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Eagles roll in Helton’s debut at GSU
Georgia Southern football coach Clay Helton
Georgia Southern football coach Clay Helton, shown above leading the Eagles onto the field, picked up his first win in Statesboro on Saturday. The Eagles defeated FCS Morgan State 59-7 at Paulson Stadium. Scott Bryant photo.

By Josh Aubrey Statesboro Herald

STATESBORO - The Georgia Southern Eagles weren’t going to let a slow start spoil the Eagle coaching debut for Clay Helton as they shook off the rust from a 10-point first-half lead to cruise to a 59-7 victory Saturday.

“I’m really excited for the guys and I think they played with really great effort tonight,” Helton said. “I thought we could be a little bit better with our execution on offense from the way we played in the first half. “I think we got into a flow late in the first quarter and really hit our stride by late in the second quarter. Defensively, I can’t say enough, as they didn’t give up a single point.” Helton said one of the big reasons for the second half turnaround was adjustments they made after seeing the defensive scheme Morgan State was playing in an attempt to slow down the Eagle run game.

“We took advantage of that with some explosive plays down the field,” he said. “The last three or four minutes of the first half and the first three or four minutes of the second half are so crucial.

I felt we ended the half strong and started the third quarter strong and that is what really got us going.” Quarterback Kyle Vantrease may be a sixth-year senior, but it was still his first game at Georgia Southern and he admitted there were some early jitters he had to shake off before starting to feel more comfortable and getting in and rhythm that helped him throw for 367 yards and four touchdowns. “A lot of it was me just needing to calm down there,” Vantrease said. “It was our first game with so many new guys and I haven’t really gotten hit since like last year so it was a process. We want to start fast so that wasn’t to our standard, but we just had to shake a little rust off and we played much better in the second half.”

It may be Vantrease sixth year but for Todd Bradley-Glenn, Saturday was year seven.

“I was just thankful and feeling blessed to be back out here with my guys,” Glenn, who led the team in tackles with seven, said. “My family came down to watch and just being back out there with all the fans in the stands, I was just grateful to be out here again.

There was excitement and even some jitters being back out there, but then you get that first hit in there and it felt amazing.”

Running back Jalen White had two touchdowns, and fellow junior Gerald Green added a second half score. True freshman running back O.J. Arnold scored the first touchdown of the game, and added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“It felt amazing out there tonight,” Arnold said. “The coaching staff has been getting me ready for this moment and I was able to make the plays when I got the chance.”

Arnold’s first touchdown was the Eagles first points of 2022 as a pass from Vantrease hit a Bear defender in the end zone and bounced back into the end zone where Arnold made a leaping catch. His second score came on a 23-yard run for the final points of the game.

“When Kyle threw the ball, I saw the defender had his back turned,” Arnold said. “I was thinking if it hits his back, it’s going to bounce somewhere, so I just dove and grabbed it. On the other touchdown, the offensive line did a great job opening a hole and I just ran through it.”

Another pleasant surprise for Coach Helton was the production at wide receiver from converted quarterback Sam Kenerson who finished the night with a team-leading seven receptions for 99 yards. “Sam has really been trying so hard to find a home at a position and I am so proud for him,” Helton said. “We all had faith in him and what he could do. Amare Jones goes down, and we told him it was his time and he steps up and leads the team in receiving.”

The Eagles will visit Nebraska on September 10.

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