As then New York Jets coach and current Kansas City Chiefs coach Herman Edwards once forcefully and astutely observed, “You play to win the game.”
Those sentiments were echoed, if not much more softly, in the wake of Georgia Southern’s 38-37 overtime loss to Wofford.
“We play to win,” said senior wide receiver Tim Camp.
Said defensive end Dakota Walker: “We went for the win. We came up short. We play the game to win. When you have a chance to win the game, you do it.”
Coach Chris Hatcher’s decision to pass up a potential game-tying extra point and instead try a potential game-winning two-point conversion in the first overtime — teams aren’t mandated to try for two after every TD until the third OT — left many Eagles fans perplexed. But not his players.
“I love the call,” said senior safety Chris Covington. “And the team completely agrees. Coach Hatcher is going for the win, and I’m on board with that.”
To keep any dim playoff hopes alive, the Eagles (2-3, 0-2 Southern Conference) need to beat the Chattanooga Mocs on Saturday. The Mocs have beaten the Eagles in back-to-back seasons by a total of eight points, winning on a last-second field goal in 2006 and prevailing in overtime last season for their first win at Paulson Stadium.
“All our goals are still there,” Hatcher said. “We’ve made it a lot tougher on us. We knew this year would be a tough year for us. We knew if we got some breaks, good things would happen to us. But we’ve got some areas for concern and we’ve got to get better in those areas if we’re going to be a good football team.”
The Mocs (1-4, 0-1) are last in the league in scoring offense and scoring defense and are last or next to last in nearly every major category. Their lone win came against Cumberland, 46-7, and they lost by a combined margin of 103-9 to Oklahoma and Florida State.
But the Eagles, having gone to a new defensive alignment this year, are surrendering yards and points at a breakneck pace. Georgia Southern is 103rd out of 118 Football Championship Subdivision teams in pass defense. Wofford — with the nation’s 110th-rated passing offense — had its two quarterbacks combine to go 12-for-17 passing with 201 yards. On their first possession of overtime last Saturday, they eschewed a 40-yard field goal try to go for it on fourth-and-8 at the GSU 23. The result of the huge gamble was a 22-yard Ben Widmyer completion to Andy Strickland.
The Eagles’ pass rush has been missing in action the last three weeks — they have just one sack in that span and none in the last two weeks.
Opponents are averaging more than 100 yards per game more than the Eagles, and they also own, on the average, a 9-minute edge in time of possession. Quarterback Antonio Henton is the Eagles’ leading rusher — quarterback Jayson Foster led them and the nation last year — but the Eagles running backs are averaging less than 4 yards per carry.
But the Eagles, who split a four-game homestand, also have allowed only 23 points after halftime in the last four games.
“We’re two fourth-down stops from being 4-1,” Hatcher said, noting Elon’s conversion on its game-winning drive and Wofford’s overtime gamble. “If we do what we’re supposed to do in the first and second and third quarters, we don’t put ourselves in those positions, and those are the things that are most frustrating right now as the coach.”
Henton and Lee Chapple rotated more at quarterback, and especially in the last drive in regulation, than they had in the last two games. Chapple played only one series against Northeastern and Henton took all the snaps against Elon.
Henton led the Eagles in rushing last week against Wofford with 61 yards, and Chapple was 15-of-22 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns, though he was sacked five times.