Originally created 09/22/96

Top-ranked Herd handles Eagles



STATESBORO - Georgia Southern broke out a few of its old good-luck charms Saturday afternoon.

Fraternity members sprinkled Beautiful Eagle Creek water in the end zones and the alumni unveiled a sign that proclaimed Paulson Stadium as `Our House.'

But these Eagles of 1996 shouldn't be confused with those Eagles, who carved out their own tradition in the 1980s when none existed.

Southern abdicated its crown to Marshall as the best Division 1-AA football program a long time ago. And the top-ranked Thundering Herd proved who was king Saturday, defeating the Eagles, 29-13.

Marshall (3-0) scored on its opening three possessions of the first half and two of its first three in the second half to deflate the upset hopes of No. 13 Southern.

"Certainly from what we saw, Marshall stands very tall in Division I-AA," said GSU coach Frank Ellwood.

The Eagles saw a little too much of senior quarterback Eric Kresser, a transfer from Florida, who threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

And Southern doesn't want to see the Thundering Herd's top running back. Second-stringer Doug Chapman was effective enough, running for 130 yards and a touchdown while getting a start for tailback Erik Thomas, who was in the hospital with a viral infection.

"I think they outplayed us fundamentally," said Eagle quarterback Kenny Robinson. "We just didn't play to our potential."

The Eagles (1-2) closed to 17-13 after offensive tackle Grant Chesnut recovered teammate Roderick Russell's fumble in the end zone, but Southern never threatened again.

And the Eagles lost their last chance to beat the Herd in a Southern Conference game. Marshall, which won all four conference games against Southern since the Eagles joined the league in 1993, moves to the I-A Mid-American Conference next season.

"Everyone was talking about Georgia Southern being 77-7 (at home). Well, they're 77-8 now so it was a big win down here for us," said Herd coach Bob Pruett.

The former defensive coordinator for Florida had his squad playing aggressively against the Eagles. A reverse off the opening kickoff netted 48 yards and set up a field goal. A fake field goal in the third quarter set up a touchdown.

"You have to loosen people up and any time we see something on the film like that that we can do, we're going to do it," Pruett said.

Pruett knew about Florida's passing success against Georgia Southern secondary and turned another Gator on the Eagles. Kresser completed his first five passes and 15 of his first 19 as Marshall jumped to a 17-7 halftime advantage.

Kresser threw touchdown passes to Randy Moss of 42 and 4 yards and Tim Openlander kicked a 26-yard field goal on the Herd's first three possessions.

In Southern's last game, Danny Wuerffel of Florida completed 15 of 16 passes for 267 yards in just six possessions of the Gators' 62-14 rout.

Kresser wasn't quite as impressive, but kept Marshall moving. The Herd went 43 yards in 11 plays on the opening drive before settling on the Openlander field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Then Kresser completed throws of 9 and 11 yards to Tim Martin before finding Moss alone in a seam in GSU's zone defense for a 42-yard scoring strike and a 10-0 lead.

"Marshall came out throwing the ball," said GSU linebacker Edward Thomas. "We should have adjusted but we didn't. We weren't mentally tough enough."

Southern answered with Robinson and the flexbone attack. The Eagles chewed up 6:48, going 80 yards on 16 plays before Corey Joyner dived in from the 1 to cut the Herd advantage to 10-7.

Robinson kept the drive alive with a 9-yard toss to Maurice Bing on fourth down at the 24. Russell picked up two first downs on third-down runs.

The Eagles continued their momentum when Melvin Cunningham's fumble on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by freshman Cherard Freeman at the Marshall 35.

Southern moved to the 29 and Tobias Steverson's 7-yard gainer on third down off a Robinson option pitch appeared to pick up a first down, but an illegal procedure penalty negated the play.

Robinson's fourth-down pass fell incomplete, turning the ball over to the Herd.

Kresser went right back to work on the Eagles' secondary. He completed 6 of 7 passes to account for 52 of the 68 yards in a scoring drive that extended Marshall's lead to 17-7.

Southern came back on a 76-yard touchdown march on the opening drive of the second half.

But Moss ran the ensuing kickoff back to midfield and Kresser engineered a drive to the GSU 22. But on fourth down, Marshall faked the short field goal attempt and second-string quarterback Mark Zban ran 17 yards for a first down at the 3.

On the next play, Chapman scored and the Herd had some breathing room at 23-13.