Georgia Southern hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass this season through its first five games and another 60-plus minutes of football on Saturday through a steady driving rain from tropical system Nestor at Allen E. Paulson Stadium.
Its first two of the season on successive plays in overtime helped send Coastal Carolina to its third consecutive loss and seventh straight defeat in Sun Belt Conference play.
Georgia Southern scored touchdowns on its three overtime possessions to defeat CCU 30-27 in triple OT. A 3-yard Wesley Kennedy III touchdown run was the deciding blow for the Eagles (3-3, 2-1) to drop the Chants (3-4) to 0-3 this season in the conference.
“It’s unbelievable the effort and fighting and scratching, we’re just not making enough winning plays consistently right now, and that’s going to happen,” CCU head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We’re in a valley right now and we’ve got to dig ourselves out of it. It looks dark, you can’t see some of the progress or the sunlight. But the sun is going to come up and it’s going to happen, we’re going to get there. We just have to continue to fight to do the things necessary to win some games.”
In the first overtime, CCU quarterback Bryce Carpenter scored on a 1-yard run on fourth down to put CCU ahead 17-10, and Georgia Southern faced a fourth-and-5 on its ensuing possession.
GSU quarterback Shai Werts hit Mark Michaud for a 20-yard TD pass against one-on-one coverage from redshirt freshman Jordan Morris to the right side of the end zone to force a second OT. The play was initially ruled incomplete but was correctly changed to a catch after an officials’ consultation.
“You think you have a chance to win a game. . . . You go from jubilation to agony,” Chadwell said.
Werts again hit Michaud for a 25-yard TD pass to the left side against Morris on the very next play to give the Eagles a 24-17 lead. Morris was playing in place of senior Chandler Kryst, who left with an injury in the first quarter.
“We had them in a great spot, fourth-and-5 to win the game,” Chadwell said. “We put them in a situation where they had to throw and they made a play. It’s unfortunate. I thought our defense played well and kept us in the game. They made one more [play] than we did. They made a couple big ones there.”
Coastal tied the game at 24 on a 10-yard C.J. Marable touchdown run following a 4-yard Carpenter pass to Ky’Jon Tyler to convert a fourth-and-3 at the GSU 18.
The Chants settled for a 25-yard Massimo Biscardi field goal to start the third OT, however, while facing fourth-and-4 at the 8 – “We thought about going for it,” Chadwell said – and Kennedy scored the winning TD after a J.D. King 15-yard run on third-and-2 at the 17.
“It’s always frustrating to lose, but to lose in this fashion . . . ,” senior nose tackle Sterling Johnson said. “It was within our hands plenty of times. But that’s why you play through the whistle and that’s why you play until the last whistle’s blown, because nothing is guaranteed. We felt at points like this is our game. But at the same time everybody on the field has to do their job in order to fulfill that.”
GSU had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation after beginning its final possession at its 49 with 2:33 remaining.
Cornerbacks Mallory Claybourne and Morris made consecutive tackles for a loss of yards to force a third-and-18 from the GSU 41 and safety Alex Spillum was whistled for interference as he tripped a receiver while trying to undercut a throw over the middle, leading to a 53-yard Tyler Bass field goal attempt that missed to the left.
CCU quarterback Fred Payton, who started the first six games of the season, was held out of the game with an apparent shoulder injury so fellow sophomore Carpenter got the start and played every offensive snap.
Carpenter was 11 of 14 for 96 yards and a touchdown and gained 61 yards on 23 carries, all of which were team highs.
“I try to go out there and compete every single play and do my job for the team,” Carpenter said. “You try to do everything you can to compete and win so I think any loss is going to be frustrating. Some of them are close and you feel you can go back and make a play in a key situation. . . . We just have to make a couple more plays and we’ll be there.”
In regulation, Georgia Southern outgained CCU 293-161, including 277-69 on the ground, held the ball more than 10 minutes longer than the Chants at 35:12 and ran 21 more plays with 65. But the teams were tied at 10.
Carpenter was under pressure on most dropbacks and there were few run lanes on handoffs. The CCU offensive line also took a number of penalties that presented the Chants with long conversion attempts.
“Any time you lose you get frustrated, disappointed because you put a lot into it,” Chadwell said. “But I’m trying to keep a perspective of who we are, what we have, what we have to get to [in order] to win games in this league. The effort our guys are playing with is outstanding. We’re getting better at playing with details, but our margin for error currently is very, very small.
“So when we don’t do those things necessary it’s hard to win games and I think we’re showing that. We’ve played good for stretches but we’ve not really played good on all three phases at a time.”
Kennedy had 129 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and Werts was held to 48 yards on 13 carries and completed 4 of 8 passes for 61 yards and the two OT scores. He was held to two completions on five attempts for 16 yards in regulation.
Georgia Southern opened the scoring by driving 65 yards in 14 plays from its 7-yard line for a 45-yard Bass field goal, converting a fourth-and-1 just past midfield along the way.
Coastal took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter on a Carpenter 35-yard TD pass to tight end Isaiah Likely following a fake handoff to Marable up the middle on a play-action pass. It was just the second pass thrown by Carpenter in the game.
A Kindle Vildor interception on the first play of the four-play, 75-yard scoring drive was negated by a holding call on Vildor, and the Chants benefited from a 15-yard targeting penalty on safety Kenderick Duncan on an 8-yard Carpenter run that resulted in Duncan’s ejection.
The Eagles ran their pistol triple-option offense to perfection to take a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter, driving 75 yards in 13 plays and taking 7:50 off the clock en route to a Kennedy 4-yard run.
Georgia Southern’s two scoring drives in the first half were a combined 27 plays and 140 yards and took more than a full quarter of game time, totaling 15:25 to help the Eagles possess the ball for 18:26 of the first 30 minutes.
Johnson’s block of a 48-yard Bass field goal attempt thwarted another Eagles scoring opportunity late in the first half and gave CCU possession at the GSU 41, but Carpenter fumbled on a drop back with 9 seconds left in the half.
The teams exchanged four punts to start the second half, as neither could mount a drive until the Eagles drove 61 yards in eight plays before a fumbled exchange was recovered by Chants linebacker Teddy Gallagher at the CCU 28.
Biscardi tied the game at 10 with a 45-yard field goal with 7:33 to play. The Chants converted a fourth-and-1 at their 38 on the drive on a Jacqez Hairston run, and the drive continued with a 15-yard penalty against GSU when a player illegally leaped over the center on a punt attempt at midfield.
Coastal forced a punt and took possession at its 10 with 4:15 remaining, but Carpenter was sacked on second down and lost yardage on a third-down run, giving the Eagles a shot to win in regulation.
“[The losing streak] is starting to build up,” Johnson said, “but that doesn’t take away from what our main goal is to keep working and keep trying to be our best versions of ourselves.”