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An exuberant exit
GSU's FCS era ends with a bang
Georgia Southern Flor Ledb 1
Georgia Southern's Matt Dobson (7), Jerick McKinnon (1) and Zach Lonas (62) celebrate Saturday after a 26-20 victory over Florida in Gainesville. - photo by Associated Press

    GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Georgia Southern Eagles are the most storied program in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision.
    They’ve won six national titles, an eye-popping 45 playoff games and a handful of memorable regular-season upsets.
Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., the Eagles’ disappointing 2013 season turned into a storybook ending. They beat the Florida Gators 26-20, signaling the end of the FCS era and the beginning of a whole new chapter.
Georgia Southern, which will join the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference in 2013, said, “Hey! FBS! Here we come!”
Head coach Jeff Monken wouldn’t rank GSU’s first FBS win in program history, over an admittedly pretty-bad Florida squad, among the great wins in program history.
But he knows it wasn’t insignificant.   
“It’s a big win,” Monken said on Saturday after the game. “There have been a lot of big wins at Georgia Southern. There’s a flagpole outside of Paulson Stadium with six flags on it, and those are some pretty big wins. I don’t know if any wins top a national championship. But this is certainly a big win.”
There’s no telling how important this win is for GSU’s program. It allowed the Sun Belt to feel pretty good about its decision to invite Georgia Southern. It will certainly help out there on the recruiting trail. It will probably give UGA fans another reason to make fun of Florida.
Really though, the win’s significance remains to be seen.
What really matters, today, anyway, is the impact the win will have for the rest of the 2013 Eagles’ lives.
Before joining the media for post-game interviews, senior Johnathan Bryant made one more quick trip back onto the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
    “I just went out there again to look at the scoreboard. I love it,” Bryant said. “I’m just trying to soak it in right now.”
    Senior linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck, who was raised in Gainesville, immediately found his family. They just hugged.
    “They didn’t have anything to say,” Oehlbeck said. “They couldn’t talk.”
    The tales folks will tell about this one are great. Banks didn't practice all week. Jerick McKinnon, who rushed for 125 yards and the game-winning touchdown, wore a boot for his injured ankle throughout Saturday morning.
    And on. And on.
    “That’s what playing college football is all about,” Monken said. “It’s about having days like today, that they’re going to remember forever.”
    Georgia Southern beating Florida doesn’t mean the Eagles will go 12-0 next year in the first year in the Sun Belt.
    It doesn’t mean that GSU could hop into the SEC and be competitive tomorrow.
What it does mean is that Georgia Southern has one of the finest histories of winning in all of college football, and that the Eagles’ next step has gotten off to quite a start.

Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.

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