Heartbreak

The Eagles gather after the Georgia State game. They lost, 21-17.

Thomas Jilk

Georgia Southern fell to 0-8 with a 21-17 rivalry home loss to Georgia State on Saturday in which costly turnovers haunted the Eagles as they relinquished their long-held lead in the final three minutes.

After the game, GS head coach Chad Lunsford expressed his disappointment with characteristic concise bluntness.

“We’ve got to learn how to win,” Lunsford said. “Right now, we don’t know how to win. They’re trying, they’re playing their butts off, but we don’t know how to win, and we’ve got to figure out how to win.”

First half

The game opened as games have frequently opened for GS this year – with a costly mistake.

Senior receiver Myles Campbell fumbled a swing pass on the first offensive play of the game, and Georgia State senior corner Chandon Sullivan scooped it up and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.

But Campbell would have his redemption.

With 6:40 left in the first quarter, Campbell took a sly forward toss on an end-around from quarterback Shai Werts around the right side and into the end zone from 12 yards out.

The remainder of the first half was back and forth with punt after punt after punt. GS senior punter Matt Flynn had five punts ranging from 13 yards to 54 yards.

With 15 seconds left in the opening half, GS redshirt sophomore placekicker Tyler Bass nailed a career-long 48-yard field goal to give the Eagles the 10-7 lead going into the halftime break.

The GS defense played perhaps its best half of the season in the first half, giving up well less than 100 total yards, and only a single yard on the ground.

“I’m really proud of the defense and how they played today,” senior linebacker Chris DeLaRosa said. “We did a really good job of starting fast.”

In the first half, GS led their rivals from Atlanta in total yards with 174 to just 77 for the Panthers.

Wesley Kennedy III, a GS freshman from Savannah, saw more action than he has all year, returning three punts for 47 yards. Werts was bulls-eye accurate in the first half, completing 13 of his 16 pass attempts for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Second half

A pair of touchdown drives highlighted the third quarter, one for each team.

Georgia Southern embarked on a text-book 15-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 4th-down touchdown run by Werts, his first rushing touchdown as an Eagle.

State came right back though with a 70-yard reception by sophomore receiver Penny Hart. Two plays later, State’s senior quarterback, Conner Manning, hit his tight end for a 5-yard touchdown that made the score 17-14. The drive took just over a minute.

“Penny Hart made a play; we didn’t,” Lunsford said. “We were going to try to shut him down in crucial situations.”

After a flurry of turnovers by both teams, Georgia State recovered a Wesley Fields fumble with excellent field position. Manning hit Hart in the end zone for a tiptoe inbounds catch that gave the Panthers the 21-17 lead with 2:31 to go.

Werts and company drove near the red zone on the final drive, but ultimately it was not enough.

The final drive ended in heartbreak for the Eagles as Werts scrambled for the end zone but was tripped up as time ran out before he could run another play.

Campbell weighed in on the painful loss and the costly turnovers after the game.

“We did better this week, but the ball was still on the ground,” Campbell said. “Three turnovers, they cost us, and I’ve got to take responsibility for it.”

Next Game

The Eagles will travel to Boone to face their other rivals, App State on Nov. 9. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. Kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.