From middle of the pack a year ago, the Eagles changed coaches, players and attitude. And when quarterback Jaybo Shaw was pushed to the ground, after a flagrant foul by a dejected Elon player, Shaw bounced up waving his hands to a raucous Paulson Stadium crowd.
A 38-21 victory over No. 11 Elon on Saturday night erased any doubt that resilient Georgia Southern is ready to challenge the contenders in the Southern Conference.
"They were a little frustrated and that's what will happen when someone explodes on you like we did," Shaw said.
No. 24 Georgia Southern (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) knocked off a top-25 team at home for the first time since beating No. 25 The Citadel 21-17 in 2007.
The win for first-year coach Jeff Monken was also the first time a rookie Eagle coach won his first Southern Conference game since Paul Johnson led Georgia Southern to a 22-7 victory over Wofford in 1997.
A crowd of 18,302 watched the Eagles roll up 508 offensive yards. They had 153 in a 28-14 loss to Elon last season.
But that was with a different coach, in a different scheme with a different attitude. This time Georgia Southern was armed with the triple option, although it was down to a fourth-string fullback.
No problem. The Eagles outgained Elon 379-9 on the ground and had an 18-minute advantage in time of possession.
Senior fullback Lee Banks, a former Augusta Christian standout who began the day No. 4 on the depth chart, ran for 121 yards on 25 carries. True freshman slotback Darries Robinson had 92 yards on 13 carries.
"The guys played with a lot of energy and passion," Monken said.
A 21-point Georgia Southern surge in a 5:07 period of the third and fourth quarters broke a 14-14 deadlock.
Shaw scored twice in the first half, Darreion Robinson and Tobi Akinniranye scored to build the lead to 28-14 before cornerback Laron Scott returned an interception 36 yards for the backbreaker.
Elon quarterback Scott Riddle threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns.
"I thought our kids gave a really, really great effort; we just couldn't stop them," Elon coach Pete Lembo said.
Elon (1-3, 0-1) was ranked seventh to start the season. The Phoenix were picked to finish second in the league behind Appalachian State in preseason rankings by conference coaches and media.
Georgia Southern was picked seventh.
Didn't matter Saturday.
"We're Georgia Southern, that's how we prepared," Scott said.
Georgia Southern didn't exactly figure out Riddle, but Elon couldn't solve the Eagles' triple option either.
The Phoenix scored first on a Riddle to Jeremy Peterson shovel pass that covered 15 yards up the middle.
Shaw and the Eagles retaliated with two of their longest drives of the season. Shaw capped a 15-play, 86-yard drive that took 7:51 with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
A 2-yard touchdown run by Shaw on the next possession capped a 12-play, 80-yard march.
Reach Donald Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.