STATESBORO, Ga. — A stiff wind blew Freedom, Georgia Southern’s live eagle mascot, away from Paulson Stadium for a few moments at the start of the game Saturday. The Eagles almost blew a 14-point lead and its top ranking as well.
No. 1 ranked Georgia Southern stopped a two-point conversion attempt in the final minutes and held on to a 28-27 victory over Chattanooga before 20,593 fans.
On a day when they were their most vulnerable, the Eagles showed a resiliency in the end. Linebacker Josh Rowe and defensive end John Douglas got pressure on elusive quarterback Terrell Robinson, whose desperation two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
“A win by one is just as good as 30,” Douglas said.
Georgia Southern led 21-7 at halftime before Robinson, who had only taken snaps at wide receiver this season, ran the Mocs back into the game after starting quarterback B.J. Coleman suffered a shoulder injury.
Robinson, a freshman, finished with three touchdowns on runs of 5, 11 and 5 yards.
Georgia Southern’s senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw came up with the equalizers. His 1-yard quarterback sneak with six minutes and 49 seconds left and Adrian Mora’s extra point kick made it 28-21, just enough to hold off any heroics from the Mocs (2-4, 0-3 Southern Conference) who have been snakebitten in their three league losses – falling by a combined total of four points.
“We had confidence in our defense to make a stop,” Shaw said. “A win is a win for us.”
Shaw finished with two rushing touchdowns, both on 1-yard sneaks, and a 20-yard scoring pass to J.J. Wilcox – a play that Wilcox broke four tackles en route to the end zone.
Georgia Southern (5-0, 4-0) avenged a loss to Chattanooga last season. Monken now has a victory against every Southern Conference team just five games into his second season.
For a half, the Eagles appeared ready to produce their biggest win of the season. The 23rd-ranked Mocs’ only losses in conference were 14-12 to Appalachian State when the Mountaineers did not score an offensive touchdown. Chattanooga relinquished a 27-point lead and lost to The Citadel 28-27 last week.
Southern scored on three straight second-quarter possessions with the wind. With Coleman out, the Mocs’ chances seemed slim.
But Robinson brought a running dimension Georgia Southern hadn’t expected.
He finished with 114 yards, 92 in the second half as Chattanooga scored on three of its four possessions.
“We knew it was going to be a test all week,” Eagles cornerback Laron Scott said. “We became a bend-but-don’t break defense. We couldn’t let them have that last one.”
The Eagles saw the 21-7 halftime lead whittled to 21-14 on the Mocs’ opening drive of the second half. The game was tied at 21-21 as Chattanooga completed a 16-play, 80-yard drive which took six minutes and five seconds.
It was the first time this season, Georgia Southern was tied in the fourth quarter.
But fullback Robert Brown made the key play to get the Eagles in scoring position. His 48-yard burst up the middle on a fullback dive set up Shaw’s game-winning run two plays later.
Brown had a 68-yard run earlier in the game to set up the Eagels’ first score.
Brown finished with 169 yards on 18 carries. The Eagles had won their first four games by an average of 28.5 points. None of the hosts was complaining Saturday.
“We’re all thrilled,” Eagles coach Jeff Monken said. “To get a win? That’s why they keep score.”
A blustery wind gusting to 21 mph had a stranglehold on the game and even the pregame pageantry of Freedom’s flight into the stadium went awry.
Instead of flying to Steve Hein’s out-stretched arm, Freedom took a left turn and headed to the stadium parking lot only to be retrieved about 15 minutes later.