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Citadel has much to play for, too

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    The stakes will be high for Georgia Southern when it meets The Citadel this Saturday afternoon at Paulson Stadium.
    When the Eagles line up for the noon kickoff they will be playing for their conference and playoff life.
    After last week’s Georgia Southern version of the ‘Miracle on the Mountain’ the Eagles (5-2, 2-2) suddenly find themselves very much alive in the Southern Conference championship race.
    The formula is simple:  win out and have Elon stumble against either Chattanooga, Furman or The Citadel and Southern will have no worse than a share of the SoCon title which it last won in 2004.
    The Phoenix, The Citadel and Wofford currently have one league loss each. The Eagles, of course, play the Bulldogs (5-2, 3-1) this weekend and go to Wofford (6-2, 3-1) next week before finishing the SoCon schedule at home against Furman.
    But, what about The Citadel?
    The Bulldogs have a great deal to play for, too. Not only are they looking to win their first SoCon title since 1992, but they are attempting to post a rare winning season, and further validate coach Kevin Higgins’ rebuilding program.
    Since that halcyon 11-2 season in 1992 the Bulldogs have finished .500 or better only three times, the last in 2003 when they were 6-6 including a 28-24 win at Paulson.
    “Obviously I think we’ve progressed a little bit as a program,” said Higgins who went 4-7 in his first season two years ago and followed that with a 5-6 record last year, getting a 24-21 win over the Eagles in Charleston, S.C.
    “We still have so many challenging games to play,” said Higgins. “We’ve got a tough road ahead of us in terms of getting any more wins.
    “We’re battling to see if we can find a way to get that sixth which would give us a winning season,” said Higgins. “We have gotten bigger and stronger, and hopefully that has translated into better play on the field.”
    After Georgia Southern the Bulldogs play App State, Elon and VMI.
    The team Higgins brings to Paulson is one that has earned its stripes this season.
    The Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with then No. 10 Wisconsin, forging a 21-21 halftime time before succumbing to the Badgers’ superior size and depth, 45-31. Then came a disappointing 28-7 loss to Wofford in which the Dogs failed to score in three trips to the red zone.
    Southern and The Citadel have faced two common opponents this season:  the Dogs ripped Chattanooga, 41-16, the week after the Mocs beat GSU, and last weekend The Citadel edged Western Carolina, 37-31, a team the Eagles pounded, 50-21.                     
    Quarterback Duran Lawson gets most of the attention for the Bulldogs, but running back Tory Cooper is a big key to their success. The 5-foot-7, 181 pound senior has 696 yards rushing, has caught 25 passes for 294 yards, and has returned 18 kickoffs for 377 yards. He has scored 14 touchdowns.
    “He’s one of the best running backs in the league,” said Georgia Southern Coach Chris Hatcher. “But, they’ve got a great quarterback, and some other good players to go along with him. That’s why they’re one of the best offenses in the country.
    “You’ve got to be sound,” said Hatcher, “and hope they don’t get a big play on you. If you load up to stop Cooper, and — you’re not guaranteed to stop him number one—the quarterback can hurt you.
    “He’s (Lawson) really, really good. It’s kind of like playing App State.”
    The Citadel is second in the league in total offense behind the Eagles, but is first in total defense.
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