MOBILE, Ala. — When the rain wasn’t pouring down on the Bowling Green Falcons, it was the Eagles of Georgia Southern opening the floodgates.
A little over 33 years after some yellow school buses carried the Eagles to their first-ever game, three more yellow buses rolled up to Ladd-Peebles Stadium before carrying Georgia Southern away in a 58-27 GoDaddy Bowl win over Bowling Green on Wednesday night.
Heavy rains and an early deficit did little to quiet more than 5,000 Eagle fans who made their way to Mobile. And when the Eagles (9-4) marched down the field on the first drive of the second half to take the lead for good, there was no stopping the party.
“This means a lot,” Georgia Southern interim head coach Dell McGee said. “Not only to me, but to the coaches and players. We’ve got guys who had to sit out two years where we couldn’t go to playoffs or bowl games. They sacrificed a lot, so it’s great to get this win.”
Leading 30-27 late in the third quarter, the Falcons (10-4) elected to go for it on fourth and 9 instead of attempting a 38-yard field goal into the teeth of a heavy wind. The Eagles came up with the stop and on their next offensive play, Favian Upshaw burst through the middle of the Bowling Green line and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown.
Upshaw ran the Georgia Southern offense for the entire second half and racked up a career-high 199 yards and four rushing touchdowns to earn GoDaddy Bowl MVP honors.
“I’m going to remember this moment forever,” Upshaw said. “But I couldn’t have done it without our seniors and coach McGee. We’re going to miss some of our seniors, but we’re a young team, and I think that there are great things laying ahead of us.”
Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson, who led all passers in the nation with 4,700 yards during the regular season, threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-34 passing, but couldn’t hold onto the ball when his team needed it.
Just two plays after Upshaw’s run, Johnson was sacked and fumbled, with Nardo Govan recovering for Georgia Southern on the Bowling Green 14. Upshaw ran the ball to the 1 on the Eagles’ next play, leaving Matt Breida to clean up the rest on an option pitch to make it a 44-27 Eagle advantage.
The wheels fell off completely for the Falcons from there, as the ensuing drive saw two long gains negated by penalties. Pinned deep in their own territory, Johnson once again fumbled and Govan once again recovered for Georgia Southern.
“We were fighting and fighting,” Govan said. “When (big plays happen), it’s sort of a relief. We knew that we had to battle the whole game, and we were able to get a couple of plays that really helped us.”
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Upshaw skipped in from 8 yards out to make it 51-27.
Upshaw put the exclamation point on his career day late in the fourth quarter, as he again outran the Falcon defense to the edge, going 42 yards for his final touchdown of the night.
For most of the first half, a runaway Eagle victory seemed very unlikely.
Georgia Southern sprinted down the field on its first possession, covering 78 yards in nine plays, capped off by a 1-yard L.A. Ramsby run. But the Bowling Green defense quickly shored things up while the Falcon offense caught fire.
Johnson found Roger Lewis for a 31-yard touchdown strike, but the Eagles stayed in front as Darius White blocked Tyler Tate’s point-after attempt and Matt Dobson returned the loose ball 95 yards to make it 9-6 Georgia Southern.
The blocked kick did nothing to slow the Bowling Green offense, however, as the Falcons’ next drive quickly reached Eagle territory and Ronnie Moore took a shovel pass 15 yards for a touchdown.
Following a GSU three-and-out, Bowling Green scored on one play when Johnson found Gherig Dieter for a 51-yard pass.
“I thought we did a good job (of handling adversity),” McGee said. “Offensively, we executed how we wanted to. Defensively, we played a great second half and were able to do a good job against a very good Bowling Green offense.”
The Georgia Southern offense got a shot in the arm as Breida raced for 36 yards into Bowling Green territory. Ellison found B.J. Johnson for a crucial third-down conversion, and Wesley Fields capped the drive with a 26-yard romp.
Georgia Southern seemed to seize back the momentum with — of all things — a long pass play. Facing fourth and 5 from the Bowling Green 31, Ellison scrambled out of a sack and extended the play to his left before floating a pass into the arms of Montay Crockett in the end zone.
The catch was Crockett’s first of the season and marked the second touchdown grab of his career.
Ellison’s strike to Crockett staked Georgia Southern to a 23-20 lead with just 1:27 to go in the first half, but Travis Greene ripped off a 52-yard run down to the GSU 7 and Greene capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 27-23 at halftime.
At halftime, the skies opened up. When the game resumed, the Falcons were left drowning in a flood of Eagle offense.