Last updated on December 13, 2020 1:24 PM
STATESBORO, Georgia – Jalen Virgil extended his arms above his head to line up the kickoff from the line-drive. While his decision to take the ball out of the end zone was unexpected, the result did not surprise Virgil.
The latest App State-Georgia Southern rivalry game resulted in a timely âBreakawayâ return and a second quick-fire score.
Overcoming an early 14-point deficit, the Mountaineers dominated the second half on Saturday night and ended the Eagles’ home winning streak at Paulson Stadium with a 34-26 victory.
âI’m a former player here, I’m now the head coach of football and I know what this game means to me and this program,â said head coach Shawn Clark.
âI told the guys last Sunday that we’re going to be judged on how we finish this thing. We’re going to be judged whether we beat Georgia Southern or not. These guys came out and really stepped up and up to the challenge.
The Mountaineers (8-3, 6-2) still trailed 17-7 at the break, but outscored the Eagles by a 24-3 margin in the first 17-plus minutes of the second half . Immediately after Georgia Southern (7-5, 4-4) had a 47-yard field goal to break a 17-point tie in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Virgil gave App State their first lead of the night with a 100- return of the kick-off from the court.
Demetrius Taylor and Brendan Harrington combined for a save to force a three-and-out punt, leading to a 70-yard touchdown from Nate Noel in the first game of the next series, less than two minutes after Virgil scored. .
Virgil also hit a 16-yard touchdown on a night in which he totaled 171 general-purpose yards, as he followed blocks from Tommy Wright, Gabe Montgomery, Tyler Bird and Malik Williams on the third comeback. of 100 yards from the program. the story.
âIt was a play I expected from Coach (Brian) Haines, the special teams coordinator, to call,â said Virgil. âIt’s called ‘Breakaway’ and I pretended to be about to go hash, then I took it across the field. In my head, I was like, I was waiting for it to be called the whole game.
âIt was kind of a line-drive type kick, and I thought it was about to pass me, so I just needed to grab it and see what happened. I haven’t returned a kick in a minute so let me try it. When I grabbed it over my head it probably looked suspicious but I grabbed it saw an opening just took off and used my speed to get there .
The Eagles used a 78-yard touchdown pass to reduce their deficit to 31-26 with 5:23 left – the two-point pass was incomplete – but Virgil’s catch for a 33-yard gain and all five carries. Noel for 22 yards on the lead to set up Chandler Staton’s 37-yard field goal with 2:44 remaining.
Georgia Southern had one last chance to tie the game, advancing to her 44-yard line, but Nicholas Ross walked away with App State’s third interception of the night with an easy shot of a deep shot on App State. 19 with 1:42 remaining.
App State improved to 23-5 in Sun Belt road games and ended a 10-game winning streak at home for Georgia Southern, who was 6-0 at Paulson Stadium this season.
âI’m proud of this team and proud to be a part of it,â said senior center Noah Hannon. âI’m glad we came here and taken care of business. It didn’t look pretty all the time, but the fight continued. “
Harrington and Kaiden Smith also had assists for the Mountaineers, while Jordon Earle recovered a fumble following a critical Nick Hampton backpack in the third quarter. Smith made 12 tackles, and Trey Cobb added 11.
Noel ran for 103 yards on 13 carries, breaking free on his touchdown thanks to a perimeter block from Thomas Hennigan, and Zac Thomas’s second touchdown pass of the night went to Hennigan.
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, App State tied in the third quarter on Thomas’ 9-yard touchdown hit at Hennigan to open the half and Staton’s 33-yard basket that followed the sack. of Hampton, whose forced fumble was recovered by Earle at App State 43.
App State fell 14-0 on a 28-yard interception return and 14-yard touchdown from quarterback Justin Tomlin, who missed the second half with injury and was replaced by Miller Mosley . The Mountaineers started coming back into the game with a 17-game, 65-yard touchdown that took 7:27 on the second quarter clock, and Georgia Southern converted a 33-yard field goal late in the half. .
Virgil’s contested capture in the right-back corner of the end zone on a third and a first 16-point goal from App State with 1:55 remaining before half-time. Despite being in a second and 16 of his 29s, a second and 16 of the GS 47, a second and 20 of the GS 41 and a fourth and 1 of the GS 9 before the touchdown, App State had a conversion. of third and 8 to Hennigan, a third and 11 conversion to Hennigan and a 20 yard pass to Henry Pearson on the second and 20 play before Camerun Peoples converted the fourth downhill of the 9.
Despite the early struggles, the Mountaineers improved their all-time record to 20-15-1 against Georgia Southern, including 4-3 since both programs joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The Eagles won the last two. met.
âMe and my senior class, we’ve been saying all year – How do we want to end? How do we want to get out? Smith said. âIt’s different for us because we haven’t played without the goal of playing for a championship (Sun Belt), so I’m proud of these guys who are always motivated and always come out like that. Even though we were ashore, we managed to get out. “