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Eagles jump right into South Alabama week
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As the wins continue to come in for Georgia Southern, it’s becoming more evident with each passing day that the Eagles are done thinking about last season and laser-focused on what they can achieve in 2018.

The high point of the still-young season came Saturday night at Paulson Stadium when Georgia Southern outlasted conference favorite Arkansas State in a thrilling 28-21 victory that saw the Eagles get out to a 1-0 start in Sun Belt Conference play.

A crowd of over 17,000 erupted when the Eagles broke off the winning touchdown run on a reverse in the final seconds of play and many of those fans poured over to the Ted Smith Family Football Center to congratulate the players and begin the postgame party.

A celebration was called for, but the Eagles were already back in business mode on Monday afternoon.

“The last few years, Sunday has been our off day,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “We’ve changed that up. Now we come in on Sunday, have our team meetings, lift and practice. We’re excited about wins and the guys deserve to feel good, but I also think it’s important to come right back and put that game away and get to work on the next one.”

Next up for the Eagles (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) is the team that helped Georgia Southern begin to turn things around last season.

Georgia Southern entered its game against South Alabama at 0-9 last year, only to let loose a season’s worth of frustrations on the Jaguars in a 52-0 win. This time around it’s the Eagles who have plenty of momentum while South Alabama (1-4, 1-1) has stumbled in its first year under new head coach Steve Campbell.

The Eagles are undoubtedly in a better spot heading into their latest matchup against the Jaguars. The belief has been there all along for the players and is quickly flooding in from the fans, but Georgia Southern is keeping an even keel in the face of success.

“The fact is that we’ve won three games. Last year we only won two,” Lunsford said. “But I don’t think that winning three football games is the goal of anyone on this team. We have a lot more work to do before we talk about validating ourselves.”

It is far too early to start looking at how the race to the Sun Belt championship game is shaping up, but several trends are starting to emerge. 

Most notable is the seemingly large gap between the East and West divisions of the conference. In the first full week of conference play last Saturday, East teams took all three cross-conference matchups and no team from the West has defeated an Eastern counterpart to date. The Eagles will look to keep that trend going and will also try to extend their winning streak over the Jaguars that includes all four previous meetings.

On a slightly larger scope, Georgia Southern’s win over Arkansas State also puts the Eagles in great position to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2015. Georgia Southern needs just three more wins to become bowl eligible and current projections show the Eagles as considerable favorites in each of their next three games.

All of those things are pretty common knowledge, but the fact that 2017 was such a struggle makes it easier for the Eagles to stay focused on the present as they all remember how distant bowl game or conference championship contention seemed not even a year ago.

"We just keep our heads down and keep striving to get better," GS quarterback Shai Werts said. "We feel good about what we've done and where we're going. The important thing is to make sure that we keep growing and keep getting better.

Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 486-4755.