Georgia Southern opened the newly-expanded Allen E. Paulson Stadium in style by downing local rival Savannah State 83-9 Saturday night in the Eagles' first FBS home game in front of a crowd of 23,121.
First-year Eagle head coach Willie Fritz's team zipped up and down the field with precision most of the night, while the Georgia Southern staff played with some of its new toys, like the 852-square-foot HD video board in the East end zone.
The Eagle offense scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions, partly because the defense and special teams made Georgia Southern's average starting field position inside Savannah State territory. The only thing that could stop the Eagle offense was halftime, and the lone Georgia Southern mistakes in the first half were a missed extra point on the Eagles' fifth touchdown and a couple of penalties on punt returns late in the frame.
The Eagles rolled up 695 yards of offense, tied the school record for touchdowns with 12, scoring 10 on the ground, and did not punt in the contest. Favian Upshaw rushed eight times for 81 yards and a touchdown and threw for 53 yards and another score, while Ean Days rushed for a career-high 112 yards and scored his first two career touchdowns. Brandan Thomas logged 117 yards on the ground and scored his first career touchdown, while Devin Scott and Dennis Pritchard each rushed for their first career touchdowns.
Matt Breida had 69 rushing yards and a pair of scores, and Kentrellis Showers caught three passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns and moved into sixth place on the school's career receptions chart. Ezayi Youyoute and Montay Crockett also rushed for touchdowns.
"Our 1s did a great job when they were in there, and we saw a lot of good things from our 2s and 3s," said Fritz. "We got to play a lot of guys, and they deserve it because they work their tails off every day and you want to reward them. Every guy who dressed, and we dressed 92 of them, got a chance to play."
Ryan George led Georgia Southern with six tackles, including one for loss, while Rayquan Sam notched five and Antwione Williams had three stops with two for loss and a sack. The defense forced two fumbles, picked off one pass and held Savannah State to 42 yards of total offense and two first downs in the first half.
"We came out prepared, and the fans and atmosphere was great," said Williams. "It's fun to come show the fans at Paulson what the defense can do."
"The defensive line did a good job of providing a pass rush," added Fritz. "We only rushed four for the most part, and we did good job of staying over the top and playing leverage and tackling."
The attendance was the fourth-largest regular-season crowd at Paulson Stadium and ranked sixth on the all-time list.
"It's a dream come true for me to be able to coach at the Division I level where they care about football the way Georgia Southern does," Fritz said about the game-day atmosphere in Paulson.
The Eagles' first drive in the refurbished stadium began and ended with a Breida run. The sophomore opened the drive with an 11-yard run and found pay-dirt seven plays later on a 14-yard scamper.
Savannah State got one of its two first downs in the half on its next possession but elected to go for it on 4th-and-3 from its own 37-yard line. Matt DeLaRosa and Jay Ellison stuffed a Ker-Sean Wilson rush attempt after a 1-yard gain, giving the ball back to the Eagles. Quarterback Kevin Ellison wasted no time, going up top to Showers for a 38-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 Eagle lead.
The Georgia Southern defense forced a 3-and-out on the next Tiger possession, and Upshaw sparked a 50-yard scoring drive with a 16-yard run. The sophomore quarterback scored on a keeper on 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line, and the Eagles led 21-0.
After Deion Stanley intercepted a Wilson pass, Upshaw got in the aerial act, hitting Showers with a 43-yard pass down the sideline for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead. Savannah State fumbled on the kickoff return and it was Breida's turn to carry the load again. He logged three carries for 29 yards, the last for a 1-yard touchdown and after a missed extra point, the Eagles led 34-0 1:19 into the second quarter.
Game Notes: Georgia Southern celebrated its move into the FBS by moving its six FCS national Championship Flags across the stadium to the Football Operations Center in a pre-game ceremony… The flags will now fly daily over the FOC… It was also Military Appreciation Day, the GATA Club All-Sports Reunion game and Night of Champions, which annually celebrates Georgia Southern championship teams… Stanley's interception was the fifth of his career… Georgia Southern improved to 26-6-1 in home openers and 25-5 in home openers at Paulson Stadium… It was the Eagles' eighth straight victory in home openers… GSU coach Willie Fritz is 21-1 in home openers in his career… It was the first time Fritz coached a game in the state of Georgia… The Eagles improved to 11-0 against Savannah State in the all-time series… The Eagles didn't punt for the first time since a 58-0 win over Jacksonville in the 2012 home opener… The Eagles were 37 yards shy of the school record for total offense, 66 yards away from the rushing record, one point away from the record for points in a game and one rushing TD shy of the school mark… Freedom the eagle went the extra distance for FBS on his pre-game flight from the press box, taking a lap around Bishop Fieldhouse to check out the tailgating before landing on his perch.