Georgia Southern suffers too many miscues in Monroe, loses 44-25

McClain Baxley

The Georgia Southern football team has had a habit of starting slowly away from home, and that trend continued Saturday.

In the past, GS (7-2, 4-1 in Sun Belt) would turn it around — the defense would come away with a turnover or quarterback Shai Werts would make a play if he wasn’t pitching to Wesley Fields for a big gain.

It looked like that would be the theme again Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe, but after a slow start, an Eagle response never came.

After giving up a 2 1/2-minute scoring drive to the Warhawks, the Eagles never found their footing, falling 44-25.

“It sucks,” GS head coach Chad Lunsford said. “We don’t put all of this hard work in to lose. We got served some humble pie today.”

The Eagles were bested in all three phases of the game.

Even Lou Groza Award semifinalist kicker Tyler Bass missed two field goals, something he hadn’t done all season after entering the afternoon 11 for 11.

In the first quarter, ULM (5-4, 3-2) thrashed the stout GS defense for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles matched the Warhawk quarter with only 82 yards and a missed field goal to show for its offense.

GS finally got onto the scoreboard with just over five minutes left in the first half by way of a Bass field goal, making for a 20-3 deficit. The field goal wasn’t enough to give the Eagles hope, as ULM’s Caleb Evans launched a 57-yard throw to the GS 29, again exposing the GS secondary.

Six plays later, Josh Johnson rushed the ball in from the 1 to make it 24-point margin — the largest GS deficit since losing at Clemson on Sep. 15.

It looked like Bass’ kick would be the only positive heading into halftime, until the Eagles defense woke up.

On first and 10 from the ULM 29, Evans put up a ball that Kenderick Duncan Jr. picked off with ease. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty added to the small wound for the home team, setting up the Eagles on the ULM 22 with just over a minute until intermission.

All it took was one play for Werts to score as he tossed a nice lob to Mark Michaud for GS’ first touchdown.

{{tncms-inline account=”Captain” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Eagles head to the locker room trailing 27-10. They’ll get the ball to start the second half. <a href="https://t.co/3UG0jXbGl5">pic.twitter.com/3UG0jXbGl5</a></p>— Captain (@McclainBaxley) <a href="https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1058820417635446786?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 3, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1058820417635446786″ type=”twitter”}}

Longing for momentum, the Eagles received the ball to start the second 30 minutes. A three-and-out began choking the hope, and Derrick Gore’s first rushing touchdown of the day completely killed GS’ hope of a comeback.

“We just started slow,” Jessie Liptrot said. “We were too happy about the win last week (Oct. 25 over Appalachian State), you just have to get rid of it and onto the next. Don’t start slow, finish strong and onto the next week every game.”

Liptrot did a lot for the visitors in their losing effort, coming away with a fourth-quarter interception for a touchdown, four tackles and a forced fumble. The redshirt junior made up for the absence of Sean Freeman and the lackluster play of a deflated defense.

″[The Warhawks] were prepared,” Werts said. “They had a bye week coming into this game and I feel like it really helped them. A lot of things we were trying to do, they had an answer for and we didn’t have an answer back.”

GS came into the game with a high emphasis on minimizing penalties, but it committed six for 52 yards. Evans finished with 337 yards and two scores on 13 of 22 passing.

Werts gained just three rushing yards on 12 attempts while Fields finished with 73 rushing yards on 17 carries.

The fear of a hangover and a possible trap game sandwiched between App and Troy came into full effect Saturday. Lunsford was fearful of the possibility of a trap game.

“It was great. We were 7-1, then you go in there and you don’t do well,” Lunsford said. “You get that loss and it smacks you right in the face and it tells you that we have to get back to work and finish this season out the way we want to.”

ULM was able to bottle up an offense that moved with ease against App State, holding the Eagles to a mere 216 yards. Werts’ pass to Michaud was the only offensive touchdown for the Eagles, who were able to score a touchdown in all three phases of the game.

Najee Thompson blocked a punt early in the fourth quarter, allowing Benz Josue to scoop up the ball and run in for a 5-yard touchdown.

The Eagles have already put Saturday’s upset behind them, probably quicker than any other game they’ve put behind them, and are focused on Troy.

“We hate to lose, we don’t want to lose,” Lunsford said. “But we did. We can’t let that affect us for the next one.”

Now at 4-1 in the conference, GS is in the driver’s seat to win the East Division and host the inaugural Sun Belt Championship game, but Saturday should be a testimony to not look ahead to any postseason games or rankings.

“We’re still one game a week,” Lunsford said. “That’s what it’s been from the start, and no reason for that to change now. We do control our own destiny, so we have to get ready for Troy.”

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, [email protected]