STATESBORO, Ga. (9/29/18) – Georgia Southern scored with 19 seconds to go in the game as the Eagles handed Arkansas State a 28-21 loss in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams Saturday night at Paulson Stadium.
The Eagles scored on a 47-yard reverse by Wesley Kennedy to go out in front with 19 seconds left in the game. The Red Wolves (3-2, 0-1) nearly pulled off a comeback when Kirk Merritt took the ensuing kickoff to the 32 yard line and then a pass from Justice Hansen to Justin McInnis got the ball to midfield.
On the final play of the night Hansen attempted to throw the ball into the end zone, but the pocket collapsed and Hansen was sacked for the sixth time on the night to end the game.
“Georgia Southern dialed up the right play call at the right time,” said A-State head coach Blake Anderson. “With our defense as hard as we pursue, you always know that is going to hit. Georgia Southern out-leveraged us and got into the end zone, but it shouldn’t have come down to that. We left them out there too much offensively and didn’t play well enough to win. We moved the ball up and down the field, but couldn’t get the ball into the end zone which is on me. We’ve got to do a better job offensively.”
Hansen finished the evening 38-for-50 for 376 yards and a score, while adding 40 yards and touchdown on the ground. With the touchdown pass, Hansen pulls even with Ryan Aplin’s school record with 67 career passing touchdowns. Kirk Merritt had career highs of 11 receptions and 92 receiving yards. Ronheen Bingham had 10 tackles, including three tackles for loss, to led the defense.
A-State trailed for much of the night, but tied the game when Hansen led the Red Wolves on a 16-play, 77 yard drive that he finished off with a four yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21-21 with just over five minutes remaining in the game. The 16-plays were the most plays on a scoring drive for A-State on the season.
The Red Wolves methodically marched their way down the field and converted two fourth downs to keep the drive alive, the second of which was a 10 yard run by Hansen. A-State finished the night 3-of-6 on fourth downs.
Blake Grupe was 2-for-2 on field goals on the night, including a 27-yard attempt with 7:02 to go in the third quarter to get A-State within 7-6. The kick was setup after a 35-yard punt return by Warren Wand to start the drive inside Georgia Southern territory.
Georgia Southern (3-1, 1-0) wasted little time with a response and went up 14-6 when Shai Werts scampered 35 yards to cap a six-play, 88 yard drive that consisted entirely of run plays.
The Red Wolves issued an answer of their own when Hansen connected with Kirk Merritt from 11 yards out and then found Omar Bayless on the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14 with 53 seconds to in the third quarter. Prior to the touchdown, the Red Wolves converted and fourth-and-2 play when Hansen found Jonathon Adams for a career-long 36-yard reception.
The Eagles again had an answer, and scored on their next possession and marched 70 yards in just three plays, including a six yard touchdown by Monteo Garrett to go up 21-14 early in the fourth quarter.
A-State scored its only points of the first half when Blake Grupe connected on a 45-yard field goal with 11:19 to go in the half. The kick was setup by an 11-play, 43-yard drive that featured a 10 yard run from Armond Weh-Weh and a 12-yard run from Hansen.
A-State faced a fourth-and-four on the drive, but a false start penalty backed them up five yards and Grupe split the up rights to give the Red Wolves their first lead of the game. Georgia Southern later in the quarter with a five-play, 82-yard drive that was capped with a 61 yard pass from Werts to Wesley Fields to go up 7-3.
The Red Wolves return home to face Appalachian State on Oct. 9 at Centennial Bank Stadium in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN2. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased through the A-State Ticket Office, located at the First National Bank Arena lower red entrance, in person, by phone at 870-972-2781 or online by visiting AStateRedWolves.com/Tickets.