From Georgia Southern Sports Information:
MOBILE, Ala. – The Georgia Southern offense racked up 420 yards, but the defense was the story with four sacks, two interceptions and nine tackles for loss to lead the Eagles to a 28-6 Sun Belt Conference victory over South Alabama at Ladd-Peebles Stadium Saturday night. The Eagles evened their overall record to 2-2 and play host to Appalachian State Thursday night, September 25th at 7:30 p.m. with a nationally televised game at Paulson Stadium.
It was Georgia Southern’s first Sun Belt Conference contest and first win over an FBS opponent as an FBS member.
The Eagle defense, which gave up just 97 yards in the second half, took points off the South Alabama side of the scoreboard with big sacks twice, and three more times, it kept the Jags from getting the momentum in their corner – twice after Georgia Southern turnovers and once after a missed field goal.
Bernard Dawson, Ryan George and Jay Ellison all recorded solo sacks, while Quaun Daniels had four tackles, two for loss, a half sack and a quarterback hurry. Jamal Johnson combined for a sack, and Justice Ejike was credited with a quarterback hurry. Jay Ellison and Antwione Williams led the team with six total tackles each.
Georgia Southern led 21-6 late in the fourth quarter when Kevin Ellison fumbled on the USA 28-yard line, but on the Jags’ second play from scrimmage, Edwin Jackson picked off a Brandon Bridge pass and returned it 48 yards to the USA 12-yard line. Ellison punched it in from six yards out four plays later to put the game away.
The Eagles missed a 40-yard field goal try on their previous drive, but on the first play of South Alabama’s ensuing possession, Robert Brice picked off Bridge, returning it 12 yards to the Jag 27-yard line.
Bridge, South Alabama’s senior signal caller, completed 13-of-34 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown and rushed 13 times for 65 yards.
“He’s a guy you want to keep in the pocket,” Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said of Bridge. “We did a much better job of boxing it in and not allowing the ball carrier to pop it wide in the second half.”
Matt Breida rushed 21 times for a career-best 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns for Georgia Southern, while Ellison ran for 96 yards and threw for 85. BJ Johnson caught a career-high five passes for 76 yards, including a SportsCenter top-10 worthy 48-yard grab in the second quarter.
Matt Breida was outstanding, and the offensive line did a great job knocking people off the ball,” said Fritz. “I was very impressed with our toughness we displayed on defense and offense on the road against a very good opponent.”
Leading 21-6 late in the third quarter and South Alabama on the Georgia Southern 9-yard line, Dawson beat his man and sacked Bridge on 4th-and-goal to end the threat and give the ball back to the Eagles.
Ellison was picked off on Georgia Southern’s next possession, but the defense forced a 3-and-out. On 3rd-and-10, the Eagle defensive line broke through to hurry Bridge, who scrambled around and completed a pass, but the Jags were flagged for an illegal block, pushing the ball back to the USA 37-yard line and making it 3rd-and-25.
The Jags moved the ball inside Georgia Southern territory three times in the first half but came away with just six points. Daniels and Jamal Johnson made a big play on South Alabama’s second drive of the game when they sacked Bridge for a 12-yard-loss on 3rd-and-11 from the Eagle 29-yard line, forcing the Jags out of field-goal range.
The Eagles opened the scoring on the last play of the first quarter when Breida took the handoff, found daylight and out-raced the South Alabama secondary for a 64-yard touchdown. It was the sophomore’s third rushing TD over 60 yards this season.
Ellison hit Johnson down the left sideline for a 48-yard completion on the Eagles’ first drive of the second quarter as the ball went off the hands of the South Alabama defender and into the waiting arms of the junior receiver.
Breida rumbled and stumbled for 16 yards, back-pedaling down to the USA 3-yard line, and L.A. Ramsby punched it in from the 1-yard line two plays later, giving the Eagles a 14-0 cushion.
After both teams went 3-and-out, South Alabama (1-2, 0-1) found the end zone on 4th-and-5 from the Eagle 28-yard line. Georgia Southern brought the house on a blitz, leaving the corners on an island, and Bridge hit Shavarez Smith with a quick pass. The senior slipped a tackle and ran 28 yards for the touchdown. Aleem Sunanon missed the point after, making the margin 14-6 with 3:52 left in the half.
Breida scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run to give Georgia Southern a 21-6 advantage midway through the third quarter. Two big third-down conversions keyed the 76-yard drive as Ellison hit Johnson for an 18-yard completion on 3rd-and-10, and the sophomore picked up 37 yards with his feet on 3rd-and-6.
The Eagles’ first Sun Belt Conference home game Thursday is a BLUE OUT as all fans are encouraged to wear their True Blue – as Paulson Stadium and Eagle Nation will be showcased live nationally on ESPNU.
GAME NOTES: It was the first career interceptions for both Robert Brice and Edwin Jackson… It was the first time the Eagles and Jags met on the gridiron… Matt Breida had 103 yards after the 1st quarter… Breida’s 64-yard run to end the first period kept the Eagles from going scoreless in a quarter for the first time this year… The Eagles were penalty free until a holding call with 10:23 left in the game… It’s the second time this season Georgia Southern’s first penalty came in the second half (NC State)… It wound up being Georgia Southern’s lone penalty of the night, the fewest since Nov. 12, 2011, against Wofford when the Eagles had no penalties… Georgia Southern improved to 11-11 in league openers… Fritz improved to 16-6 in league openers… Georgia Southern opened league play on the road for the fourth straight season… South Alabama was picked third in the Sun Belt Preseason Poll, the highest of any team on the Eagles’ conference schedule this season.
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