Statement made with swagger and sacks aplenty as Georgia Southern defeats Arkansas State 28-21

Senior Curtis Rainey lifts sophomore Wes Kennedy III up after a Kennedy III scored the game-winner. Kennedy III finished with 105 rushing yards. 

McClain Baxley

At the Sun Belt Media Day back in July, Georgia Southern head coach Chad Lunsford talked about how he wanted his team to hang and compete with the top teams in the conference. Saturday night Lunsford and the Eagles did just that by taking down preseason Sun Belt favorite Arkansas State 28-21 in an instant classic.

“We said this was going to be a statement game and we needed to make a statement,” Lunsford said. “We did, but the thing that we have to be careful of as a team right now is not to think we’re good enough. We have to continue that we have to work for everything we get.”

From the pregame warmup to the postgame celebration, the team was bouncing and running around with a confidence reserved for the right moment since the 2015 season.

When the game went final, players flocked to the center of the field, then to the band for the alma mater, then there was a competition on who could jump into the stands first. Redshirt-freshman running back Grant Walker won that competition, but sophomore Wes Kennedy III won the competition that all 17,300 fans were there to see.

With the clock winding down below 30 seconds, the Eagles called a timeout facing a third and seven on the ASU 47 yard line.

Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Shai Werts took the snap and ran to his left, giving the ball to Kennedy III. The sophomore took the ball and ran down a wide-open field before being pushed out of bounds as the ball broke the goal line.

“We lined up,” Kennedy III said. “Once we were lined up, I kind of scanned the field and saw the coverage and once I got the ball in my hands, everything just played out right. Just needed to finish.”

{{tncms-inline account=”Captain” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">0:19 | A reverse goes to Wes Kennedy who takes it 47 yards to the House. This place is electric. Eagles lead 28-21. <a href="https://t.co/RJGlOH6u9r">pic.twitter.com/RJGlOH6u9r</a></p>— Captain (@McclainBaxley) <a href="https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1046205583211339777?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 30, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1046205583211339777″ type=”twitter”}}

And finish he did as his first career touchdown was a game-winner. And more than being just any game-winner it was against a team that was a four-point favorite.

“One thing that we noticed all week watching film was how well Arkansas State runs to the football,” Lunsford said. “So misdirection was something that was a big part of our gameplan. When [Coach Bob DeBesse] called it, I felt very confident.”

This was a statement game in the fact that ASU was favored, the Eagles hadn’t beaten the Red Wolves since moving to the Sun Belt and being able to finish a game against a top opponent. The statement was made all night, beginning with ASU’s first series.

ASU quarterback Justice Hansen worked the ball with ease, converting two third downs. But on a fourth and three from the GS 31, junior nose tackle Ty Phillips shot through the middle and sacked Hansen for seven yards to set the tone for how aggressive and quick the defensive line would be.

As a team, the defense came away with six sacks against a strong ASU offensive line.

“Arkansas State is a high powered offense, so having six sacks, Logan Hunt having three and Ty Phillips having one and a half, our defensive line was able to get pressure on him,” Lunsford said. “We knew they were going to the throw the ball a lot. Then you have to give credit to our DBs. I think we had seven pass breakups.”

The defensive backfield was a complete unit as well, keeping everything in front of them to avoid getting beat over the top. Hansen only completed four passes more than 20 yards out of his 38 total completions.

Unfortunately, the Eagles didn’t finish the game full strength again, as redshirt-sophomore inside linebacker Todd Bradley went down with injury and redshirt-junior wide receiver Obe Fortune was ejected by targeting.

“As a coach, when you start getting to your third-string, you don’t know because you have a guy like Tre Allen that’s right now who is a third-string but now is playing,” Lunsford said. “Jontavius Ferguson who is a true freshman. You just don’t know because they haven’t played enough. For them to step in and just pick up where the guy before them left off, that’s huge for this football team.”

At the end of the night, unlike the past two battles against ASU, the Eagles ran off the field with pride. They knew they had just shocked the Sun Belt.

“Any given day, any team can win,” senior running back Wesley Fields said. “It’s about who wanted it more and we wanted it more tonight.”

As Lunsford is making sure his team does not become complacent, the team is well aware that the win is one of the bigger victories in the past few years. And the players plan to relish in that.

“This was a statement for the whole Sun Belt,” Kennedy III said. “We’re just trying to keep working each day and let them know that we’re not playing anymore and Georgia Southern is back.”

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