ORLANDO, Fl. (WTOC) -Football season came to an end on Saturday for the Georgia Southern Eagles as they faced the Liberty University Flames.
The Eagles fell to the Flames 23-16 at the annual Cure Bowl in Exploria Stadium.
After a season that saw Georgia Southern roar back over the final eight games to be eligible for a bowl game, 2019 came to an end in disappointment as the Eagle offense was stymied.
“Got beat. Got beat," said Chad Lunsford. "They wanted it more than us and they got it. so hats off to them. Hats off to Coach Freeze. They were very well prepared and they beat us.”
The Eagles managed only 194 rushing yards against a team that struggled to stop the run all season and were held to under 300 yards and just 14 first downs on the night.
“With a bowl game, you have some extra time to watch some tape," said Shai Werts. "I think they used that time pretty good. They shut us down.”
“I’m not upset at our offense. I do think we could’ve played a lot better. I think we could have executed a lot better. But again, I gotta give Liberty a lot of credit.”
The Eagle defense stood strong in the second half, shutting out a fast-paced Flame attack for the final 27 minutes, and giving the offense chances to rally back.
But three Southern red zone drives all ended in field goals and the Eagle rally came up seven points short.
“Difference in the game," said Lunsford. "I love Tyler Bass, great player, but we gotta be able to score more points than field goals. So, in this offseason, we’ve got to figure out how to be better in the red zone.”
That was the common thread from the Eagles after the game: improvement this offseason. Lunsford says six losses is simply too many for this program to have,
“We have to take a look in the mirror, players, coaches, staff and figure out what we can do better to put ourselves in position to win more football games.”
Despite the loss and a finish folks in Statesboro will admit was below expectations, there is reason for optimism ahead.
The Eagles return the three-headed rushing attack of Werts, Wesley Kennedy, and J-D King, as well as several key players on the defensive side of the ball.
Southern kicks off the 2020 season in just 259 days in Idaho against the Boise State Broncos.
Thousands of Georgia Southern football fans packed the stadium to see their team play.
Fans were ready as they waited for the team to arrive.
“We’re a close-knit family,” said Paul Coley, an Eagles fan. “The Georgia Southern Nation, Eagle Nation...we’re one tight group.”
They rolled up on yellow buses just like the ones they had when they started football in the early 80′s. School leaders then say they couldn’t imagine being at this level now.
“We had no idea,” said Bucky Wagner, Georgia Southern’s former athletic director. “But we have great fans, great enthusiasm. A lot of people did a lot of work to get us here.”
Fans packed their side of the stadium and stayed loud, even when the team fell behind. After a tough season, the experience of a bowl week helped soften the loss.
“It’s an awesome experience, to be able to be here in Orlando and see my son play one more game,” said James Glenn.