STATESBORO — Georgia Southern rang in the Football Bowl Subdivision era with the first game in a newly-renovated Paulson Stadium against Savannah State on Saturday evening. However, the starters only got to play in half of it.
Third-string quarterback Ezayi Youyoute handled the entire second half as the Eagles won 83-9 and made it look like a stroll in the park.
It was a point short of the Eagles’ largest scoring total ever — an 84-3 win over Johnson C. Smith in 2004 at Paulson — which they would have matched were it not for a missed extra point.
Youyoute saw action for the first time since 2012.
“We’re very fortunate that we have three great quarterbacks,” first-year GSU coach Willie Fritz said. “You’re hard-pressed some years to find any. I’ve had years where I didn’t have one.”
All told, the score sheet looked as bad as it the game was. GSU (1-1) outgained the Tigers, 695-278, had 28 first downs to SSU’s 18, and averaged an eye-popping 12 yards per play.
The starting defense helped hold Savannah State (0-2) to 42 yards in the first half. At one point in the second quarter, Antwione Williams recorded back-to-back sacks.
“One of the plays I wasn’t really supposed to blitz, but I made the play,” Williams said. “On the second one, I found my way in there. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go out there and take what they give you, and I took it.”
Starting quarterback Kevin Ellison was on the sideline for the majority of the game, but was explosive when he had his chances. He threw only two passes but completed both, including a 38-yard strike to Kentrellis Showers. He also ran it twice for 34 yards.
Showers caught a pair of scores.
Ellison and backup quarterback Favian Upshaw combined to go 4 of 5 through the air for 96 yards. Showers caught three of them for 91 yards.
Matt Breida, who scored on a 61-yard run in the season opener against North Carolina State, was equally explosive on Saturday, rushing eight times for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Youyoute scored on a 37-yard run in the fourth quarter, his first touchdown since Nov. 3, 2012, in a 31-28 loss to Appalachian State.
Seven different Eagles scored rushing touchdowns — Breida (two), Ean Days (two), Dennis Pritchard, Brandon Thomas, Upshaw, Youyoute, Devin Scott and Montay Crockett. The latter two came off option pitches from Ellison.
Deion Stanley intercepted an SSU pass, and Rayquan Sam and Rashad Williams each recovered a fumble. The Eagles committed no turnovers and only three penalties.
“You always hope for this,” Fritz said. “It’s what you’re playing for. We felt like we had a better ball club than Savannah State watching the tape. But you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to do it. I thought our guys did a good job. I’ve been in this business too long to overlook anybody. Our guys came out and performed in a game they were expected to win by a wide margin.”
SSU didn’t cross midfield until there was 11 minutes left in the third quarter, and the drive resulted in a missed 25-yard field goal attempt by John Barron.
The next play was an 80-yard touchdown run by Days, his second score of the third quarter, which put GSU ahead 62-0.
The Tigers finally found the scoreboard with a 39-yard Barron field goal with 9:07 left in the game and, a 31-yard touchdown pass by Tino Smith was good for the final margin. The extra point was blocked.
“We’re just really using this game to springboard us into next week,” Williams said.
The Eagles return to action on Saturday at noon in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.