STATESBORO, GA — Georgia Southern rallied from a 14-point deficit; then withstood a late two-point conversion attempt to defeat Campbell 27-26 on Saturday at Paulson Stadium in the season opener for both programs.
The Camels of the Football Championship Subdivision led 20-6 early in the third quarter before the Football Bowl Subdivision Eagles scored three unanswered touchdowns and survived a late CU rally.
FBS programs are allowed 85 scholarships while FCS teams have a limit of 63.
Hajj-Malik Williams connected with Jalen Kelsey on a 20-yard scoring pass with 14 seconds remaining to bring the Camels within 27-26. Camels coach Mike Minter elected to go for the lead, but Williams’ pass to Julian Hill on the ensuing two-point conversion was incomplete.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Minter said of the two-point try. “Unfortunately, we didn’t connect. I think Julian was open. … I’m proud of my guys for staying in their face for 60 minutes.”
Saturday’s contest was the fifth all-time for the Camels against a FBS member, and Williams threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 73 yards and another score. A sophomore from Atlanta, Williams completed 17-of-27 passes while averaging 6.6 yards on 11 rushing attempts.
Kelsey finished with six receptions for 66 yards. Jai Williams hauled in four catches for 72 yards and another score.
Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts ran for 155 yards and completed 7-of-13 passes for 53 more as the Eagles escaped Campbell’s upset bid.
Campbell outgained Georgia Southern 369-346, including 237-62 in the air. CU finished 3-of-3 in red zone opportunities against the Eagles, who extended their home win streak against nonconference opponents to 25 games.
Alex Santiago forced a fumble on the second half kickoff and Josh McNeely recovered to give the Camels a first down on the GSU 26. Four plays later, Williams ran in from eight yards and Robert Brown’s conversion kick extended Campbell’s lead to 20-6.
Werts had runs of 32 and 20 yards in a 75-yard drive he capped by finding D.J. Butler for a 1-yard TD catch on fourth down to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive that cut the Camel lead to 20-13 with 7:32 remaining in the third quarter.
A mishandled punt snap gave Georgia Southern first-and-goal at the Campbell nine and J.D. King ran in from four yards out with 13:50 remaining. Alex Raynor’s kick tied the game at 20.
Werts capped a 6-play, 95-yard drive with a 41-yard scamper to give the Eagles their first lead (27-20) with 6:42 left.
The Camels led 13-6 at the break after out-gaining Georgia Southern 211-141 in the opening half. Williams completed 8-of-11 passes for 133 yards. CU held the Eagle option rushing attack to just 89 first-half yards.
Campbell drove 75 yards after the opening kickoff to take an early 7-0 lead. After Williams hooked up with tight end Julian Hill for a 30-yard gain to the GSU 10, Bryant Barr covered the final 10 yards between the tackles. Brown’s PAT put the Camels ahead just 1:57 into the game.
Williams completed 3-of-4 passes for 59 yards on the opening drive, finding Hill twice for 45 yards.
Georgia Southern responded with Raynor’s 41-yard field goal to cut the gap to 7-3 with 8:37 left in the opening period.
Williams then rolled right and connected with Jai Williams on a 40-yard scoring pass to cap a 75-yard march in just four plays. Brown’s PAT missed wide right and the Camels led 13-3 with 6:01 to play in the opening quarter.
The Eagles drove inside the Camel 10, but the drive stalled and a bad snap cost Georgia Southern a chance at adding three more points on Raynor’s 33-yard field goal attempt.
A roughing the punter penalty in the end zone kept a Georgia Southern drive alive and the Eagles cut the margin to 13-6 after Raynor’s 39-yard field goal with 4:50 to play in the half.
Jonathan Jones led the Camels with nine tackles, including two for loss, while Darion Slade, Ray Miller and Tywun Rivens made seven stops apiece.
Campbell returns to action Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Coastal Carolina.
Campbell media services provided the basis for this report.