Georgia Southern moved to 0-4 in Wednesday night’s home conference opener after fumbling six times and allowing Arkansas State to pass for 316 yards and four touchdowns on the GS secondary.
“I really thought tonight was going to be our breakthrough night,” GS head coach Tyson Summers said. “I thought we executed as well as we have all year. We’ve got to continue to be more consistent.”
The opening half of football this season Paulson Stadium featured plenty of firsts for Georgia Southern. After the first quarter ended with a 3-0 lead for the Red Wolves, the action picked up significantly in the second.
Three Eagles picked off Arkansas State’s star redshirt junior quarterback, Justice Hansen, in the half, and each of them got the first interception of their respective careers. The first was early in the first quarter by senior linebacker Chris DeLaRosa on Arkansas State’s first possession, which the GS offense could not capitalize on.
Next was sophomore cornerback Kindle Vildor, who leapt and literally ripped the ball from the ASU receiver right next to coach Tyson Summers and the Eagles’ sideline.
With 8:13 left in the second quarter, GS redshirt junior running back Monteo Garrett took a pitch running to his right and sprinted 74 yards for his first career touchdown and took the first GS lead of the season, 10-9.
“We’re just going to keep fighting through this whole thing and respond back in a positive way,” Garrett said after the game.
Then, an interception by GS sophomore corner Monquavion Brinson deep in Arkansas State territory led to an 8-yard touchdown run from junior running back Wesley Fields.
Brinson was candid about how, despite the turnovers forced by the defense, Arkansas State was able to beat the secondary deep too many times.
“We made a lot of positive plays, but we gave up a lot of points. We put our offense in a bind,” Brinson said.
Scattered between GS drives, Arkansas State took advantage of two busted coverages by the Eagles and Hansen found senior receiver Chris Murray for touchdowns of 56 and 57 yards. ASU junior running back Warren Wand also scampered for a 25-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
The Eagles fumbled four times in the half, but, fortunately for them, recovered three of them and ended up winning the first-half turnover battle thanks to the three interceptions.
The back-and-forth of scoring drives and turnovers culminated in a first-half lead of 22-17 for Arkansas State after their kicker, sophomore Sawyer Williams, missed two extra points.
The Red Wolves’ passing attack shredded the Eagles secondary to begin the third quarter, and they scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half to extend their lead to 36-17.
The first was a Hansen lofted pass to senior tight end Blake Mack, and the second was a 12-yard run by Wand after redshirt freshman quarterback Shai Werts threw a costly interception on 3rd-and-long.
After those two scores, Eagle fans began to exit Paulson Stadium, but GS kept fighting and didn’t allow any more points for the remainder of the third quarter.
Another GS defensive back, redshirt freshman Darrell Baker Jr., got his first career interception near the end of the third quarter as well.
With just over 11 minutes left in the final quarter, Werts hit redshirt sophomore receiver Obe Fortune streaking between the has marks for a 50-yard touchdown, the first of Fortune’s career. Werts ran in the two-point conversion to narrow the ASU lead to 11 at 36-25.
“I was comfortable the whole game,” Werts said. “Discipline is all it comes down to, really. We still believe in what we do.”
The GS defense made a stop and Werts took the ball on his own 1-yard line with a chance to cut the lead to one possession. After redshirt sophomore receiver Obe Fortune tiptoed a sideline first down catch, the drive stalled and Arkansas State took over on downs.
The Red Wolves promptly struck with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Hansen to sophomore receiver Omar Bayless, who reeled it in with one hand, extending the ASU lead to 43-25 and dashing the Eagles’ hopes for good.
The Eagles were able to gain more than 300 yards on the ground Wednesday night and force four turnovers, but were unable to consistently cover the Red Wolves’ receivers deep downfield.
GS fumbled six times and only lost two of them, or the outcome could have been a much bigger loss for the home team.
Monteo Garrett’s touchdown and the four GS interceptions were bright spots for some less familiar Eagles. Werts made some nice throws and some defense-gashing runs, but his mental mistakes, including a pick and a lost fumble, also led to points for Arkansas State.
“We’ve got a lot of people doubting us right now, but we’re going to be fine,” Werts said.
Hansen and his arsenal of receivers beat the Eagles’ secondary too many times for a late comeback to be possible.
The first conference home game for the Eagles ultimately led to an 0-4 start to the season and their second straight loss to Arkansas State.
The next game is homecoming on Oct. 14 against New Mexico State at 6 p.m. in Paulson Stadium.