JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 1, 2003) - Georgia Southern scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter then withstood a furious rally late in the game by East Tennessee State, holding on to defeat the Bucs 34-22 Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference football action from Memorial Center in Johnson City, Tenn.
The Georgia Southern (5-4, 3-3 Southern Conference) defense was dominant, forcing turnovers on each of ETSU's (3-6, 0-5 SoCon) first two possessions that led to a 10-0 Eagle lead midway through the first quarter. On the opening drive of the game, GSU linebacker David Willingham intercepted ETSU starting quarterback Scott Butler (Kingsport, Tenn.) leading to a field goal, while cornerback Terence McBride picked off a Butler pass deep in Eagle territory and returned it 91 yards for a touchdown.
"When you are playing a team like Georgia Southern, they are a hard enough team to defend without giving them touchdowns," said ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton following the game.
The Bucs got back in the game on their next possession, as they cut the GSU lead to 10-7 after a six-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Gaven Varner (Summerville, S.C.). The scoring drive was led by redshirt freshman quarterback Michael George (Alcoa, Tenn.) who sparked the ETSU offense as he saw the first game action of his collegiate career.
The Buccaneer defense held Georgia Southern on their next possession, forcing a punt. Junior safety Gerald Sensabaugh (Kingsport, Tenn.) blocked the punt, giving the Bucs the ball on the 35-yard line of the Eagles. It was the first of three blocked punts of the game for Sensabaugh, tying a NCAA Division I-AA record set by Ben Duhon of McNeese State in 1998 and by Brandon Tinson of Colgate during the 2000 season.
The Bucs capitalized on the favorable field position, as junior kicker Jonathan Godfrey (Johnson City, Tenn.) nailed a 47-yard field goal to tie the score, 10-10, with 12:36 remaining in the first half.
The score did not stay tied for long, as Eagle star fullback Jermaine Austin dashed for a 78-yard touchdown on the second play of the next drive to give GSU a 17-10 advantage.
Georgia Southern nearly scored again near the end of the first half, but senior safety Montreal Harkley (Hanahan, S.C.) drilled Eagle wide receiver Teddy Craft after a reception at the Buccaneer 12, forcing a fumble that was recovered by senior linebacker Matt Palmer (Summerton, S.C.) and returned 29 yards.
Georgia Southern began the second half just like they did the first, running the football and capitalizing on a Buccaneer turnover to score 10 quick points.
Austin scored his second touchdown of the afternoon with 8:42 remaining in the third quarter on a drive that consisted of 13 plays, 12 of those running plays.
On the following Buccaneer drive, Eagle linebacker Jason Earwood recovered a fumble by George, giving GSU possession on the ETSU 16. The Buccaneer defense did a good job on the ensuing drive, holding Georgia Southern to a 26-yard field goal by Sean Holland, running the score to 27-10 in favor of the Eagles.
The Eagles ran their lead to 34-10 on an 11-play drive that chewed up five minutes on the clock. The drive culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Chaz Williams.
ETSU cut the lead to 34-16 on Sensabaugh's second blocked punt of the evening, as it was scooped up by sophomore wideout James Rainer (Alcoa, Tenn.) and taken 14 yards into the endzone. The two-point conversion failed.
After Sensabaugh's third blocked punt gave the Bucs possession at the GSU 44, George hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Frank Green (Moncks Corner, S.C.) on a 36-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-10. The two-point conversion failed, making the final score 34-22.
In the battle between the SoCon's two leading rushers, ETSU's Varner ran for 150 yards on 29 carries while GSU's Austin had 128 yards on just 14 carries. Williams also ran for 86 yards on 19 carries for the Eagles.
George was just 4-of-13 passing for 51 yards for ETSU, but he also did damage with his legs, running for 42 yards on seven carries. Williams was 2-of-3 in the air for Georgia Southern, for 21 yards.
Green and senior fullback Nick Spearman (Summerville, S.C.) each caught two passes for the bucs, while Teddy Craft and Kevin Davis hauled in one pass each for the Eagles.
ETSU senior linebacker Tate Pittman (Mechanicsville, Va.) and junior ‘backer Scott Brumett (Pioneer, Tenn.) each had a game-high 13 tackles. Redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Cullen (Roswell, Ga.) and senior defensive tackle Brandon Calton (Pennington Gap, Va.) also each had double-digit tackles, with 12 and 10, respectively.
Linebacker John Mohring led the Eagles this afternoon with eight tackles while James Young, Victor Cabral and Eric Hadley each had six. McBride had a strong game, intercepting two passes and breaking up two others.
East Tennessee State goes on the road next Saturday, as the Bucs will take on No. 5 Wofford at 1:30 from Spartanburg, S.C.