The Georgia Southern Eagles learned a week ago the value of holding onto the football. They imparted their lesson to Western Carolina on Saturday.
The Eagles forced four turnovers and hammered the visiting Catamounts 50-21 at Paulson Stadium, a week after they turned the ball over four times and lost in overtime to Chattanooga.
Six different Eagles scored touchdowns and they turned fumbles on three consecutive Western Carolina plays into points in the second quarter.
“If you force a lot of turnovers,” Eagles coach Chris Hatcher said, “good things are going to happen.”
Said senior quarterback Jayson Foster: “This week, they turned over, and we didn’t. Last week, we left the defense out to dry a little bit.”
Foster had his streak of 200-yard rushing games snapped — he ran for 96 yards on 17 carries — but the diminutive speedster showed he’s a threat throwing the ball. Foster was a perfect 10-for-10 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown, a 29-yard strike to Mike McIntosh.
Foster has thrown for 449 yards and rushed for 790 more this season. He has scored 13 touchdowns, turning in another dazzling run for a 34-yard TD scamper Saturday, and has thrown two TD passes.
Freshman running back Chris Teal had his first collegiate touchdown and fellow freshman Billy Lowe also threw his first touchdown pass, a 2-yarder to Steve Cundari.
“It was just a great team effort from everybody,” Teal said. “We played harder. Coach Hatcher wanted us to go out there and play mistake-free football. I think we did it. We had to do everything in our power to win, because we shouldn’t have lost last week.”
The Eagles’ defense, which had only three sacks in the first three games, notched five against the Catamounts and limited Western Carolina to 27 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
“We did the same things we’ve done all year,” said linebacker E.J.Webb, who had one of the five sacks. “We just executed better and played with more effort. We came in with a chip on our shoulders. We came out fighting. As Coach Hatcher said, we came out like little dogs.”
Up 27-0, the Eagles also turned away a team in the red zone empty handed for the first time this season, as Chris Covington nearly cut Willie Harper in half at the GSU 1 on the last play of the first half.
The GSU offense also converted all four of the turnovers the defense forced into points, three touchdowns and a field goal. Southern ran 24 plays on three possessions that followed the second-quarter turnovers, running off 13:19 off the clock.
The Eagles also were 4-for-4 on fourth-down conversion tries and scored on all six possessions inside the Catamounts’ red zone. Southern didn’t need to call on punter Dan Jordan until the 2:29 mark of the third quarter and leading 30-0.
“The biggest thing was we were 4-for-4 on fourth downs, and those were some big fourth-down conversions,” Hatcher said “You go out there and score every drive, you’re going to be hard to beat.”
Eddie Cohen had a huge day for the Catamounts, with eight catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns against an Eagles secondary depleted by the loss of two players Friday — Henry Chubb sustained a career-ending injury and Brandon Echols was dismissed from the squad. Cohen did much of his damage against the reserves, what there are to speak of, in because the game was well out of hand.
Southern led as much as 50-7 against the Catamounts, with Raja Andrews’ 49-yard punt return for a touchdown capping the Eagles’ scoring.
“I was thinking get upfield,” he said. “Get in position to make a play, that’s all I’m thinking. As soon as I caught the ball, I took a glance. Coach told me if everything was executed right, it will be there. They blocked great, and my job was easy.”
The Eagles, 3-1 overall, are 1-1 in the Southern Conference. Only Wofford (2-0) is unbeaten in the league. The Eagles still have Wofford, Furman and two-time defending national champ Appalachian State ahead.
GSU has matched the win total of last year’s season, a 3-8 mark that was the worst since the school restarted the football program. Even with the comfortable win Saturday, Hatcher won’t proclaim the Eagles are back — they’re just on their way.
“Each week, you’ve got to go out and prove yourself,” he said. “We’d be kidding ourselves if we thought we where we needed to be as a program. We’re getting better each week. The guys are playing hard. As long as you’ve got a bunch of guys playing hard, good things are going to happen. If we keep improving, shoot, anything can happen.”
Andrews, a senior, likes the direction Hatcher has laid out for the Eagles, who have not advanced past the first round of playoffs since 2002.
“This is Georgia Southern football,” he said. “Coach Hatcher has tried to restore everything back to the norm. Everybody has to get used to Georgia Southern being on top again. That’s how it’s going to be. That’s where we’re headed.”
See video highlights of the Eagles' win over Western Carolina.