In one game, South Alabama erased a terrible loss just five days earlier, beat a conference opponent it had not defeated previously, had its best offensive performance of the year and moved another step closer to being bowl eligible.
Simply put, the Jaguars’ 41-14 win over Georgia Southern at Hancock Whitney Stadium, in which they dominated the Eagles from the outset, was exactly the type of game head coach Kane Wommack was looking for from his team, which lost at Texas State the previous Saturday in a game in which a lackluster Jags team lost a 14-popint lead and fumbled away a chance to win in overtime.
“Tonight was the best we’ve played by far,” Wommack said. “You think about how we’ve opened games and drives on offense. (Thursday night was ) the first time we were able to go down the field, drive the ball and score on the first series of the game. The defense continued to get three and outs. [Georgia Southern] made some adjustments on their side and we adjusted and took it right back from them in the second half. It was awesome to be able to do that against a very proud program in Georgia Southern. This program has been waiting to beat that team for a very long time and we got it done tonight.”
The victory was the first time South Alabama has beaten Georgia Southern in eight tries. It was also the Jags’ first Sun Belt Conference win of the season and ended a two-game losing streak. The Jags are now 4-2 overall, just two wins away from being bowl eligible, and 1-2 in Sun Belt games. Georgia Southern fell to 2-5 and 1-3 on the year.
Quarterback Jake Bentley had a big night. He connected on 24 of 31 passes for 389 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while also rushing. He broke the school record for passing yards in a game, became the first South quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards since Evan Orth in 2018 and became the first Jags player to be responsible for five touchdowns in a game.
Jalen Tolbert hauled in 11 of Bentley’s passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, while Jalen Wayne had seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Tolbert tied to school records in the game with his sixth 100-yard receiving game and 16th career touchdown reception.
The South Alabama defense also played well, stymying a Georgia Southern triple-option offense that has run all over the Jags in the past. Not Thursday night. The Eagles had just one total yard of offense midway through the second period and it wasn’t until that time they managed their first first down of the game. Quinton Wilfawn led the defensive attack with seven tackles, followed by Keith Gallmon (6), Trey Kiser (6), Tre Young (5), Jamall Hickbottom (4), C.J. Rias (4) and Brock Higdon (3). Those each represented career-high tackles in a game with the exception of Gallmon. Rias had an interception that led to a score and Darrell Luter had multiple pass breakups for the third time this season.
Bentley started the scoring with a 12-yard keeper on the Jags’ first possession, the first time this season South Alabama has scored on its initial possession of a game and indeed the first time the Jags’ offense has managed a first down on the initial possession. After Diego Guajardo booted a 42-yard field goal, Bentley scored again, this time on a 6-yard scramble in which he lept over defenders into the end zone. A 40-yard touchdown throw to Tolbert in the end zone and a 5-yard scoring throw to Wayne had the Jags in front 31-0. Georgia Southern finally broke the ice with a touchdown run and two-point conversion with two minutes left to play in the first half. The Eagles scored first in the second half on a 44-yard field goal, but the Jags answered with a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Lincoln Sefcik. The teams then swapped field goals to close out the scoring.
South Alabama heads to Louisiana-Monroe Saturday for a 6 p.m. Sun belt game against the Warhawks, led by Terry Bowden, who is in his first season as head coach at the school.
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