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Who's to blame in loss? No one, really

    Take a deep breath, Eagle fans.
    Now exhale. Sit back and look at the big picture. Sure, watching that ball sail wide right as time expired and Georgia Southern’s Southern Conference title hopes sail away with it was tough to watch, but let’s take a look at the situation as a whole.
    The Eagles had to beat Furman to gain an automatic berth into the FCS Playoffs. Plain and simple, folks, it didn’t happen.
    Let the finger pointing begin.
    Blame the kicker!
    Ladies and gentlemen, kickers have bad days. Unfortunately for GSU, this was one of those days. Jesse Hartley was 0-for-3 on the night. Mad at him because the Eagles have three losses? Georgia Southern may have already lost three if it weren’t for his 54-yard, game winner against South Dakota State.         Still pumped up about road wins at Wofford and Appalachian State? The Eagles won both of those by three points.
    It sure would have been nice for GSU to have grabbed that automatic playoff bid against Furman, but the fact that they were even in a position for the SoCon Championship happened for a reason. The kicker played a pretty big part in that.
    Okay, well how about the refs?
    Eagle fans have photographic memories when it comes to all of the bone-head calls made by the boys in the zebra stripes over the years. The bad calls always seem to go in Furman’s favor when these two teams meet.
    Not so much, this time.
    The game was lost twice on the last two drives, both times on fourth down. First, there was an incomplete pass. A questionable pass interference call kept the drive alive for the Eagles. As hard as it is for a football fan to be un-biased, go back and look at that play with neutral eyes. There was contact, but it could have gone either way. The official made a call in favor of GSU, and the drive continued. Result: Touchdown, Eagles.
    Later — after a huge fourth-down stop, by the way — Jayson Foster had another one of those runs that only he could pull off. It was 4th-and-6, and after a handoff, a reverse and another reverse, the ball ended up back in Foster’s hands and he twisted, turned and had a late burst of speed to get the first down. The ball popped out, and Furman recovered. Jayson was ruled down before the fumble, and the Eagles kept the football. It was another questionable call that went in favor of Georgia Southern.
    Well, then, in that case — it must be the coaches.
    When the clock read 0:00, the stands in Paulson Stadium erupted with thousands upon thousands of sideline coaches.
    “Why didn’t they run it one last time?”
    “The kicker was 0-for-2 on the day. Why’d they put the game in his hands?”
    “There was plenty of time left. Why didn’t they take a shot at the end zone?”
    And on, and on, etcetera, etcetera.
    First of all, if that kick goes through, it was the perfect call and everyone leaves the stadium raving about how brilliant the coach is. Hind sight is, after all, 20/20.
    When a coach calls a play, it is because he expects all 11 players to execute the play to the best of their ability. In fact, he’s counting on it. If he doesn’t think each of those guys will execute the play he called, he’ll run something else. When a coach starts calling plays that he doesn’t think his boys can execute, he may as well just hang it up.
    The Eagles were in position to win. Period. They were in field goal range, and Chris Hatcher called the play that he was confident could be executed. This time, it didn’t happen. Over the past several weeks, Hatcher has talked about making one more play then the other team. He had them in a position to do just that. Sometimes, the ball bounces the other way.
    So whose fault is it?
    Well, it’s tough to beat good teams, especially when they don’t commit a whole lot of penalties and they don’t turn over the football. The Paladins didn’t. Both GSU and Furman played well, and on Saturday, Furman was the better team.
    That Senior-Night loss to a bitter rival will leave a bad taste in the mouths of the Eagles. Georgia Southern has the opportunity to go to Colorado State on Saturday and play very, very mad. Could an 8-3 team with three SoCon losses and road wins against Appalachian State, Wofford (the auto-bid team from the SoCon) and FBS Colorado State have a good enough resume to get an at-large bid into the FCS playoffs?
    That is for the selection committee to decide.
    All the Georgia Southern Eagles can do is get on a plane to Colorado, suit up, and play football one more time. And that, football fans — especially after a year like 2006 — is all anyone can ask.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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