STATESBORO — The choruses of “Whose house? Our house!” echoed underneath the Bishop Field House, just as they had for years in the old Lupton Building. Only this time, the voices belonged to the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs, celebrating their first victory at Paulson Stadium.
The Mocs, who pulled out a 27-26 last-second win over the Georgia Southern Eagles in Chattanooga a year ago, felled the Eagles in overtime Saturday night 45-38, ending a 10-game winless streak in Statesboro dating back to 1984.
“I guess they’re excited because they got lucky and won,” groused safety Chris Covington. “Not taking anything away from them — they’re a good team — but we’re better. Any other day, we’d beat them. They didn’t beat us. They’re not a better team than us.”
Said quarterback Jayson Foster: “It’s a real frustrating loss.”
It also left the Eagles searching for a way to put an end to the suspense before the final act.
“I thought at times we had a chance to put the game away,” Eagles coach Chris Hatcher said. “When we have someone on the ropes, we have to put them away. You let teams hang around, usually what happened happens. We’ve got to learn to have some killer instinct about us.”
In winning their season opener, the Eagles shrugged off a halftime deficit to lowly Division II West Georgia. In going to 2-0, they held off Coastal Carolina, which graduated a multitude of seniors from last year’s playoff team.
But in the second consecutive setback to the Mocs, the Eagles found a worthy opponent — themselves. Georgia Southern turned the ball over four times, one a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, another fumble that led to the Mocs’ final regulation score and another an interception that led to a scoring drive. Plus, the Eagles committed eight penalties. One negated a dazzling Jayson Foster punt return for a TD and another nullified Carson Hill’s interception in the end zone. UTC notched its first touchdown two plays later.
“We played good at times and at times we didn’t execute very well,” Eagles coach Chris Hatcher said. “We got to quit making those mistakes and play four full quarters of football.”
Foster’s third touchdown of the game, a 14-yard run set up by Raja Andrews’ 42-yard punt return, put Georgia Southern up 28-17 early in the third quarter. All seemed to be right again for the Eagles.
But the Mocs drove 80 yards to cut the lead to 28-24 before the turnovers began to take a serious toll. The Eagles had marched to the UTC 37 before Joseph Thornton punched the ball free from Foster’s grasp. Jeff Phillips raced 63 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
The Mocs went ahead 38-31 late in the fourth quarter after Andrews bobbled a punt at the GSU 19. It was the third turnover for the Eagles on their side of midfield.
“We kinda left them out to dry,” Foster said of the turnovers’ effect on the GSU defense. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get it corrected.”
Former South Effingham kicker Pat Bolen did not play in Saturday’s loss — Jesse Hartley continues to handle the Eagles’ place-kicking duties. Former Effingham star Lynon Jefferson was in on several second-half plays but did not catch a pass.
See video highlights of the Eagles-Mocs game at: