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Furman has playoff hopes on the line

Eagles playing for pride

    No doubt, 10th-ranked Furman has a lot on the line in today’s matchup against Georgia Southern. And despite their highly unexpected 3-6 record, so do the Eagles.
    The Paladins (7-3, 5-1) must win this afternoon to remain in contention for an at-large bid to the Division I-AA playoffs, while a victory for Georgia Southern (3-6, 2-4) would help salvage some sort of pride for coach Brian VanGorder’s staggering team. The Eagles, losers of three straight games, have gradually regressed each week since a double-overtime defeat by top-ranked Appalachian State on Oct. 21 in Statesboro.
    “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to get in the playoffs this year, but Coach VanGorder has been saying from the beginning that we are building this program, and this would be a great way to lay a foundation,” said junior fullback Dusty Reddick, who is hoping to return this week after missing three games with a concussion. “I think it’ll be great to go up to Greenville, lay a foundation and show people, ‘Hey, we are getting better, and we are going to be a team to be reckoned with.’”    
    If the Eagles plan on making such a statement, they’ll need a much improved showing from their offense, which has struggled mightily recently. Starting quarterback Travis Clark has completed just 42.7 percent (38 of 89) of his passes in the last three games, and Georgia Southern ranks dead last in the Southern Conference in third-down conversions (42 of 133, 31.6 percent).
    Eagle fans are hoping junior playmaker Jayson Foster will see more time at the helm today. Foster, who led the Eagles to eight wins and the playoffs as the starting QB a year ago, has been used sparingly in that position this season but often provides a spark when he’s under center. The Eagles’ lone touchdown in last week’s loss to Wofford came on an option play with Foster at QB. Furman coach Bobby Lamb admitted his players were intimidated by Foster when the Paladins visited Statesboro last year.
    “When the ball is in his hands, he is probably the most dangerous player in the conference,” said Lamb, who offered Foster a scholarship out of high school. “We were very scared of him last year. He ran their offense to perfection, and he made our guys look silly trying to tackle him. We sure wish we had him now.”
    Whether or not Foster will be used more at the helm today remained under wraps, but Reddick feels good about GSU’s game plan.
    “We’ve got a great offensive plan,” he said. “Our defense is looking good, and it’s going to be a good rivalry game against Furman. Everybody’s mindset is good, and we’ve had a great week of practice. Everybody is concentrating. We’ve been trying to get to the younger guys and the transfers how big this game is. I think all of those guys are going to respond well.
    “Furman’s always been fundamentally sound. They are a fundamental football team. They do things right. We are going to have to hit them in the mouth.”
    Senior center Lance Wanye said the offense studied their weaknesses on film this week and tried to hone in on specific areas such as decision making.
    “We’ve just got to come off and play ball, not worry so much about what the defense is doing,” he said.
    The Eagles briefly discussed the rich history of the GSU/Furman rivalry early in the week, Wayne said.
    “Even with that said, as soon as we get there (the newcomers) are going to find out what it’s like,” he said. “The atmosphere there is great. The two teams – there’s no love for either one of us.”
    Wayne and the Eagles know halting their slide and upsetting the Paladins won’t come easily.    
“They’ve always been a strong, athletic group, they’re used to winning and they have great tradition there,” Wayne said. “Anytime you can beat Furman, that’s considered a decent year. It makes the year respectable for us – that’s really what us seniors are fighting for right now.”

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.

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