It’s typically rare for Sun Belt or MAC teams to play on Saturdays as fall turns to winter across the country but the Camellia Bowl delivered a nice weekend treat by pitting a pair of Eagles from each conference together in an excellent postseason matchup on Saturday night. To the surprise of nobody, considering the game involved Eastern Michigan, things were close throughout before Georgia Southern emerged victorious 23-21 to cap off the best season in program history since moving up to the FBS level.
Despite rainy conditions in Montgomery, Alabama throughout most of the game, the option offense was on point for the Eagles from Statesboro. Quarterback Shai Werts was stellar as the trigger-man and rushed for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns while making several excellent decisions to pitch on the option. That paved the way for his backs Wesley Kennedy III (107 yards), Wesley Fields (91 yards) and Garrett Monteo (37 yards).
Perhaps Georgia Southern’s most impressive feat in the game came on their second drive when they zapped nine minutes and a second off the clock while covering 95 yards on 15 plays. That effort alone played a big role in helping win the time of possession battle in the game and was helped by going 2-of-2 in the red zone as well. Even more eye-opening for the Eagles was the fact that they closed out the 2018 season with just five turnovers, all fumbles, for a mark that is now the fewest in FBS history.
They actually fumbled three times in the Camellia Bowl but didn’t lose a single one to best the previous record mark of eight turnovers according to the ESPN broadcast.
The Eagles from Ypsilanti were in familiar territory playing a close game for approximately the 716th time under head coach Chris Creighton. Eastern Michigan took their only lead of the game with just over three minutes remaining after finishing off an impressive 16 play, 75 yard drive but it wasn’t enough to prevent a game-winning 40 yard field goal at the buzzer from Georgia Southern’s Tyler Bass, who nailed a 50-yarder as time expired in the first half too.
The effort spoiled a heck of a game from EMU Mike Glass, who threw for 204 yards and three scores — the last of which came on fourth down to briefly put the team ahead. Third downs were a problem for the Eagles offense all night as they couldn’t make the most of their limited chances.
While it was the same old story for EMU in just their fourth ever bowl game as a program, things were well, also the same for their opponent as those Eagles moved to a perfect 2-0 in the postseason at the FBS level. The victory in Montgomery also capped off one of the biggest turnarounds in the sport this season after the program went 2-10 a season ago and this year’s 10-3 mark is a new record since moving up from the FCS ranks.
Head coach Chad Lunsford’s name didn’t come up all that often when it came to end of the year honors in 2018 but he probably doesn’t mind all that after seeing his team gut out a comeback victory in the final seconds to make some more history in the process.
No. 21 Fresno State concluded arguably the best season in school history with an emphatic win over Arizona State on Saturday, toppling the Sun Devils 31-20 in the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl.
For a moment in the third quarter, it seemed the Las Vegas Bowl was headed toward a heartbreaking loss. After a 17-17 first half, Fresno State threatened to strike first in the second half when Dejonte O’Neal hauled in a beautifully designed screen pass and jetted 29 yards toward the end zone. But the ball was dislodged as O’Neal reached toward the pylon, resulting in a fumble that turned the ball over to the Sun Devils.
Fresno State forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but the Bulldogs’ next touch ended in another costly turnover when Marcus McMariyon was intercepted in his own territory.
Brandon Ruiz turned that pick into a 44-yard field goal and a 20-17 lead.
Fresno State’s next possession ended in another McMariyon pick near midfield, but again the Bulldog defense stiffened, forcing another three-and-out — though with the help of Herm Edwards. Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Fresno State 44 with a 3-point lead, Edwards elected to take a delay of game and punt the ball away. The Sun Devils gained only two first downs after that punt.
Given a fourth chance to take the lead, Fresno State this time didn’t leave anything to chance. McMariyon handed the ball to Ronnie Rivers, who charged 68 yards for a touchdown to give Fresno State a lead it would not relinquish. The Fresno State defense thoroughly shut down the Sun Devils’ second-half offense — forcing four three-and-outs and an interception, while surrendering just a 13-yard field goal drive — which allowed Rivers’ 5-yard touchdown rush with 5:19 remaining to put a cap on an important, satisfying win.
Rivers earned MVP honors, rushing 24 times for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona State’s comeback efforts ended when Manny Wilkins was intercepted by Juju Hughes at the Fresno State 11-yard line with 3:36 remaining. The senior closed his career hitting 17-of-25 passes for 112 yards — he threw for just one yard after halftime — with one touchdown and two picks, including a pick-six.
With the win, Fresno State set a school record with 12 wins, capping a season in which the club captured its third Mountain West championship. The Bulldogs will end the season ranked inside the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2004, another impressive milestone in the Jeff Tedford era, a 2-year run in which a program that went 4-20 in 2015-17 has turned the tide to go 22-6 in 2017-18.
Despite the loss, Year 1 of the Edwards era was still a success for Arizona State. Picked to finished last in the Pac-12 South in the league’s preseason poll, the Sun Devils concluded the year at 7-6.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-0 lead 10 minutes when Anthoula Kelly stepped in front of a Wilkins pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown, but the Sun Devils responded with consecutive touchdown drives.
The first scoring drive was almost all Wilkins, as he rushed or pass on the final seven snaps of a 9-play, 65-yard drive, culminating in a 3-yard scoring toss to Kyle Williams. After forcing a Fresno State three-and-out, Arizona State took the lead when Eno Benjamin covered the final 30 yards on an 8-play, 58-yard march. Benjamin’s 17-yard touchdown run not only gave his team the lead, it handed him the Arizona State single-season rushing record at 1,585 yards.
Fresno State answered with a 9-play, 75-yard drive, seven of them runs. Rivers ran for gains of 19 and 15 yards to open the drive, then quarterback McMariyon finished the drive with a 10-yard keeper, putting the Bulldogs back in front at 17-14 with 8:03 left in the first half.
Arizona State consumed nearly the remainder of the half, piecing together a marathon 17-play, 72-minute drive. Rather than go for a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Edwards, foreshadowing another un-Vegas-like decision, opted for a 20-yard Ruiz field goal with 51 seconds left in the first half.
When MACtion meets the Fun Belt in a bowl game, chances are points will come in bunches, right? Well, not in the case of the Camellia Bowl between Georgia Southern and Eastern Michigan as the two sets of Eagles played a somewhat low-scoring first half that featured plenty of fun plays but surprisingly few scoring drives to put GS up 17-7.
Part of the reason why was the Sun Belt squad’s option offense turning in one of the drives of the season, covering a whopping 95 yards over 15 plays before Shai Werts found the end zone — taking off a robust nine minutes and one second off the clock in the process. That was the first of two scores for the quarterback, who put on a masterclass in pitching, catching and converting on third down for the Eagles.
The offense finished the first half with 230 yards rushing and are hoping to keep their perfect bowl record going in just the program’s second-ever postseason appearance at the FBS level. Tyler Bass also added a 50-yard field goal in the rain just as the clock hit zeros too.
Eastern Michigan, relative bowl novices themselves, made their fair share of plays in all three phases to keep things close for the most part. That included a blocked punt in the second quarter to put them at midfield and set up a fairly brisk six-play scoring drive that saw Mike Glass (7/8, 53 yards passing) hit Tyler Lyle from a yard out to find pay dirt.
Word to the wise though, don’t count out the Eagles from the North in this one even with the Eagles from the South taking that lead into the break. Few programs have a knack for playing in close, one-score games quite like Chris Creighton’s group does and they’ll need yet another rally to get that job done in this fun bowl matchup.
As if there was ever any doubt, players are more important than coaches in college football. Despite the fact Matt Wells and the majority of his coaching staff bailed early, Utah State rolled over an overmatched and undermanned North Texas team, cruising to a 52-13 win in the New Mexico Bowl presented by Progressive.
The win was a fitting close to one of the best seasons in school history for Utah State. The Aggies (11-2) tied a school record for wins and will likely become the fourth team in school history to finish the season ranked in the AP poll, joining John Ralston‘s 1960-61 teams that went a combined 18-3-1 and former and future head coach Gary Andersen‘s 2012 squad that also went 11-2.
The points started early for the Aggies, finding pay dirt on their third play of the game — a 72-yard strike from Jordan Love to Aaren Vaughns — and ripped off 31 unanswered points over the first and second quarters to break the game open for good.
In addition to the 72-yarder to open the game, Utah State scored touchdowns from 26, 37 and 67 yards in the first half (plus another score on a 10-play, 78-yard drive), as the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense played to its paper throughout the day. Love completed 21-of-43 passes for 361 yards with four touchdowns (plus one rushing) and an interception inside the UNT end zone that robbed him of a sixth score, while Gerold Bright and Darwin Thompson combined to rush 37 times for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
In all, the Aggies rolled up 556 yards of total offense — 360 of them in the first half.
As the score indicates, the game was a complete nightmare for North Texas. The Mean Green entered the game without leading receiver Rico Bussey (1,017 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns) and played the majority of the day without franchise quarterback Mason Fine. Visibly hobbled by a bum hamstring, Fine threw only 12 passes and left the game in the second quarter when he had to limp his way to recover an errant snap — a theme for UNT during the game — near his own goal line.
Fine was replaced by senior backup Quinn Shanbour, who completed 2-of-8 passes for 24 yards with three interceptions. Shanbour was replaced by freshman Jason Bean, whose only completion in his two passes was to Utah State safety DJ Williams, setting up a field goal on the final play of the half that pushed UNT’s deficit to 38-7.
Fellow freshman Kason Martin played the bulk of the second half, and hit Jalen Guyton for a 75-yard touchdown on his first pass. After that throw, Martin went 6-of-11 for 36 yards.
The loss served as a bitter end to a bittersweet season for North Texas. Though the Mean Green (9-4) increased or matched their win total for the third time in as many seasons under Seth Littrell, North Texas saw three double-digit leads turn into losses and then closed with a second consecutive bowl loss in which the opponent hit half a hundred, following a 50-30 loss to Troy in the 2017 New Orleans Bowl.