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GS Quarterback Shai Werts Wins Bart Starr MVP Award

With the game hanging in the balance on fourth and 10, Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts took off for 29 yards to the Eastern Michigan 30 to set up a game-winning field goal by Tyler Bass three plays later in the fifth Raycom Media Camellia Bowl at Cramton Bowl on Saturday night.

“I really should’ve thrown the ball,” Werts said. “Ellis (Richardson) was wide open.”

Werts didn’t dazzle anyone with his 4 of 7 passing performance, but he was crucial in directing the Georgia Southern offense to a 23-21 victory to give the Eagles their first 10-win season in Football Bowl Subdivision history.

“Our guys never quit believing, our fans never quit believing,” Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said. “We’ve talked about it all year, our mental toughness. I think that’s what that drive was. It got to a fourth-down situation, the offensive line did a good job, Shai was able to scramble and really make a good play after having a self-inflicted wound early in the drive and being able to make that play and get us in field goal range.”

And while there were plenty of heroes on the Georgia Southern sideline, Werts was the one who made crucial play after crucial play on Saturday night, driving the Sun Belt Conference team down the field after Eastern Michigan grabbed a one-point lead with 3:33 remaining.

“I didn’t say anything at the beginning of the drive,” Werts said, “but a few drives into the second half I kind of noticed we were a little dead. I just talked to them, told them we had to finish and get that spark back. We fought through and got the job done.”

To put the drive in perspective. Georgia Southern is a shotgun option team, accustomed to moving the ball on the ground. Werts did set a school record for freshmen quarterbacks in 2017 for both passing yards (passing the legendary Tracy Ham’s 1983 mark) and total offense, but the 5-foot-11, 200-pound sophomore isn’t accustomed to bringing the Eagles back from a late deficit with his arm.

“We haven’t been in those situations a lot,” Lunsford admitted. “We always talk about being able to finish the football game, we always talk about winning the fourth quarter. Now, we didn’t (Eastern Michigan outscored the Eagles 7-6 in the final 15 minutes) but we scored the last points to put the game away. It’s all about our guys understanding that they can do it one more time and never give up.”

Werts, whose 13-yard completion to Malik Murray on a third-and-12 play led to Werts’ 26-yard scoring run for the game’s first points, did complete a pass to Richardson on the second play of the final drive, but the rest came on the ground. None was bigger than the 29-yard scramble on fourth and 10. He dropped and surveyed the field, then saw the entire left side of the field open and started running.

“Wes (Fields) had made a block on the linebacker and there was no one in front of me, so I just took off,” Werts said.

Eastern Michigan, who had dropped its linebackers in coverage, couldn’t get a hand on Werts until he had run 20 yards into field goal range for Bass, who had drilled a 50-yard field goal earlier in the game.

“I wasn’t really surprised,” Werts said. “I felt like they were going to play the (first down) sticks. They just gave me a running lane and I took it.”

He finished with 79 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 16 carries, adding 33 yards passing. His 26-yard scoring run is the longest in bowl history for a quarterback and his fourth-quarter run helped earn him the Bart Starr Most Valuable Player Trophy.

Werts was the fifth recipient of the award, following Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke in 2014, Appalachian State tailback Marcus Cox in 2015, Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb in 2016 and Middle Tennessee linebacker Darius Harris in 2017.

 

2018 RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL GAME NOTES

Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 

CAMELLIA BOWL GAME NOTES:

  • Georgia Southern defeated Eastern Michigan 23-21 in the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
  • The five Camellia Bowl games have been decided by 17 total points
  • The Georgia Southern-Eastern Michigan game was the lowest scoring game in bowl history
  • The two-point margin tied the closest margin in bowl history
  • Appalachian State defeated Ohio 31-29 (last second FG) in 2015
  • Georgia Southern redshirt junior place kicker Tyler Bass hit the game-winning 40-yard FG as time expired
  • It was the second game-winning FG in Camellia Bowl history
  • Appalachian State’s Zach Matics 23-yard FG in the final play gave ASU 31-29 win over Ohio in 2015
  • Bass accounted for 11 of the Eagles 23 points in the win over Eastern Michigan
  • He set the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl record with three made field goals
  • Bass also set the Camellia Bowl record with a 50-yard FG in the final play of the first half

 

CAMELLIA BOWL MVP:

  • Georgia Southern QB Shai Werts was named the Bart Starr Most Valuable Player
  • Werts accounted for 112 total yards and two TDs in the win over Eastern Michigan
  • He ran the ball 16 times for 79 yards and two touchdowns
  • Werts had a 26-yard TD run in the second quarter that capped a 15-play, 95-yard scoring drive
  • He added a 2-yard TD run later in the quarter as GS regained the lead, 14-7
  • Werts added a 29-run on fourth-and-10 in the final minute that led to game-winning FG
  • Werts completed 4-of-7 passes for 33 yards
  • He completed a 13-yard pass to Malik Murray on third-and-12 to extend first scoring drive

 

CAMELLIA BOWL MILESTONES:

  • Georgia Southern set the Camellia Bowl record with 58 rushing attempts
  • Georgia Southern 301 rushing yards are second-most in bowl history
  • Georgia Southern PK Tyler Bass set Camellia Bowl record for kickers with 11 points
  • Georgia Southern RB Wesley Fields had 23 rushing attempts for 107 yards in the win over EMU
  • Fields 23 rushing attempts are the second most in bowl history
  • Georgia Southern QB Shai Werts had 16 rushing attempts for 79 yards and two TDs
  • He tied the Camellia Bowl record with two rushing TDs (26 yard TD; 5 yard TD)
  • Eastern Michigan QB Mike Glass completed 17-of-25 passes for 204 yards and three TDs
  • He tied the Camellia Bowl record with three TD passes
  • Glass completed a 75-yard TD pass to Arthur Jackson in the first play of the third quarter
  • It was the second-longest TD pass in Camellia Bowl history
  • Bowling Green (James Knapke to Roger Lewis) holds the record with a 78-yard TD pass in the inaugural game in 2014
  • It was the third-longest scoring play in Camellia Bowl history
  • Appalachian State (Darryton Evans) had a 94-yard kickoff return in 2016

 

EASTERN MICHIGAN NOTES:

  • Eastern Michigan finished the season with 7-6 record
  • EMU is now 1-2 all-time in bowl games
  • The Eagles only bowl win was a 30-27 win over San Jose State in the 1987 California Bowl
  • EMU receiver Arthur Jackson caught three passes for 86 yards and two TDs in the loss
  • Jackson hauled in a 75-yard TD reception on the first play of the third quarter
  • He pulled down the go-ahead 5-yard TD reception on fourth down late in the game
  • Eastern Michigan finished with 301 total yards; third-lowest total of the season
  • The Eagles had 235 vs. Army and 242 yards vs. Northern Illinois (EMU lost all three games)
  • Eastern Michigan had a season-high 26 pass attempts in the loss to Georgia Southern

 

GEORGIA SOUTHERN NOTES:

  • Georgia Southern closes out the season with a 10-3 record
  • It’s the first 10-win season since the school moved to FBS in 2014
  • Georgia Southern had an 8-game improvement from last season
  • The Eagles posted a 2-10 record in 2016
  • Georgia Southern did not thrown an interception in 117 attempts this season
  • GS is believed to be the first team in FBS history to complete a season without an interception
  • Temple (1977) and Alabama (1981) threw only interception to hold the previous record in a season
  • Georgia Southern improved to 2-0 all-time in bowl games
  • GS defeated Bowling Green 58-27 in the 2015 GoDaddy.com Bowl
  • Georgia Southern had 58 rushing attempts for 301 yards (5.7 yards per carry)
  • The 58 rushing attempts set a Camellia Bowl record
  • GS recorded its sixth 300-yard rushing game of the season

 

CAMELLIA BOWL PREGAME NOTES:

  • The official kickoff time was 4:40 p.m. (CT)
  • The game time temperature was 55 degrees with rain (first rain in Camellia Bowl history)
  • Eastern Michigan won the toss and deferred to the second half

 

CAMELLIA BOWL FIRST QUARTER NOTES:

  • Georgia Southern outgained Eastern Michigan 102-30 in the first quarter
  • The teams combined for 22 running plays in the first quarter
  • Georgia Southern had 17 running plays and one pass in the first quarter
  • Georgia Southern opened the game with 14 straight running plays
  • The lone pass attempt was a 13-yard completion (Shai Werts to Malik Murray) on third-and-12
  • Eastern Michigan had five running plays and two pass attempts
  • The first touchdown drive by Georgia Southern was the longest in bowl history in terms of plays and time
  • The Eagles used a 15-play, 95-yard drive that took 9:01 of the clock
  • GS quarterback Shai Watts capped the drive with a 26-yard TD run on third-and-one
  • The 95-yard drive was the second longest in bowl history; fourth TD drive of 90+ yards
  • It was Georgia Southern’s longest drive (plays, yards and time) of the 2018 season

 

CAMELLIA BOWL SECOND QUARTER NOTES:

  • Georgia Southern outgained EMU 128-60 in the second quarter
  • GS outgained EMU 230-90 in the first half
  • GS had the ball for over 20 minutes in the first half (20:29)
  • Eastern Michigan Matthew Sexton blocked a punt on the opening possession of the second quarter
  • It was the first blocked kick of any kind in Camellia Bowl history
  • The blocked punt gave the EMU a first down at midfield and led to first TD of the game
  • The offense responded with a 6-play, 50-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7
  • EMU quarterback Mike Glass completed his first seven passes (53 yards; TD)
  • His first incompletion came with 2:54 left in the first half
  • Georgia Southern place kicker Tyler Bass made a 50-yard FG on the final play of the second quarter
  • The 50-yard FG was the longest in Camellia Bowl history

 

CAMELLIA BOWL THIRD QUARTER NOTES:

  • Eastern Michigan outgained Georgia Southern 128-39 in the third quarter
  • Eastern Michigan scored on the first play of the second half
  • Glass threw a 75-yard TD pass to Arthur Jackson as EMU cut the lead to 17-14
  • The 75-yard TD pass was the second-longest TD pass in Camellia Bowl history
  • Bowling Green (James Knapke to Roger Lewis) holds the record with a 78-yard TD pass in the inaugural game in 2014
  • EMU’s 75-yard TD pass was the third-longest scoring play in Camellia Bowl history
  • Appalachian State (Darryton Evans) had a 94-yard kickoff return in 2016

 

CAMELLIA BOWL FOURTH QUARTER NOTES:

  • The lead changed hands twice in the final four minutes
  • Eastern Michigan took its only lead of the game with 3:33 left on the clock
  • Glass fired a 5-yard TD pass to Jackson to cap a 16-play, 75-yard drive
  • The TD pass came on fourth-and-four from the GS 5-yard line and gave EMU a 21-20 lead
  • Georgia Southern answered with a game-winning drive, capped by Bass’ 40-yard FG as time expired
  • The Eagles drove 52 yards in nine plays for the winning score
  • Werts converted a fourth-and-10 form the GS 41 yard line to set up game-winning FG

 

BASS’ GAME-WINNING FG GIVES GEORGIA SOUTHERN THRILLING WIN

2018 RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL

Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018

MONTGOMERY – Georgia Southern junior kicker Tyler Bass hit the game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Eagles to a 23-21 win over Eastern Michigan in the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.

Bass’ game-winning field goal was the second in the brief history of the bowl. Appalachian State kicker Zach Matics’ 23-yard FG as time expired lifted the Mountaineers to a 31-29 win over Ohio in 2015. The five Camellia Bowl games have been decided by 17 total points and all five have come down to the final minutes.

“I knew after Shai made the first down, I would have a chance to kick it,” Bass said. “I’ve waited all year for this. I just concentrated on the snap, the hold and just kicking it through.”

Eastern Michigan (7-6) marched 75 yards in 16 plays to take its only lead with 3:33 left. EMU quarterback Mike Glass threw a 5-yard TD pass to Arthur Jackson on fourth-and-4 from the GS 5-yard line to put the Eagles in front 21-20. The 16-play scoring drive was the longest in bowl history, eclipsing Georgia Southern’s 15-play scoring drive in the second quarter.

Georgia Southern (10-3) answered with a 9-play, 52-yard drive for the game-winning field goal. After a 15-yard pass from quarterback Shai Werts to tight end Ellis Richardson the offense bogged down near midfield.

Facing a fourth-and-10 from its own 41-yard line, Werts scrambled 29 yards for a first down at the EMU 30-yard line. After two running plays, Bass trotted onto the field and hit the game-winning field goal.

“Actually, I should have thrown the ball,” Werts said. “Ellis (Richardson) was wide open, Wes (Kennedy) made a block on the linebacker and there was nobody in front of me and I got the first down.”

It was a tough swing of emotion for Eastern Michigan.

“It was like a bad dream to me,” Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton said. “The game was decided by two fourth down plays.”

Bass, who tied the Camellia Bowl record with three field goals, nailed a 35-yard field goal with 9:49 left to extend the GS lead to 20-14. Bass finished the game with 11 points, setting the Camellia Bowl record for most points by a kicker.

Eastern Michigan scored on the first play of the third quarter to set the tone in the second half. Glass found Jackson down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown pass to get the Eagles back in the game at 17-14.

Georgia Southern led 17-7 at halftime. The Eagles scored on three of their five first-half possessions and controlled the ball for more than 20 minutes of the half.

The Eagles engineered a 15-play, 95-yard drive that consumed 9:01 off the clock to take a 7-0 lead. The Eagles were 3-for-3 on third down on the drive, including Werts’ 13-yard completion to Malik Murray on a third-and-12 from the EMU 48-yard line. Two plays later, Werts scampered 26 yards for the first touchdown of the game.

Eastern Michigan took advantage of a short field following the first blocked punt in Camellia Bowl history by junior wide receiver Matthew Sexton. The Eagles took over at midfield and needed only six plays for the game-tying touchdown. Glass threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to sophomore fullback Tyler Lyle on third-and-goal to tie the game at 7-7 with 7:53 left in the half.

Glass completed his first seven passes for 53 yards and one TD in the first half.

Georgia Southern answered on its next possession with a seven-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Kennedy exploded for a 46-yard run to give the Eagles first-and-goal at the EMU 9-yard line. Werts scored his second touchdown of the game, this time on a 5-yrd run to give Georgia Southern a 14-7 lead.

Kennedy’s 46-yard run put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

After a three-and-out by the Georgia Southern defense, the offense took over at the GS 38-yard line with 2:46 left in the half. The Eagles marched to the Eastern Michigan 33-yard line to set up Bass’ 50-yard field goal on the final play of the half to put Georgia Southern up by 10 points. Bass’ 50-ayrd field goal was the longest in Camellia Bowl history.

 

2018 Camellia Bowl Final Stats

TEAMS WRAP UP BUSY WEEK

Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 

MONTGOMERY – The eve of the 2018 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl brings a little more structure for the Georgia Southern and Eastern Michigan football teams.

Eastern Michigan (7-5, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) and Georgia Southern (9-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) meet in the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. The game will kick off at 4:35 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by ESPN. The broadcast team will be Mike Corey (play-by-play), Rene Ingoglia (analyst) and Lauren Sisler (sideline reporter).

Both teams attended the Alabama Football Legend Luncheon on Friday, where former Sidney Lanier and Alabama fullback Johnny Davis was the 2018 recipient of the Alabama Football Legend award, presented by Regions Bank.

Georgia Southern held a walkthrough on Friday morning at Huntingdon College and then visited the historic Cramton Bowl in the afternoon.

Georgia Southern head coach Chad Lunsford is glad that game day is almost here.

“I am ready to get to that 24-hour period,” Lunsford said. “Tonight, we are able to lock back in the routine that we would normally have on a road game.  I would not take any of these experiences away from the guys but obviously anytime you get back to the normalcy of things, it helps.”

Eastern Michigan’s trip to Cramton Bowl was interrupted by heavy rain that came through Montgomery in the middle of the afternoon.

EMU head coach Chris Creighton said his team has had a good week, but is ready to play the game.

“It has been a great week,” Creighton said. “The hospitality has been phenomenal. We have really enjoyed the city. I feel like we have practiced well. I know our guys are motivated. Getting to eight wins and hoisting a trophy is something that this group has not experienced, nor has any group at Eastern Michigan since 1987.  We will go through our normal routine tonight and try and get our first victory ever in the state of Alabama.”

 

DEFENDING THE TRIPLE OPTION:

The Eastern Michigan defense will be challenged on Saturday, trying to defend Georgia Southern’s “triple option” offense.

Eastern Michigan might have a little advantage in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl as the Eagles squared off with Army on Oct. 27 at Rynerson Stadium in Ypsilanti.

The Black Knights piled up 415 yards offense, including 289 rushing yards in a 37-22 win. Army ran the ball 73 times and average four yards per rush. The Knights completed 7-of-8 passes in the win.

EMU head coach Chris Creighton sees similarities on both teams, but also points out some major differences when he watches tape of Georgia Southern.

“When we were out recruiting after season every high school we stopped they would ask are they still running the triple option,” Creighton said. “The answer right now is yes they are. The difference when you ask about Army is that Army doesn’t get out of it. What makes Georgia Southern so difficult is they run triple option but they can also run some conventional split zone and what not. The challenge for us is defending both the triple option and a little more conventional style offense. It’s that dichotomy which is the real challenge.

“It’s interesting because this is the first bowl game day. There are some advantages and disadvantages to that. So when we found out we were going to a bowl, we celebrated at the same time we found out it was Georgia Southern. Our guys might not have much of a clue, but as coaches we knew. We are playing the triple option again. It’s not just take your playbook against Army and slap it down this week. It has been real difficult to prepare for.”

Georgia Southern leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks ninth nationally with 260.8 rushing yards per game. The Eagles are the only team in the nation without an interception. Georgia Southern has attempted 110 passes this season. Only Army (84) had fewer pass attempts nationally.

“That is the key, the matchup with our defense against the offense. Again, it’s them getting in and out of their triple option.  Now for their defense against our offense, they have faced offenses similar to us and we’ve faced defenses similar to theirs. That piece is not as exotic if you will. They are just really good. We have to make sure we are sharp.”

 

CRETIN-DERHAM HALL LEGACY:

Eastern Michigan senior Brett Banham attended the same high school as a baseball Hall of Famer, American League MVP and Heisman Trophy winner. Banham honed his skills at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. The powerhouse program has won 26 state championships, including 11 football state titles.

The list of alumni includes Paul Molitor, Joe Mauer and Chris Weinke.

“It was an awesome experience,” Banham said. “There was so much talent that came out of there. There were former NFL players on the coaching staff. It was great learning from them. To have guys like that teach me at young age. They had similar experiences and to learn from them and see what it takes to get to the next level. It was great to be at school like that with so much success and such strong alumni base.”

Banham has been a versatile player for the Eagles this season. He leads the team in receiving, punt returns and kick returns this season.

Banham has 54 catches for 714 yards and five touchdowns this season. He also leads the team with 195 punt return yards and 89 kickoff return yards. He ranks second in the MAC with a 9.2 yard punt return average. He ranks eighth in the MAC with 84.2 all-purpose yards per game.

 

2018 RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL:

Eastern Michigan (7-5, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) and Georgia Southern (9-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) meet in the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. The game will kick off at 4:35 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by ESPN. The broadcast team will be Mike Corey (play-by-play), Rene Ingoglia (analyst) and Lauren Sisler (sideline reporter).

Tickets to the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl are on sale at www.espnevents.com/camellia-bowl/tickets. Tickets are $30 for reserved seats and $20 for general admission seating.

The Guardian Credit Union Fan Fest gets underway at Paterson Field at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Michigan will conduct a pep rally at 1 p.m., followed by Georgia Southern at 2 p.m.

As a reminder, Madison Avenue will be pedestrian traffic only beginning Saturday at 9 a.m.

 

MONTGOMERY NATIVE HONORED BY CAMELLIA BOWL 

By Tim Gayle
Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY – Johnny Davis had a hard time putting his latest award in perspective, so he took the time to write down his thoughts, and then used it as the opening statement in his speech at the Alabama Legend luncheon on Friday afternoon.

“It’s a great honor for me to be here today,” he said. “First of all, I’d like to thank Mayor Todd Strange, (Montgomery County) Commissioner Elton Dean and the Camellia Bowl committee for inviting Johnny Davis back to his hometown. The kid that that grew up in Star Alley was known as Ozzie Newsome’s roommate, Joe Montana’s fullback and Ricky Bell’s blocker, but today he’s known as Johnny Davis, the legend.”

Davis, 62, was honored by the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl as the fifth recipient of its “Alabama Legend” award and was the featured speaker at the Friday luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel & Spa that included city and county officials and both head coaches as well as the players of Eastern Michigan and Georgia Southern, who will compete in the Camellia Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Cramton Bowl.

For Davis, it was a long journey as the youngest son in a family of 12 who excelled at football from an early age, but felt he was often overlooked as a fullback in Paul “Bear” Bryant’s wishbone offense at Alabama in the 1970s despite a 10-year career in the National Football League.

Davis was honored earlier this year with his induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and was the first-ever Montgomerian selected as an “Alabama Legend” after Bobby Bowden, Pat Dye, Woodrow Lowe and Gene Stallings.

“This honor means a lot,” Davis said moments before taking the stage for the event. “I grew up here and it’s good to honor your hometown guy. So this is one of the greatest honors ever. It’s a blessing.”

Davis, a resident of Cliffside Park, N.J., was a team captain and All-American at Sidney Lanier in 1973 after rushing for 1,152 yards on 250 carries. He played fullback for Bryant from 1974-77 and was labeled by Bryant as “the best fullback I’ve ever coached.”

Statistics back up that claim. More than 40 years later, he ranks fifth in yards per carry in a season with 6.67 in 1975, trailing only halfback Bobby Marlow (1950) when he set the record. Today, he ranks behind Marlow, current Crimson Tide tailback Damien Harris (2017 and 2016) and tailback Kerry Goode (1983).

He is sixth in career yards per carry at 5.64, ranking behind Marlow and a quartet of Nick Saban-coached tailbacks: Derrick Henry, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon and Mark Ingram.

Davis was drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978 and played three years for the Bucs before he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1981. He only played one year with the 49ers but it was a memorable one as the team won Super Bowl XVI. He was traded to Cleveland the following year and spent the remainder of his 10-year career with the Browns.

“I played at Lanier over 40 years ago,” said Davis, now 62. “It’s like they say in church, he may not come when you want him, but he’s right on time, even if he’s 10 years later. I’m just thankful they thought about me for this honor.”

His 23-minute speech followed his career in football, relying heavily on lessons he learned from Bryant over the years.

“I fumbled on my first college carry,” he recalled. “I went over and Coach Bryant told me, ‘Do you know where you are? Nobody fumbles at Alabama.’ I didn’t fumble again. My thing is, when you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up.”

 

 

GARRETT’S PAST HELPS HIM BUILD TOWARD THE FUTURE

By Tim Gayle
Staff Writer 

MONTGOMERY – Monteo Garrett used to have visions of himself as a professional football player. But for nearly four years, he couldn’t even get on the field as a college football player.

“There were plenty of lonely nights where I sat and talked to my mother and cried and cried and cried,” Garrett recalled. “I talked to my high school coach about how I want to give this up. I talked to my father. There were plenty of people still behind me and they always said, whenever it’s raining, there is always a sun somewhere still shining. That’s something that always stuck with me.”

Garrett’s story is one of accomplishment and heartache, misplaced priorities and a second chance, of a player who rarely thought about anything other than football who transformed into one that may be suiting up for his final game in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl yet isn’t thinking about personal accomplishments.

“He was a commitment to us when Coach (Jeff) Monken was here,” Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said. “Then when Coach Monken took the Army job, he was still a commitment but we didn’t know where he was going to fit and he hadn’t quite made what he needed to make (on the ACT) to come to Georgia Southern. He was going the (junior college) route and then he made his test score. So I reached out to him and he was very interested in coming and Coach (Willie) Fritz was all on board about bringing him here. He got here and wasn’t quite ready for the college work but the best thing about this story is how he stuck with it, how he continued to work at his academics and got himself in position.”

Garrett was an athletic talent who helped his Munford High team to an 8-4 record as a junior, only the second winning season in the last 14 years for the Talladega County school. The next year, as a senior, the quarterback led his team to a 12-2 record and the 4A semifinals to earn all-state honors as one of the success stories of the year.

Just like that, the fame was gone. He committed to one coach, signed with another and was redshirted in 2014, then was academically ineligible in 2015 and 2016.

“Academics weren’t the strongest part of my life,” Garrett admitted. “I just struggled with academics. I finally realized that if I wanted to play football, my grades had to come first. I started putting my priorities right in my life. My faith in God and grades are the two most important things in my life. Everything else took care of itself.

“When I put grades second in my life (behind faith), that’s when everything started happening. I started doing what I was supposed to do and made the dean’s list with a 3.5 GPA. I hadn’t been on the field since November, 2013 and I finally touched the field again in September, 2017. It was a pretty long time, but it was all worth it.”

Between Nov. 29, 2013, when Munford lost in the 4A semifinals to eventual state champion Oneonta, and Sept. 2, 2017 at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, Garrett had 1,373 days to reflect on his priorities and wonder whether it was worth it. He can envision a day in the future when he talks to student-athletes and students in general, about his past.

“If you want to play football, this is what you have to do,” he said. “I’d just tell them, beside your faith in God; school has to be the number two priority in your life. I know there are plenty of kids out there that are struggling in school, but if you take care of your schoolwork, you’re already talented on the field so you’

ll get your opportunity on the field. But you’ve got to make sure you take care of school because it’s going to carry on in life with you.

“If college football was a job I got paid for, I would have already been fired because I didn’t have my priorities right.”

When he entered Jordan-Hare that day in 2017, he didn’t get to play. But it didn’t matter.

“It just felt great, being back out there, opening up in an atmosphere like that, being in a big stadium like that,” Garrett recalled. “For me and my family, it was just an emotional, happy moment because they hadn’t seen me on the field in a while. For me to put back on the uniform again, for my mother, I know it was an emotional moment.”

He only rushed for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season, but now his priorities were in order. He was on track to graduate (he will graduate in May with a degree in general studies) and back on the football field.

“I can’t believe I didn’t hang up the cleats because there have been plenty of times I doubted myself,” Garrett said. “Is football really for me or is God just testing me? Coming from my high school, being the star quarterback, always in the newspaper, I’m not saying I was cocky or anything, but it makes me more humble than any other set of circumstances. If I do get five touchdowns in a game, don’t be satisfied. Just how God gave me this opportunity, He can take it right back away.

“It’s been a long, long, long ride but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world because it helped me grow as a person. So that anything life throws at me, I’m always ready for it.”

He isn’t sure of his future but he wouldn’t mind building something. Maybe a house with a strong foundation. Somehow, that seems appropriate.

“I love building stuff,” he said. “I’d love to get an internship where I could build something, construct houses or something like that. I always had dreams of playing in the (National Football) League, so I’m going to give the NFL a shot and see where I can go from there. If that doesn’t work out, I’m always open to getting a job.”

On Saturday, he’ll suit up for the last time as a Georgia Southern Eagle. Lunsford never gave up on Garrett and said there’s no doubt the fifth-year senior will figure prominently in the game plan.

“Any time you can get Monteo the ball, that’s a good thing,” Lunsford said. “He plays hard, even when doesn’t have the ball, but I think good things happen when he does have the ball. Obviously, he’ll be part of our inside run game and he’ll be part of our outside run game. He’s a guy that can run very well once he gets out in the open so he’s somebody that we definitely want to make sure we get the ball in his hands.”

For a guy that spent the better part of five years trying to regain the spotlight, you’d think Garrett would have some lofty goals for the Camellia Bowl matchup with Eastern Michigan. He is the team’s third leading rusher with 478 yards and five touchdowns, but doesn’t think of points or yards when he thinks about his last collegiate football game on Saturday.

“The number one thing is to go out there and have fun with my brothers,” Garrett said. “The brotherhood here will last a lifetime because some of us will never play football again. We won’t have this chemistry of playing together again, so just go out there and have fun with my brothers. If we do that and do what we’re supposed to do, the winning will take care of itself.”

GEORGIA SOUTHERN HAS LOCAL FLAVOR

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 

MONTGOMERY – Georgia Southern has brought a local flavor to this year’s Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.

The campus, located in Statesboro, Ga., is about 300 miles from the city of Montgomery. The Eagles are expecting huge turnout this weekend from their loyal fan base.

The Eagles also have quite a few connections to the city of Montgomery and state of Alabama.

One of those connections is fifth-year senior tight end Ellis Richardson, who began his collegiate career as quarterback at Alabama State University.

After graduating from Douglas County High School, Richardson enrolled in prep school and then spent one semester at Los Angeles Valley College before transferring to Alabama State.

Richardson spent the 2015 season at Alabama State, where he compiled 1,289 total yards and 14 touchdowns for the Hornets. He threw for 739 yards and six touchdowns and added 550 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

He transferred to Georgia Southern following the season and had to sit out the 2017 season.

This year he leads the Eagles with three touchdown receptions in a run-oriented offense. Overall, he has caught nine passes for 185 yards.  His first career TD reception came against Troy. He was named 2018 First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference by Athlon Sports and was named to the John Mackey Award watch list, presented annually to the nation’s top tight end.

“He’s done a really good job,” Georgia Southern head coach Chad Lunsford said. “When we talk about buying in, he’s really bought in. We presented it to him a year ago; it was an opportunity for him to get on the field. It was an opportunity for him to go ahead and play and he’s really grown into that role. He’s done a really good job of getting physical. Obviously, his athletic ability is something that we really need at that spot. He’s done a good job at it.”

Richardson is a second-generation college football player. His father, Chuck, played linebacker on Clemson’s 1981 National Championship team under head coach Danny Ford.

Richardson isn’t the only Georgia Southern player with local ties.

The Eagles have five players who hail from the state of Alabama, including senior running back Monteo Garrett (Munford HS), sophomore linebacker Reynard Ellis (Shades Valley HS), freshman defensive end Elijah Campbell, Jr., (Gadsden City HS), freshman defensive back Kaylen Wright (Lanier County HS) and freshman tight end D.J. Butler (Bob Jones HS).

Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Scott Sloan is making his third appearance at the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. Sloan was the secondary coach at Appalachian State when the Mountaineers defeated Ohio and Toledo in back-to-back Camellia Bowl appearances in 2015 and 2016.

Georgia Southern outside linebackers coach Jeremy Rowell owns two degrees from Troy University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1997 and earned his master’s degree in foundations in education in 1999. A former Troy player, Rowell spent 15 years on the Trojans staff as assistant coach. He worked as defensive coordinator, secondary coach and recruiting coordinator during his tenure.

 

2018 RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL:

Eastern Michigan (7-5, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) and Georgia Southern (9-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) meet in the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. The game will kick off at 4:35 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by ESPN. The broadcast team will be Mike Corey (play-by-play), Rene Ingoglia (analyst) and Lauren Sisler (sideline reporter).

Former Sidney Lanier High School and University of Alabama fullback Johnny Davis has been selected as the 2018 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Alabama Football Legend Award, presented by Regions Bank.

Davis will be honored at the 2018 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Alabama Football Legend Luncheon, which will be held Friday, Dec. 14, at the Renaissance Hotel. Tickets for the luncheon are on sale through the Camellia Bowl (www.camelliabowl.com) website.

Tickets to the fifth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl are on sale at www.espnevents.com/camellia-bowl/tickets. Tickets are $30 for reserved seats and $20 for general admission seating.

 

RED ZONE:

The Raycom Media Camellia Bowl will feature two teams with red zone success this season. Eastern Michigan leads the MAC (4th NCAA) in red zone defense, while Georgia Southern leads the Sun Belt Conference (5th NCAA) in red zone offense.

Eastern Michigan opponents have scored on 33-of-46 (.717) red zone trips this season. EMU opponents have scored 21 red zone touchdowns (.457) this year. EMU opponents have only reached the red zone five times (1 TD) in the last three games. The Eagles have forced four red zone turnovers.

Georgia Southern has scored on 37 of 40 (.925) red zone possessions this season. The Eagles have 29 red zone touchdowns (.725) this season. Georgia Southern enters the Camellia Bowl having scored on 10 straight red zone trips (8 TDs). The Eagles scored on all seven red zone trips (6 TDs) against New Mexico State and all six red zone trips (4 TDs) at Coastal Carolina.

 

MEDIA SCHEDULE (FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14)

7:30-8:45 AM – FCA Breakfast (Renaissance Hotel)

Noon – 1:30 PM – Alabama Football Legend Luncheon (Renaissance Hotel)
Former Sidney Lanier and Alabama standout Johnny Davis
Presented by the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Regions Bank

1:15 PM – Eastern Michigan Walkthrough (Cramton Bowl)
Closed to all media/no photo opportunities

3-3:30 PM – Eastern Michigan Press Conference (Multiplex at Cramton Bowl)
Head Coach Chris Creighton, WR Blake Banaham and DL Jeremiah Harris

3:30-4 PM – Georgia Southern Press Conference (Multiplex at Cramton Bowl)
Head Coach Chad Lunsford, Wesley Fields and Kindle Vildor

4-5 PM – Georgia Southern Walkthrough (Cramton Bowl)
Closed to all media/no photo opportunities

4-6 PM – Pep Rally (Union Station Train Shed)

5-5:30 PM – Eastern Michigan Pep Rally (Union Station Train Shed)
EMU (Graduation Ceremony) (Union Station Train Shed)

5:30-6 PM – Georgia Southern Team Pep Rally (Union Station Train Shed)

6:15 PM – Montgomery Christmas Parade (Dexter Street to Commerce Street)

WIEGERS PLAYS KEY ROLE IN EMU TURNAROUND

By Tim Gayle
Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY – When Tyler Wiegers was a four-star recruit as a quarterback at Detroit Country Day High in Lake Orion, Mich., he entertained offers from several Midwest schools, including Eastern Michigan.

“Back then, nobody wanted to go there,” he recalled, “but Coach (Chris) Creighton did a great job turning it around.” Four years later, Wiegers was a senior at the University of Iowa, graduating with a degree in human physiology and looking for a place to continue his football career. This time, thanks to Creighton and his coaching staff, the Eagles’ football program looked a lot different.

“Eastern Michigan was the first school to reach out to me,” he said. “Coach (Aaron) Keen (quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator) called me right away. I went for a visit one Saturday when I had some free time and it looked like a good fit. Being close to home was a bonus but I was kind of looking to stay in the Midwest, a MAC school, stuff like that.”

By then, Creighton had worked a little magic, taking the Eagles to a bowl game in 2016 and winning more games in two years (12) than three coaches had in the previous six years combined.

“Seeing the end result of all that is really cool,” Wiegers said. “It’s cool to be a part of it this year.”

Wiegers stepped into a role that needed his leadership as much as his ability. Last year’s 12-game starter, Brogan Roback, was the Eagles’ career leader in touchdown passes (57) and total offense (8,876) and Creighton and Keen needed a dependable hand to keep the ship headed in the right direction.

Redshirt sophomore Isaac Stiebeling had played in a couple of games in 2017 and Mike Glass was a transfer from Southwestern College who would be eligible in 2018 after sitting out 2017 to comply with transfer rules. Wiegers, as a graduate transfer, could contribute immediately if he could win over his new teammates.

“I expected it to be tougher to come in and win over the locker room,” he admitted. “When I came in, right away, everybody was super receptive and open. They all brought me in as part of the family right away. There were a few guys I knew on the team from high school but everybody on the team made it easy.”

After a season opening win over Monmouth, the Eagles shocked Purdue in West Lafayette as Wiegers threw for 313 yards – the most since Roback threw for 328 in the 2016 bowl game – and Chad Ryland drilled a 24-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-19 win over the Boilermakers to give Wiegers his biggest collegiate highlight.

“It’s up there,” he said. “Any time you get a last-second win, having to come together with defensive stops and the offense coming up in clutch situations, it was crazy, a lot of fun. Especially going back to a Big 10 place and getting a win there.”

Wiegers would have hoped to have a highlight reel long before that September day, but it never worked out at Iowa as he had hoped. In 2015, he was the backup to C.J. Beathard, now with the 49ers, in a 12-2 season that ended in the Rose Bowl, but in 2016 he lost the backup job to Nate Stanley and in 2017 he lost a battle for the starting job to Stanley. In four years, he had appeared in eight games, completing 4 of 6 passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.

Now, wearing a different uniform in a different conference, he would get the chance to show his ability.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “That’s what you look for as a competitor, a chance to get out on the field and play on Saturdays. Luckily, I’ve been able to do that here. The coaches have given me an opportunity so it’s been a ton of fun and everything I wanted it to be.”

And while Wiegers wasn’t part of the 2016 squad that earned a trip to the Bahamas Bowl, he is part of the history-making 2018 squad that will be the first senior class in school history to make two bowl appearances when they face Georgia Southern on Saturday in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Cramton Bowl.

“Any time you can prolong your career, it’s awesome,” he said. “College football, there’s nothing like it. The camaraderie with the team, getting another month with the guys, that’s what we wanted.”

Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said the Eastern Michigan offense is a reflection of its quarterback.

“(Wiegers) is a really good operator,” Lunsford said. “I think he runs that offense, he puts them in good plays and that makes them very efficient on offense. When they bring (Glass) in, that guy has done a really good job of scoring touchdowns. I think they’re two guys that you definitely have to account for.”

Saturday’s game with Georgia Southern could give the Michigan native, overlooked or underappreciated in his four years at Iowa, a shot at redemption on a national stage but Wiegers isn’t thinking about his former team or any personal goals in his final game. He just wants to send his new teammates out as winners.

“I really haven’t thought about that much,” he said. “Any time you’re out there on that field with your teammates, you’re just trying to do what you can to win, so the whole ESPN, national audience, I don’t think anybody is thinking anything about that. We’re just focused on our assignment and what we’ve got to do to help each other out and win this game.”

EASTERN MICHIGAN GIVES BACK TO LOCAL COMMUNITY

MONTGOMERY – Eastern Michigan sophomore defensive lineman Turan Rush wants to make a difference.

The sophomore special education major joined some of his EMU teammates at Chisolm Elementary School on Wednesday to spend some time with the various classrooms. Rush spent his time in the special needs class interacting with the students and para-educators.

“It means a lot to me, to have an opportunity to visit and see a smile on their face,” Rush said. “These kids have special abilities and they are special people and I want everyone to see that.

“I walked in this classroom and I could feel the energy off the kids. They have fun. It means a lot.”

Rush feels like the special education field is his calling in life.

“In high school took a class and being around those kids every day, seeing them have fun, I feel like God put me on this earth to make someone’s life special. I want to bless them just like they bless me.”

The Eastern Michigan football team spent Wednesday morning giving back to the local community.

The team split into two groups to engage with two different parts of the Montgomery community. One group of Eagles’ student-athletes spent time at Chisholm Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala., interacting with all ages of students.

The other group of student-athletes went to the headquarters of the Montgomery Area Council on Aging in downtown Montgomery, aiding the group in the packing of meals for the local elderly community that are unable to prepare their own.

TURNOVER BATTLE:

One of the deciding factors in Saturday’s Raycom Media Camellia Bowl could be turnovers.

Both Georgia Southern and Eastern Michigan rank in the Top 10 nationally in turnover margin.

“No question, that’s the first part of our plan to win, is the turnover battle,” Georgia Southern head coach Chris Lunsford said. “We have to go make takeaways with our defense and make sure we protect the ball on offense.”

Eastern Michigan ranks second in the MAC (10th NCAA) with +10 turnover margin through 12 games. The Eagles have forced 24 turnovers (2 per game) and committed 14 turnovers (1.2 per game) this year.

EMU head coach Chris Creighton made a point to talk about turnover margin in his introductory press conference this week.

“The number one thing I look at is the turnover margin,” Creighton said. “I am pumping my chest out because we are tied for 10th in the nation with the University of Florida. So, I look up the turnover margin, hoping that will be a chance for us to win the game and Georgia Southern is ranked No. 1 in America in turnover margin.”

Georgia Southern leads the nation with a +22 turnover margin (+1.83 per game this season. The Eagles have forced 27 turnovers (2.3 per game) and committed only five turnovers (0.4 per game).

Lunsford says it not accident that his team has taken care of the football.

“We always do a drill called ‘own the ball’, where we own it,” Lunsford added. “That allows us to protect the football, but always allows us to practice taking the ball away. We really work hard on that all through practice.”

Georgia Southern is the only FBS team not to throw an interception this season. The Eagles have attempted 110 passes in 12 games. The 110 pass attempts are the second-fewest in the nation. Army has the fewest with 85 passes attempts in 2018

Eastern Michigan is tied for fourth nationally with four interceptions. EMU has attempted 361 passes in 12 games. The Eagles have only thrown one interception for every 91 pass attempts this season.

PRACTICE NOTES:

Georgia Southern and Eastern Michigan practiced for the first time in Montgomery on Wednesday afternoon.

Both teams worked for 90 minutes in helmets and shoulder pads. Georgia Southern practiced at Huntingdon College, while Eastern Michigan worked out at Alabama State.

“The physical piece will not be as much as we normally would,” Lunsford said. ”We got all that work done Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We ran a good bit today and fly around, but it’s starting to tale off to the mental side of things.

“This practice is very important. This is the one that will get us locked back in. They have done a really good job up to us leaving Statesboro. We have been a little different than a normal game week, so I think today’s practice will get them locked in.”

MEDIA SCHEDULE (THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13):

9 AM – Georgia Southern visits Rosa Parks Museum
Presented by Troy University 

9:50 AM – Eastern Michigan visits Rosa Parks Museum
Presented by Troy University

1:45 PM – Georgia Southern Interviews (Huntingdon College)

2:15 PM – Georgia Southern Practice (Huntingdon College)
The first 20 minutes are open to the media

2:45 PM – Eastern Michigan Practice (Alabama State)
The first 15 minutes are open for video/photos

4:30 PM – Eastern Michigan Post Practice Interviews
DL Maxx Crosby, LB Jaylen Pickett and DC Neal Neathery

5:30-7 PM – Georgia Southern BBQ Dinner (Riverwalk Stadium)
Presented by the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce

5:30-7 PM – Eastern Michigan Bowling & Dinner Event (Bama Lanes)