“One, I’d like to thank the Camellia Bowl for a wonderful week. And I’d like to thank Eagle Nation for an amazing turnout today. You could feel the energy all the way through the stands, coming from Statesboro and supporting this football team. I cannot thank them enough. Other people I can’t thank enough is this football team. I said it in the locker room, it’s been a wonderful ride this season. And I can’t thank our seniors enough for the foundation that they’ve led and laid for this team. In my opinion, the best is yet to be. Sometimes, you fight your guys out and it just doesn’t go your way at the end and that’s what this team did. I thought, defensively, they kept us in it enough to be able to stay in the game and keep it a one-score game for as long as possible. And, really, when you look at it and you break down the stats and you look at efficiency, really in the first half I thought it was important, the third-down efficiency. We were 2 of 7, they were 6 of 9. Especially in the red zone. They scored two touchdowns, we kicked two field goals early. Thought we did a better job in the second half. We finished, I think, 7 of 15, right about 50 percent. But we knew we were going to need to get two stops right there at the end. We knew play count wise, you were going to have two opportunities to get two stops. Hopefully, on third down. And we just came up short. I think they were 12 of 19 on the day. And that’s kind of the difference in the game. They made more third downs than us and you look up and they’re just slightly ahead of us. The only other thing that really triggered to me were the two turnovers in the second half. I thought defensively (we) probably saved the game with a huge stop after the fumble deep in our territory, to be able to keep it to where we could strike. Offensively, I was proud of putting up yards, just needed to finish and be able to protect the ball a little bit better.”
In particular, defensively, did they do anything you were surprised by, especially in the first half, because it seems like, as you mentioned, you guys struggled to move the ball?
“Well, it really wasn’t struggling to move it. If you look at the yards, we were sitting at 220 yards at halftime. So the ball was moving. It was a really clean game in the first half. There wasn’t any turnovers, but what was there was, when you look back on it, you go 2 of 7 on third down, especially in some third-and-manageable positions, we just didn’t strike. So that’s where I thought, especially, from that 5-yard line and in, we kick two field goals, one from the 3 and one from the 4. That was really the biggest difference in the game. That’s an eight-point swing, you know, if you convert those two third downs there. And it turned out to be the difference in the game. So if there’s one overlooming critique that you can say, it’s probably third downs and its third downs in the red zone in the first half.”
And it looked like (receiver) Beau (Johnson) was going in for a touchdown right there and he slips. As you mentioned, you guys go under center, they hit you for a 3-yard loss, you have to go for a couple of field goals. Just seemed like a lot of those kind of plays happened in this game where you guys didn’t quite get what you needed to get over the hump.
“They made just a couple more plays than us. Credit to Beau. I will say this: probably his best game as an Eagle. I thought he made some incredible plays for us. A great catch on that one, just felt off kilter just a little bit and fell down. But it makes no excuse. We’re first down inside the 10-yard line. We take a lot of pride in finishing drives. Credit to them. They played good red zone defense today.”
How is this game another example of the relentlessness of this team?
“Well, you know one of things that I think that has been laid here is just the tenacity to never quit and always compete on each and every play.”
You mentioned confidence there a few times. What’s the key, how do you go into the offseason carrying the momentum?
“Definitely. I told them in there I’ve always believed, each and every year, you’re going to lose probably about 45 percent of the locker room.”
I saw you and Kyle embrace after the game. How much has he meant to your program, getting you to this spot? I know it’s a team game, but without that guy I don’t think you get here.
“I’ve always believed great quarterbacks provide hope.”
I don’t know if you saw this from watching tape of them earlier, but they seemed to have a knack for converting a lot of third-down plays with big-time catches, especially by No. 1?
“Oh my goodness, what a great player. We mixed up enough coverages to try and slow them down and I thought (defensive coordinator) Will (Harris) did a nice job. We went into the game saying, hey, let’s stop the run, let’s make the quarterback beat us. What a special receiver. You could tell — I don’t know how many times he was targeted, it had to be over 20, it felt like over 20 — he is a very, very strong-handed catch player. When it was time to make plays, 12 for 19 (on third down), I don’t know how many of the 12 (third-down conversions) he made, but it felt like most of them was him.”