MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - In its five-year history, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl had never been decided by more than five points. Saturday’s game between Georgia Southern and Eastern Michigan kept that streak alive.
Georgia Southern (10-3) defeated Eastern Michigan (7-6) 23-21 on a game-winning field goal.
Eastern Michigan kicked things away to Georgia Southern and with the opening kick, the Eagles from Ypsilanti forced the Eagles from Statesboro into a three-and-out.
Mike Glass III got the start for Eastern Michigan after missing a part of the season with knee and ankle injuries.
Even with Glass back behind the center, Eastern Michigan wasn’t able to pick up enough yardage to avoid a three-and-out itself.
Where blocking and assignments are key in the triple-option game that Georgia Southern runs, the Eagles do it well. Key blocks on the edge on their second possession propelled the Eagles into Eastern Michigan territory.
A Shai Werts pass to Malik Murray on 3rd and 12 kept the drive alive for Georgia Southern and set them up for a Werts 26-yard touchdown run.
The run was set up after Werts shot through the middle after pulling the ball on a triple-option read. He made one cut back into open field, super-spun from one would-be tackler before he pinballed his way into the end zone for his 14th rushing touchdown of the season.
Georgia Southern had taken a 7-0 lead with 1:53 left in the game’s opening quarter.
A pair of Willie Parker runs pushed Eastern Michigan to midfield before the opening quarter of the 2018 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl came to an end. In the second frame, Eastern Michigan would be held there at midfield and forced to punt it away back to Georgia Southern.
After going 95 yards on their scoring drive, Georgia Southern followed it up with a punt.
But the punt didn’t actually happen. Eastern Michigan was able to block the punt attempt after Georgia Southern punter Magill Bauerle bobbled the snap.
Eastern Michigan took over at midfield and in 6 plays (3 pass, 3 run) put six points on the board. Glass, who rifled two strong passes on that drive, squeezed his touchdown throw in to sophomore fullback Tyler Kyle on the goal line.
With that, the score was knotted at 7-all with 7:53 to play in the first half.
Georgia Southern’s next score was set up by the speed option brought to you by Werts and Wesley Kennedy III. A 46-yard gain on the option play put the Eagles inside the 10. From there, Werts finessed his way into the end zone on the option right play. Werts entered untouched for his second score of the game and half.
That score made it 14-7 with 3:48 left to play in the first half.
In the rain at historic Cramton Bowl, Eastern Michigan looked to answer.
Georgia Southern said, “Not a chance," and forced an Eastern Michigan punt.
Tyler Bass booted a 50-yard field goal as time expired to send Georgia Southern into the break with a 17-7 lead.
At the break, Georgia Southern had outgained Eastern Michigan 230-93. 214 of Georgia Southern’s 230 total yards were rushing.
Kennedy led the Eagles of Georgia Southern with 87 yards rushing and Werts had 51 to go along with his two scores.
Fireworks opened the second half. Eastern Michigan was back in it on one play. It was Glass to Arthur Jackson III, who was able to escape by one defender and race 75 yards to the house, and all of a sudden it was a 17-14 game with only 13 seconds having come off the third quarter clock.
After a pair of empty drives from both teams following that Eastern Michigan score, the game entered its final quarter of play.
Eastern Michigan had the ball to open the fourth quarter and were stopped on fourth down to turn it over to Georgia Southern close to midfield. Glass’s pass missed its intended receiver and Georgia Southern came up with a big stop.
The early minutes of the fourth quarter were strange. Not only did Eastern Michigan turn the ball over on downs, but Georgia Southern then almost re-gifted the ball back.
Backup quarterback LaBaron Anthony had to come in for Werts after his helmet came off during the course of the Eagles' first down play. A false start followed immediately afterwards, and then it nearly almost happened. Anthony fumbled the shotgun snap and the ball somehow, as if it had a mind of its own, ended up near the first down line-to-gain with Georgia Southern having recovered the ball. Several defensive and offensive players attempted to jump on the ball but were unsuccessful until, finally, Murray was able to for the Eagle offense.
After all of that, Bass was able to increase Georgia Southern’s lead to 20-14 with 9:49 to play.
Eastern Michigan, needing to put together a drive, would do just that. Glass smoothly engineered a drive in which Chris Creighton’s Eagles effectively moved the ball down field while also eating up some time on the clock.
Eastern Michigan needed a touchdown to tie, and the extra point to take the lead. A field goal also wouldn’t hurt as it would put the Eagles just a field goal back of Georgia Southern.
The go-to play on the drive consisted of a bubble screen pass from Glass to Blake Banham. Banham moved the chains four times on the drive, none bigger than his third-and-long conversion with Eastern just outside the Georgia Southern 20. His big pickup would place the Eastern Michigan offense just outside goal-to-go distance.
Approaching three minutes to play, back Ian Eriksen powered towards the first down mark but was stopped short. Eastern Michigan would use its first timeout of the half to think over a crucial decision.
They opted to go for it on 4th and 4. What followed was a Glass touchdown pass to Jackson that tied the game. Glass perfectly laid the ball perfectly over the defense and a leaping Jackson came down with one foot in at the back of the end zone.
The extra point gave Eastern Michigan its first lead of the game at 21-20 with 3:33 left to play.
Georgia Southern, a run-heavy team, now needed to turn to the passing game to get them into at least field goal range, or so you’d think.
Werts entered into the game with zero interceptions on the season. He was looking to go to work when his team needed him the most.
He only completed one pass on the drive.
Anthony fumbled a shotgun snap earlier in the quarter, and Werts did the same as the game approached two minutes to play. He was luckily able to recover, but it put Georgia Southern in a 3rd and 10 situation and the Eagles were forced to call timeout.
On third down, Werts' pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete. Now Georgia Southern had to go for it. On fourth down Werts, with the game on the line, escaped the pocket, and was able to scramble for 29 yards and the first down.
Werts' gain not only put Georgia Southern in field goal range, but allowed the Eagle offense to run the clock down to three seconds and set up the game-winning attempt.
Bass, with ice in his veins, nailed his third kick of the game, this one from 40-yards out to clinch Georgia Southern’s first 10-win season in their FBS history.
Georgia Southern pulled out the 23-21 win in the 2018 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
The win was also Georgia Southern’s second bowl win in its FBS history in as many tries. Eastern Michigan still has not won a bowl game since 1987.