Georgia Southern gives valiant effort, falls short

If Favian Upshaw had tossed the ball a few inches to his right or Edwin Jackson had grabbed a piece of quarterback Justin Thomas’ jersey, then maybe Georgia Southern goes on to win.

That’s how close the Eagles came to earning an upset victory at Georgia Tech on Saturday. Instead, they left Bobby Dodd Stadium with 42-38 defeat after rallying from 25 points down to lead in the fourth quarter.

Georgia Southern is playing its first season of football in FBS, the NCAA’s highest level. The Eagles still have several players on the roster who were recruited to play at the lower FCS level.

“I told the guys last night, we’ve got no one on our team that was offered (a scholarship) by Georgia Tech. Not one guy,” Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said. “I told them after the ballgame, (Yellow Jackets coaches) are going to look back and say, ‘We should have offered about 50 of those guys.’”

The Eagles were 17-point underdogs, and it looked like that kind of mismatch when the Jackets led 35-10 at halftime. But Southern scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the second half to lead 38-35 with 10:46 to play.

The Eagles faltered when a lost fumble scuttled another promising drive and Tech drove 72 yards for the winning touchdown.

“We fought back to the best of our ability,” Eagles running back Matt Breida said. “If it weren’t for those few mistakes that cost us, we could have come out with a win.”

The fumble was the most critical error for the Eagles.

The Eagles gained a first down at the Tech 24-yard line with less than five minutes to go when quarterback Favian Upshaw’s option pitch fell to the ground. The Jackets recovered the ball, but officials ruled it was an incomplete forward pass.

After a replay review, officials said Upshaw’s pitch was a lateral. Fritz said an official blew the whistle as soon as the ball fell to the ground, and so the play should have been dead before Tech recovered it.

“They’ve got all the replay technology,” Fritz said. “Hopefully they got it right.”

Tech responded with its only good drive of the second half. The Jackets got the winning score when Thomas spun away from the blitzing Jackson on third down and passed to Deon Hill for a 13-yard touchdown.

It’s the second time this season the Eagles appeared poised to beat an ACC opponent only to come up short.

Georgia Southern lost 24-23 at N.C. State when the Wolfpack scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 left. Earlier in the fourth quarter of that game the Eagles led 20-10 when they lost a fumble at the N.C. State 1.

“It hurts because we know we can compete with the highest level,” Eagles nose tackle Jay Ellison said. “We are just trying to get better. We are going to take this game and learn from it like we did N.C. State. We are just going to try to win our Sun Belt conference.”

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