STATESBORO, Ga. – Matt Breida and Kevin Ellison combined for 286 yards on the ground, and Georgia Southern held Appalachian State scoreless in the second half to grind out a 34-14 Sun Belt Conference victory over the Mountaineers at Paulson Stadium Thursday night in a nationally-televised contest on ESPNU.
The attendance of 24,535 was the largest crowd for a regular-season game at Paulson Stadium and the second-largest in the stadium’s history. A record crowd of 25,725 witnessed the Eagles’ 37-34 win over Stephen F. Austin in the 1989 I-AA National Championship game as portable bleachers were brought in behind the end zones for the contest.
The Eagles (3-2, 2-0) rushed for 408 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 6.8 yards a carry against the Mountaineers. Ellison finished with 151 yards on 21 carries, while Breida had 135 on 12 totes and each scored a touchdown. L.A. Ramsby added 51 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. The win broke a three-game losing skid against Appalachian State.
“I’m so happy for our players,” said first-year Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. “There were four or five guys who came to me this week and said ‘this is my last crack at them so we have to get them.’ I’m so happy for our seniors. It was a total team victory. We came out of the box fast, got a little stagnant but finished strong.”
Nick Wright and Deion Stanley each had interceptions for the Eagles, and Ryan George and Jay Ellison posted sacks. Edwin Jackson tallied eight tackles, including one for loss, with five solo stops.
Taylor Lamb completed 23-of-42 passes for 256 yards and ran for 29 yards and a touchdown to lead Appalachian State (1-3, 0-1). Marcus Cox finished with 39 yards and a TD on 10 carries. Simms McElfresh recorded seven catches for 64 yards, and Malachi Jones caught four passes for 59 yards.
With the Eagles holding a 10-point lead, a pair of defensive stops early in the third quarter helped key the win. App moved down to the Georgia Southern 9-yard line on the opening drive of the second half, where the Mountaineers elected to go for it on 4th-and-4. Daniels tackled Lamb on a keeper after just a 2-yard gain, giving the ball back to the Eagles.
“That was huge play and a big stop,” said Fritz. “To stop them on four consecutive plays from there; that was a great job by our defense.”
Tucker Bell gave the Mountaineers the ball at the Georgia Southern 30-yard line for their next series when he blocked an Eagle punt, but Wright ended the threat by picking off a Lamb pass at the 1-yard line, his first-career interception.
Georgia Southern ran the ball seven straight times, including a 13-yard scamper by Kevin Ellison, to move the ball out from its own end zone. Ellison hit Zach Walker for a 20-yard completion but then had to leave the game after taking a big hit from App linebacker John Law. Into the game came Favian Upshaw, who promptly converted a 4th-and-6 with a 9-yard pass to Walker.
“We were in in-between range - too far to try a field goal and probably too close to punt,” Fritz said of the decision to go for it on fourth down. “Favian came in and threw a strike, which probably helped us take another two or three minutes off the clock. We’re very fortunate to have two quarterbacks who can make plays like Kevin and Favian.”
The conversion set up an Alex Hanks 35-yard field goal in front of the most quiet near-capacity crowd in Paulson Stadium history, that gave the Eagles a 27-14 cushion early in the fourth quarter. The drive wound up being 16 plays, 82 yards and chewed 8:58 from the clock, the Eagles’ longest in yards and time of possession this season.
“Our offensive line did a great job of getting a push,” said Ellison. “We follow those big boys, those five seniors. They know how to get us a big drive like that. They did a great job opening up holes on inside zone.”
With the Eagles holding a 27-14 lead, a sack by George on 3rddown forced an App State punt, and Georgia Southern went 79 yards in 2:48 for a touchdown to make it a 20-point margin with 10:26 to play. Ellison started the drive with a 19-yard gain the ground, and Breida went for 41 yards to move the ball to the App 8. Ellison finished off a 6-yard run by diving into the end zone for the touchdown.
It was Georgia Southern’s first Sun Belt Conference home game and Appalachian’s first Sun Belt Conference contest.
Breida put the Eagles ahead 7-0 with a 56-yard touchdown run up the middle 2:14 into the contest. It was the eighth touchdown of the season for the sophomore and the fourth over 50 yards, all coming in the first quarter.
The Eagle defense forced a 3-and-out on App State’s first possession, and Tray Butler returned the Mountaineers punt to the App 39-yard line. Georgia Southern converted a 4th-and-1 with a Ramsby 9-yard run up the middle, but the drive stalled on the App 2-yard line, and Hanks booted a 19-yard field goal to make the score 10-0 midway through the first.
A blocked punt by Deshawntee Gallon set up Georgia Southern’s third score early in the second quarter. Ellison hit BJ Johnson with a 12-yard pass and ran for 12 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Ramsby, making the score 17-0 2:32 into the second quarter.
Appalachian State went 75 yards in 12 plays to get on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter. The Mountaineers got their first first down of the game via a roughing the passer penalty at the start of the drive and converted a 4th-and-short and a 3rd-and-9 to key the drive. Lamb dropped back to pass, saw an opening up the middle and took off for a 19-yard touchdown run with 7:42 left in the quarter.
Ellison hit Johnson for a 17-yard touchdown pass to extend the Eagles’ margin to 24-7 with 2:17 left in the first half. Ellison started the scoring drive with a 25-yard run after the Eagles got the ball at the App 49-yard line. Georgia Southern scored on four of its seven possessions in the first half as good defense and special teams work gave the Eagles an average starting field position at their own 44-yard line.
App State zipped 74 yards down the field on its final possession of the first half, and Cox scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to trim the margin to 24-14 with 16 seconds left. Lamb was 5-for-7 for 73 yards through the air on the drive.
The Eagles return to action when they travel to New Mexico State for a Sun Belt contest Saturday, Oct. 4. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. (Eastern).