Defensive Stand Seals Outright Sun Belt Conference Football Title for Georgia Southern

STATESBORO, Ga. ( Story By-GA Southern Atheltics) – Senior third-string quarterback Ezayi Youyoute sparked the Eagles with 81 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, and safety Matt Dobson broke up a would-be UL Monroe  touchdown pass with three seconds left to lift Georgia Southern (9-3) to a 22-16 win over the Warhawks Saturday night in Paulson Stadium. The win gives the Eagles an undefeated, outright Sun Belt Conference Championship with an 8-0 record in their first season in the league. It’s the seventh outright conference title in school history and the 11th league title overall.

Youyoute, who started four games at quarterback in 2012, came on in the fourth quarter with the Eagles trailing 13-9 after Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw were injured. On Senior Day, the senior promptly ran for 18 yards on 4th-down-and-5 to key a scoring drive that gave the Eagles a 15-13 lead. After the Eagles got the ball back, he rattled off a 48-yard run down the left sideline to set up another score and a 22-13 advantage.

“You never know when your number is going to be called,” said Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. “Ezayi’s was called tonight, and he did an unbelievable job. I’m just so proud of him. He’s been resilient all season long and what a spark he gave us. This game is going to be remembered for him. There are special moments in the history of this program and this is one of them and it’s because of him.”

“It means the world to me to finish like this,” said Youyoute. “I didn’t do anything special. They just plugged me in, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

ULM got the ball back on the Eagle 19-yard line trailing 22-16 with 1:37 left. Pete Thomas hit Rashon Ceaser with a 40-yard pass down the right sideline and found him again with a 9-yard pass to convert a fourth down.

On 2nd-and-5 from the Eagle 19-yard line, Thomas hit Kenzee Jackson at the goal line with what looked to be the game-winning score, but Dobson put his shoulder right on the ball to pop it loose with three ticks left. Thomas’ pass to Ceaser in the middle of the field fell incomplete on the final play of the game.

“We were tired, but we fought,” said Georgia Southern senior linebacker Edwin Jackson. “Matt Dobson made a huge play at the goal line.”

Youyoute’s 81 yards came on five carries for the Eagles (9-3, 8-0), and Kevin Ellison finished with 104 rushing yards and a touchdown as well as 136 passing yards. Dobson had six tackles and the pass breakup, while Jamal Johnson, Bernard Dawson and Deshawntee Gallon all had a sack.

Thomas threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns for ULM (4-8, 3-5), and Ceaser finished with eight receptions for 138 yards and a TD. Jackson caught 10 passes for 87 yards.

After trailing 7-3 at halftime, Ellison led the Eagles down the field for a go-ahead score with 4:13 left in the third quarter. The sophomore quarterback looked to be headed for a sack on 3rd-down but got away and scrambled for a 24-yard gain after picking up a nice block and hurdling a defender. He hit Kentrellis Showers with a 36-yard pass down the left sideline on the next play and then took it himself for 10-yard touchdown run. The Eagles missed the PAT, making the margin 9-7.

ULM answered on its ensuing possession with a 36-yard touchdown strike from Thomas to Ajalen Holley with 2:40 left in the third. The Warhawks went for the two-point conversion, butAntwione Williams took down Thomas as he tried to scramble, leaving the margin at 13-9.

The Eagles got field position at the Warhawk 40-yard line early in the fourth quarter with the aid of a great defensive play and a blocked punt. Williams blew up a screen pass for a 5-yard loss, and Gallon blocked Justin Manton’s punt.

Youyoute sparked the ensuing Eagle drive after coming on in relief of Ellison. He picked up 18 yards on 4th-and-5, and ULM was flagged for defensive holding on 4th-and-14 later in the drive. Youyoute rushed for gains of 4 and 7 yards on the next two plays, and Matt Breida finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Eagles missed the extra point and led 15-13 with 8:52 to play.

After Jamal Johnson sacked Thomas at the ULM 6-yard line to get the Eagle defense off the field, Youyoute broke off a 48-yard run down the left sideline, setting up 1st-and-goal. LA Ramsby scored from seven yards out, and Younghoe Koo hit the extra point for a 22-13 advantage with 5:28 remaining.

The Warhawks drove inside the Eagle 30-yard line, but a sack by Dawson set up 3rd-and-long, and after an incompletion, ULM settled for a 47-yard field goal by Manton. The Warhawks tried the onside kick, but Tray Butler gobbled it up for the Eagles.

Georgia Southern ran it three straight times, forcing ULM to use all of its timeouts, and a quick kick punt by Youyoute rolled dead at the ULM 19-yard line.

The Eagles got on the scoreboard first with a 27-yard field goal by Alex Hanks with 3:38 left in the first quarter. Georgia Southern ran 16 plays and melted 8:49 off the clock before a holding penalty put the Eagles behind the chains, and they had to settle for a 3-0 lead.

Favian Upshaw broke free for a 46-yard run on a quarterback keeper midway through the second quarter for the Eagles, but on 4th-and-2 from the ULM 21-yard line, the Warhawks held the Eagles short and took over on downs. Two plays later, Thomas hit Ceaser with a 63-yard pass down the middle of the field for a touchdown, and ULM opened a 7-3 lead with 6:22 left in the half.

GAME NOTES: Of those schools that began their first year of FBS play with a conference affiliation, Georgia Southern became only the third to win a league title in its inaugural season, joining Nevada (1992) and Marshall (1997)… Only one other team has posted a better record in its first year in FBS with Marshall going 10-3 in 1997… Ellison went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season… Coach Willie Fritz became the third coach in Georgia Southern history to record nine wins in the regular season in their first year as head coach… Upshaw’s run in the second quarter was a career long, and Ramsby’s 38-yard reception in the second quarter was a career long… Eagle opponents went seven quarters without being flagged for a penalty, dating back to the third quarter of the game at Texas State… Navy wasn’t flagged for a penalty, and ULM went the first half without a flag tonight… Georgia Southern improved to 26-4 in Senior Day games.
 Story By-GA Southern Atheltics

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