For the first time in over a year, CSU fans left Hughes Stadium happy.
Three first-half touchdowns by Gartrell Johnson III helped the Rams past the Georgia Southern Eagles 42-34 Saturday in Fort Collins.
It was an unfortunate time for the Rams (2-9, 1-6) to win their first home game of the year, as only 14,332 were in attendance, with a student section less than half-full on the first day of fall break.
“I’m happy with the win,” said CSU coach Sonny Lubick. “It helps us get ready next week for Wyoming. You have to be happy when you win.”
The Rams scored touchdowns on four straight possessions in the first half and led 28-3 at half time.
Do-it-all Georgia Southern quarterback Jayson Foster put on an impressive show, finishing with 262 total yards and three rushing touchdowns in the loss.
“In the first half I was worried every time (Foster) touched the ball he was going to break one,” said Lubick. “He’s every bit as good as we saw on tape.”
Fortunately for CSU, the Rams offense was able to match Foster and the Eagles (7-4) throughout the game.
The Rams posted 507 total yards, led by quarterback Caleb Hanie, who went 13-for-16 for 244 yards with touchdown throws to Damon Morton, Luke Roberts and Johnson.
Johnson, who finished with 136 total yards, put the Rams on the board first with a 27-yard scoring run on the team’s second drive of the game.
Johnson added an 8-yard touchdown reception and a 7-yard rushing score on the Rams’ next two drives.
“We scored on Cal, we scored on CU, we’ve scored on a lot of good teams,” said Johnson. “As long as we cut down on turnovers, the sky’s the limit.”
CSU’s defense surrendered 509 total yards to the Eagles but came up with several big plays, most notably a forced fumble by linebacker Ricky Brewer, which halted the Eagles’ opening 80-yard drive.
“That was big,” said CSU defensive lineman Erik Sandie, who fell on the ball at the 3-yard line. “You could feel the momentum changing right there in the game.
“Anytime you can get a turnover, that’s like a touchdown for a defensive player,” Brewer said.
The game appeared to be all but over when Kyle Bell rushed for a 3-yard score with 13:20 left in the fourth quarter to put the Rams ahead 42-17.
But the Georgia Southern offense showed why it is one of Division I-AA’s highest-scoring teams.
The Eagles got touchdowns from running back Lamar Lewis and Foster on the next two drives to pull to 42-31.
Then the Eagles recovered an on-side kick at their own 41-yard line, leading to a 37-yard field goal from Jesse Hartley to make it 42-34 with 1:41 remaining in the game.
But the ensuing on-side kick attempt from Georgia Southern failed, as Roberts grabbed the ball at the Eagles’ 39-yard line.
The Rams were able to kill the clock and secure the team’s first home victory since defeating Nevada-Las Vegas on Oct. 7, 2006.
CSU closes its season against Wyoming this Friday at noon at Hughes Stadium.
Hanie said getting a win against the team’s rival would be the perfect ending to a tough year.
“Obviously you’re not going to go out after the game – no matter what happens – and say the year was great,” Hanie said. “But it’ll take the sting out a little bit.”
CSU safety Steve Juedes left the game with an left knee sprain in the fourth quarter. Lubick said he did not know how serious the injury was, and that Juedes will be evaluated further tomorrow.
The Rams played Saturday without three of its safeties: Mike Pagnotta and Jake Galusha, who could both return for Wyoming, and Klint Kubiak, who is out for the season.