COLUMBIA, Mo. — Redshirt freshman Eric Stokes hadn’t scored a touchdown since high school, until Saturday.
Missouri lined up to punt the ball towards the end of the second quarter. Stokes, who is on second team for punt return, had his named called in place of Tyler Simmons. Simmons suffered an injury, according to head coach Kirby Smart in his post-game press conference.
Missouri special teams was on the Missouri 27-yard line with fourth-and-15. Punter Corey Fatony punted the ball, but instead of the ball heading down the field, Stokes blocked the ball. He recovered the block and turned to run the right yards into the end zone to score a defensive touchdown for Georgia.
Stokes was only thinking three words after he blocked the punt and saw the ball right in front of him:
“Scoop and score, scoop and score, scoop and score,” Stokes said.
Stokes first saw the field for Georgia in the 2018 season opener against Austin Peay on Sept. 1. He recorded two stops, one for a loss of yardage. Stokes finished the matchup against Missouri with three pass breakups, four solo tackles, a blocked punt and a defensive touchdown.
Stokes said he was hit with the ball in the face when he blocked it, which allowed him to recover the ball quickly and run it into the end zone.
“It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Stokes said. “I know that a lot of people do not score on defense, so just being able to score, it’s a lot.”
Smart said that although Stokes is not a starter on punt return, he puts in the time and effort to work hard. Even though he was beat out for the first-team spot, he continues to compete and work.
“He didn’t even get to take reps to do that block,” Smart said. “He went in because he paid attention to the guy that was in front of him, executed it for Tyler Simmons perfect, and really played well today.”
Stokes played on both offense and defense in high school for Eastside. In 2016, he tallied 20 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended on defense. Offensively he rushed for 279 yards on 41 carries for two touchdowns and caught 16 balls for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Stokes also said he had never blocked a punt during his high school career.
Stokes can now add this crucial moment to his collegiate career, as the importance of special teams continues to ring true for Georgia.
Senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker said from his perspective as a veteran on the team, seeing a young player like Stokes block and score a defensive touchdown is what the team needs.
“I feel like that helps his confidence, it boosted his confidence level a whole lot,” Walker said. “And that’s what we need from our young guys and that’s what we need coming from our special teams.”