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Eagle fans get ready for final home game of 2023 football season
Georgia Southern faces Old Dominion at Paulson, 6 p.m. Saturday
GS Football
Georgia Southern senior Abby Peacock, 22, of Savannah, left, kicks her feet up with mom Stacey, a 1993 graduate, after setting up their RV camp at Paulson Stadium Friday, Nov. 17. The Peacock's were preparing their tailgate for the Eagles' final home football game in 2023 on Saturday against Old Dominion. A victory would keep Georgia Southern's hopes of capturing the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference alive and a berth in the conference championship game. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

It’s been a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for the Georgia Southern Eagles this year. At home the Eagles have a perfect 5-0 record, on the road they are 1-4. The latest road loss was to a Marshall team who came in with a Sun Belt record of 1-4 and had scored only 15 total points in the previous two games. 

Saturday the Herd exploded for 38 points and were able to keep the Eagle offense in check for the most part in the red-zone. They also limited the Eagles to just 5-19 on third down. Head coach Clay Helton was disappointed with the outcome but feels he Eagles took a step in the right direction with their road game issues. 

“I thought our team brought focus, passion and energy to the game Saturday,” said Helton. “We just fell short in a really good college football game. They came in with impressive numbers in red-zone defense and third down efficiency and they played well. We felt things were bad early as we got inside the 20-yard line twice in the first quarter and only came up with three points. That was the difference in 11 points and really hurt us.” 

Helton is now 12-11 overall since taking over the Eagle program. He is well aware of the expectations of Eagle fans who saw him lead the team to a bowl game in his first year. While the Eagles have lost two straight and are currently 6-4, he feels they can finish strong and that they have shown improvement this season. 

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Barry Griffin of McDonough raises his Georgia Southern banners while setting up his RV camp at Paulson Stadium Friday. Griffin said Georgia Southern is his adopted team through tailgating with friends who are alumni. 'We've had a lot of fun doing this for years,' he said.

“We took over a team that had only three wins in 2021,” Helton said. “Last year we had six wins, and all of a sudden you are putting yourself in a position in November to continue that progress. These last two games are really important. We still have a shot at first in the Eastern division. We can show the progress to the fans and alumni and I think we all know that and the responsibility that comes with that as coaches and players. I can honesty say this is a better football team than we had last year and we are progressing.” 

This week the Eagles wrap up their home schedule hosting Old Dominion. The Monarchs come in with a record of 4-6 and are 3-3 in Sun Belt play. Helton is quick to point out that the Monarch’s record is a bit deceiving as four of their six losses have come by one score or less. 

“Ricky Rahne does a tremendous job and knows how to run the football,” Helton said. “They do a great job of running the football and going play action and they go hand in hand. Quarterback Grant Wilson has done a great job of taking care of the football and keeping them in games. They have a great defense, and I don’t know if there is a better player in our conference than their linebacker Jason Henderson who has 154 tackles.” 

ODU doesn’t necessarily have one back the Eagle defense can focus on as Wilson leads the team with 100 carries. Kadarius Calloway has 541 yards and four touchdowns and Keshawn Wicks has 492 yards and four scores. 

“We have to do a good job of understanding what each back does differently,” said senior linebacker Khadry Jackson. “One back may be more of a bruiser and another may be quick and elusive. We have to do a great job scouting them. We have to do a good job on first and second down and make it tough on third down and hopefully have them in a long situation.” 

Saturday will also be senior night as the Eagle seniors take the field for the last time at Paulson Stadium. For receiver Khaleb Hood the times has flown by, but he is excited about hitting the field before the home fans one more time. 

“I have a big family and most of them will be at the game Saturday,” Hood said. “Being out there at Paulson Stadium you see all the people who really love and care about you and that is special and brings reassurance to me. When we are at Paulson it is just different. I started here back in 2019 and I will miss it here for sure but this week I’m just going to give it my all.” 

Georgia Southern and Old Dominion are set for a 6 p.m. start Saturday at Paulson Stadium. 

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Georgia Southern students Jacob Preston, bottom right, and Tate Rhodes string lights as they help prepare the Field of Dreams area at Paulson Stadium Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

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