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Eagles look to avoid letdown in Cullowhee

Georgia Southern will play its biggest game of the season next Saturday when it meets Wofford at Paulson Stadium.
    A win over the unbeaten Terriers would enable the defending Southern Conference champions Eagles to forge a tie for first place in the conference, and cap a comeback of sorts after an opening loss at The Citadel.
    Oops. Put that blockbuster matchup on hold for 24 hours. Both Georgia Southern and Wofford have some unfinished business to take care of this Saturday.
    Georgia Southern (3-1, 2-1),  one of three teams with 2-1 records in conference play, meets Western Carolina (1-4, 0-3) at 3:30 p.m. in Cullowhee, N.C.
    The Terriers (4-0, 2-0), meanwhile will take on nearby rival Furman (2-3, 1-1), at 1:30 p.m. in Spartanburg, S.C.
    Both teams are heavily favored to win, a prospect which has both conference and FCS fans licking their chops at the prospect of would be the biggest game of the day in FCS football.
However, there’s no question the Catamounts and the Paladins would love to throw a monkey wrench into that scenario.
    No one is more aware of that than Georgia Southern Coach Jeff Monken who is taking nothing for granted.
The Eagles lead the overall series with Western Carolina, 20-2, and have won the last 17 meetings, including a 52-20 romp last year. The Cats’ last win came in 1994, a 35-31 win in Cullowhee.
    Western Carolina has had only three winning seasons since that win, the last coming in 2005 when it was 5-4, 4-3 in the conference. Since then the Catamounts are 10-62, 2-47 in the SoCon.
    With records like that coaching turnovers are bound to occur, and Western has a new coach this season in former Appalachian State assistant Mark Speir.
    Catamount officials and fans believe they have found a coach who can get the program turned around, and while a win over Mars Hill is the lone bright spot everyone believes Western headed in the right direction.
    Speir brought with him high expectations, and Catamount fans and players are buying in.
And, so is Monken.
    “Western Carolina is as good as they have been in years,” Monken said. “Mark is doing a wonderful job.
    “Watching those guys, and the way he’s got them playing, the attention to detail, I’m so impressed and I didn’t expect nothing less,” Monken said. “They present challenges for us, using two quarterbacks and doing a nice job with both of those kids.”
    Monken’s comments were similar to the ones of Samford Coach Pat Sullivan after the Bulldogs came from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to pull out a hard-earned 25-21 win.
    “It was a big win for us,” Sullivan said, “but I want to compliment Coach Speir and his staff on the job they’re doing…it was a different team than what we’ve played in the last three years…I thought the emotion they played with, the crowd. Everybody was into it. It was a tough environment.”
    The Eagles are coming off an excellent defensive effort in which they gave up only 63 rushing yards to Samford, and scored four touchdowns on plays of 40 yards or longer.
    Western Carolina has struggled offensively although quarterback Eddie Sullivan, a transfer from Marshall, has completed 83-of-145 passes for 849 yards and four touchdowns.
    The Catamounts’ leading rusher is Darius Ramsey with 226 yards, but he sat out last Saturday’s 45-24 loss to Furman with a concussion. Sullivan passed for 220 yards, and rushed for 104.
    As an assistant at Appalachian (2003-2011) Spier was a part of three national championship and six SoCon championship teams, beating Georgia Southern in six of nine games.
    “Whether you have as much talent or speed on the field as Georgia Southern you have to play with a lot of confidence,” Spier said. “You just have to be authoritative.
    “You have got to get to the point of attack, and defensively you can not have any hesitancy,” Spier said. “You don’t have to be as fast as Georgia Southern to go play good against them, but mentally you have to be as fast as Georgia Southern. That’s what we’ve been preaching to our players.”

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