STATESBORO, Ga. (WTOC) - The Georgia Southern Eagles had plenty of motivation to beat Georgia State Saturday night in Statesboro.
Rivalry bragging rights. An 0-2 record against the Panthers in Statesboro. Bowl consequences. Pregame smack talk.
All of those reasons made Saturday’s 38-10 blowout victory even sweeter for the Eagles, the program’s first home victory over their in-state rival.
“Coming into this game, we were prepared for a dog fight, however it was going to go,” QB Shai Werts said. "Whether it was a win like it was or whatever, we were ready for it. We brought it, and the scoreboard reflected that.”
The Panthers took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, but it was all Eagles from there.
Southern rallied off 31 unanswered points for a 31-7 lead in the third quarter, and the game was well in hand before Mo Bamba blared on the Paulson Stadium speakers.
“We never took our foot off the gas,” said defensive lineman Ty Phillips. "Once we got the momentum, we just kept riding it and riding it and riding it until we busted out with a win.”
Running back J.D. King led the Eagle offense in his first experience in the Southern-State rivalry, rushing for 107 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Wesley Kennedy III and Werts added touchdowns on the ground, as Southern ran for 279 yards.
The Eagle defense gave the Panthers fits all night. Southern sacked State QB Dan Ellington five times and held Sun Belt leading rusher Tra Barnett to 53 yards and a touchdown.
SENIORS GO OUT WITH A WIN
The Eagles’ 17 seniors were honored before the game on Senior Day, and they closed out their Paulson Stadium careers with the program’s first home victory over Georgia State.
After the game, head coach Chad Lunsford praised the group’s leadership through a trying 2019 season.
“That takes a lot/ Our seniors have done a great job leading our football team, so that that happens,” Lunsford said. “They’re not quitters. They play. They play their butts off. I can’t say enough about them, and I can’t say enough about them showing up tonight and getting the job done.”
PREGAME SKIRMISH BOOSTS EAGLES
Like most rivalry games, there was plenty of chippiness and trash talk throughout the game. It all started well before kickoff.
During pregame warmups, the teams came together at midfield as words and some shoves were exchanged.
The Eagles say the pregame festivities gave them even more motivation in a game full of it.
“We came off the Eagle Walk, and they were waiting for us talking trash. So we were ready to go,” says defensive back Donald Rutledge, Jr. “We were just ready to pad it up. We weren’t doing much talking. We were just ready to play ball. I guess they’re just all about talk.”
“I guess it played in our favor. We won the game," Werts said with a smile. “It is what it is. We backed up the talk. It wasn’t just lip service.”
UP NEXT: BOWL GAME
Southern closes out the regular season with a 7-5 record and a boost to their bowl resume. The Eagles will find out their destination next week.