Georgia Southern Returning To Familiar Territory
Surprising Georgia Southern and No. 3-seeded Delaware take a large amount of tradition into an intriguing semifinal matchup Saturday in the FCS playoffs
By Myron Hosea
College Sporting News
The co-champions of the Southern Conference, Appalachian State and Wofford, exited the NCAA Division I Football Championships this past weekend, but the football program that has won more playoff games than any other remains.
Georgia Southern (10-4), which finished third in the league, defeated conference rival Wofford (10-3), 23-20, on Saturday to advance to a semifinal contest at Delaware (11-2).
Top-seeded Appalachian State (10-3) was ousted by the defending national champion Villanova (9-4), 41-24, at home last Saturday.
The Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game matches the No. 1 (Georgia Southern with 41) and the No. 5 (Delaware with 20) schools in terms of all-time playoff wins.
Two of the nation’s best defenses will also take the field at noon Saturday.
HOW THE EAGLES GOT HERE
The Blue Hens rank first in scoring defense, giving up a mere 11.6 points a game. The Eagles allow 17.9, eighth best nationally. Delaware gives up 275 yards in total offense while Georgia Southern surrenders 285.
“They have an outstanding football program,” Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken said about Delaware following the win at Wofford. “When I was here at Georgia Southern (as an assistant under Paul Johnson), we played them three times. We played them three times when I was at the Naval Academy."
And all of that familiarity has built plenty of respect.
"Every time, they’ve had a good football team," Monken elaborated. "A very skilled, excellent football team. K. C. Keeler does a tremendous job. They’ve been to the national final twice — won it in 2003 and were in it as recently as 2007. Certainly one of the nation’s great teams at this level.”
Monken’s team has come out of nowhere to a large degree to reach this game.
The Eagles stood 4-4 at the end of October, but they have not lost since, winning six straight, including three playoffs games.
Georgia Southern won at William and Mary, one of the two teams that defeated Delaware (17-16) this season.
“I promise only one thing, that our guys will play hard and be tough and play together,” Monken said. “I think we’re doing that. Whatever happens at the end of the game, if they do that, I’ll take the result."
Obviously, team chemistry has been a big part of Georgia Southern's recent success.
"I’m happy with the team that plays tough and plays together, plays like they love each other, and plays hard," said Monken. "I think our guys managed to do that throughout this season. I’m proud of them for that more than anything else."
Monken has been gratified by Georgia Southern's success.
"Like I said, we’re just lucky to be here, and we’re excited about the opportunity to be in the semifinals and play one more Saturday together as a football team," Monken said. "We’re just going to try to make the most of it.”
While quarterback Jaybo Shaw and the rest of the Georgia Southern offense will try to make things happen against that Delaware defense, the Eagles defense — led by nose tackle Brent Russell — will have to deal with a Blue Hens offense that average 28.6 points and 407 yards a game.
Quarterback Pat Devlin, a Penn State transfer, has thrown for 2,675 yards and 20 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Andrew Pierce leads the rushing attack with 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Georgia Southern can produce a few points, too, averaging 29 a game, and the defense helps with that.
The Eagles have returned an interception and four fumbles for touchdowns, including one against Wofford.
Laron Scott also is dangerous returning kickoffs, and Delaware had allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Furman University named its new coach this week, welcoming back alumnus, former player, and former assistant coach Bruce Fowler.
Fowler returns to the Paladins after spending nine years at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He becomes Furman’s 22nd head football coach and succeeds Bobby Lamb.
During his 16 years on the Furman staff, the Paladins fashioned a 146-70-3 record that included a national championship and eight Southern Conference titles.
The Cincinnati, Oh., native joined the Paladin football team as a walk-on in 1977 and played on the school’s first Southern Conference championship squad a year later.
Meanwhile, just up the road in North Carolina, Big South member Gardner-Webb is conducting a search for a new head coach to replace Steve Patton, who was not retained following the completion of a 4-7 season in 2010.
Patton spent 14 season on the sidelines leading the Runnin’ Bulldogs. He compiled an 87-66 record in that time, winning the Big South championship and coach of the year honors in 2002 and 2003.
Patton has won 117 games as a college head coach, having coached previously at Mars Hill and North Greenville.