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Eagles close SoCon slate

Eagles close SoCon slate

Eagles close SoCon slate

The scenario facing Georgia Southern as it takes on Elon in its final Southern Conference game ever would have been hard to imagine in August.

It was only three months ago the big question was whether the Eagles would be 10-0 or 9-1 going into the Nov. 23 finale at Florida.

Now, after a year wracked with season-ending injuries to key players, poor play and some questionable coaching decisions Georgia Southern (5-4, 3-4 Southern Conference) finds itself having to beat the last-place Phoenix (2-8, 1-5) at 3 p.m., on Saturday in Elon, N.C., to assure itself of a winning season.

Normally this could be counted as an automatic win for the Eagles, but then this has not been a normal season.

This will be the final home game of the season for the Phoenix, who like Georgia Southern, are leaving the SoCon after this season. While the Eagles are moving to the Sun Belt Conference Elon is headed to the Colonial Athletic Conference.

“It’s been a tremendous run for Georgia Southern since we joined the conference in 1993,” Coach Jeff Monken said. “We’ve won 10 titles which is more than any other team in that stretch. I take a lot of pride to have been a part of seven of those. This is a very competitive league, and a very good league.”

To clinch that winning season and to avoid its first losing season in the SoCon since 2006, Georgia Southern is going to have to do something it hasn’t done this year —  win on the road.

Two of those losses have been especially galling. The Eagles had halftime leads at Samford and Wofford only to lose.

“The games we’ve lost on the road this year are all vivid in my mind,” Monken said. “We just haven’t played well on the road this year, but we’re going to try to make this last game (in the SoCon) the best one we’ve played.”

Georgia Southern leads the conference in scoring at 33.8 points per game, but it has struggled in the second half. The Eagles have been outscored 94-69 in the second half of conference games.

Eagles quarterback Jerick McKinnon leads the conference in rushing with 102.8 yards per game, just ahead of Wofford’s Donovan Johnson who is at 102.6. McKinnon has 925 yards on the season.

Elon’s hopes rest on the right arm of quarterback Mike Quinn who is averaging 219.4 yards per game passing. The Phoenix are last in the conference in total defense, last in pass defense, and eighth in rushing defense.

Georgia Southern is averaging a league leading 348.5 yards per game on the ground, and a seventh-best 99.8 yards passing.

“Our guys have got to play the best they can with great effort,” Monken said. “Emotion doesn’t win. Execution wins. It’s important to secure a winning record. Only three teams here have had a losing record (1996, 2006, 2009), and we don’t want to be a part of that.”

Elon’s record easily could be better. Its lone conference win was 28-25 at Furman. The Phoenix lost to Western Carolina by three points in overtime, to Wofford by four, Appalachian State by 10, and Chattanooga by 11.

However, last Saturday at Homecoming the Phoenix bottomed out in losing to The Citadel, 35-10. It was Elon’s fourth-straight loss and seventh in its last eight games.

“Obviously, it’s a low point for Elon football,” third-year Coach Jason Swepson said afterwards. “We’ve got two weeks to continue to get better, to continue to try to save a season here.”

Elon led the Bulldogs 14-10 at the half, but much like Georgia Southern did at Samford and Wofford, saw a good effort go by the wayside. The Phoenix have now been outscored 104-9 in the second half in their last six games and hve not scored a second half touchdown since Sept. 21, when they played App State.

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