his season total of 25, Werts was heavily responsible for the Eagles’ success in the bounce back year.

{{tncms-inline account=”bethany-grace bowers” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Shai Werts runs into the end zone for the first GSU Touchdown, GSU Eagles lead 7-0 after a successful extra point. <a href="https://t.co/1Wu0X4vK6w">pic.twitter.com/1Wu0X4vK6w</a></p>— bethany-grace bowers (@bgracebowers) <a href="https://twitter.com/bgracebowers/status/1074078171149029382?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 15, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/bgracebowers/status/1074078171149029382″ type=”twitter”}}

Against EMU, Werts rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns to go with his 33 passing yards.

But in the second half it looked like GS was going to give it away. Nursing a 17-7 lead at halftime, EMU went 75 yards on the first play of the second half to make it a three point game.

GS responded with a five play drive, plagued with a false start and a delay of game. The two teams traded punts and a lack of offense had infiltrated the Eagles.

“After a few drives into the second half, I noticed we were kind of dead a little bit,” Werts said. “So I just talked them and told them we have to finish and we have to get that spark back.”

The spark Werts was longing for didn’t arrive until GS was facing its’ first deficit in 10 quarters.

Werts and the GS Eagles took the ball on their own 25 yard line with 3:33 in their season. The quarterback rushed the ball for one yard and then hit Richardson for a 15 yard gain on the following snap.

The next play Fields rushed for four yards, but Werts’ sack set the Eagles back to 2nd and 10.

“There was never a moment of doubt, it was just that we knew we had to finish it,” Rainey said. “It got put back on us and we knew we had to do it, because who else was going to.”

And who else but the leader who had nearly 1,000 passing yards and more than 900 rushing yards to put the game away. Werts dropped back and did this:

{{tncms-inline account=”Jason Cassels” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">No joke, one of the biggest plays in YEARS. We'll be talking about this one for a long time. <a href="https://twitter.com/_shaiwertss?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_shaiwertss</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/chadlunsford?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@chadlunsford</a> <a href="https://t.co/abdcbqQI11">pic.twitter.com/abdcbqQI11</a></p>— Jason Cassels (@KaptKlak) <a href="https://twitter.com/KaptKlak/status/1074201766282043392?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 16, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/KaptKlak/status/1074201766282043392″ type=”twitter”}}

A few snaps later and Bass gave GS its first 10 win season as an FBS program. Werts was awarded the Bart Starr MVP award, given to the best player in the Camellia Bowl.

“Second half we were killing ourselves with self-inflicted penalties that we don’t normally do,” Lunsford said in the post-game interview with ESPN. “We were putting the ball on the ground, we did a good job of making sure we got it back. But for the guy to just keep going and overcome to make a big play on fourth down like that to put us into field goal range. Can’t say enough about Shai.”

During the trophy ceremony, Werts gave few words, once again speaking to the redshirt-sophomore’s humility. Rainey once again gave praise to Werts, crediting him for the senior’s final game.

“He’s number four,” Rainey said. “I know we’ve had a ton of number fours in the past that were great, but he’s the new number four.”

It’s too early to say how far Werts’ number four will go down in GS history, but with “The Scramble” already being compared to Adrian Peterson’s “The Run”, the quarterback from Clinton, South Carolina has certainly begun to make his case.

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, gasports@georgiasouthern.edu