In the final game of the 2010 season Georgia Southern rallied from an 11 point fourth quarter deficit to defeat arch-rival Furman to finish with a surprising 7-4 record.
That victory, coupled with some other dominoes that fell into place that weekend, earned the Eagles a spot in the FCS playoffs which they took full advantage of by advancing to the semifinals where they lost to Delaware.
When Georgia Southern got its at-large bid — said to have been the last team picked for the field — it stuck a dagger in the heart of the Jacksonville University Dolphins.
No Pioneer Football League team has ever received a bid to the playoffs, but Coach Kerwin Bell believed his team deserved one after winning the PFL championship, the Dolphins’ second in three years, en route to a 10-1 season.
“We were so close,” Bell said. “We had a good team, and a chance to get in. That was a great disappointment.”
The only loss came in the second game of the season at Appalachian State, 45-14, and it came a week after a 10-point win at Old Dominion, a team the Eagles beat in the second round of the playoffs last year.
That will no longer be an issue next year as the PFL — like the Patriot League a non-scholarship conference — will see its champion receive an automatic bid to the expanded 24 team playoff field.
“If we win our conference we have a chance to represent Jacksonville and JU in a national playoff for a chance to win a national championship,” Bell said. “Anytime you talk about playoffs or national championships it takes your program to another level.”
Bell and the Dolphins will be looking for a measure of respect when they and the Eagles open the season at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
Under Bell, now in his sixth season, Jacksonville has been one of the most prolific offenses in FCS.
However, the offense Bell sends on the field against Georgia Southern will be but a shadow of the one which averaged 32 points per game last season while going 7-4, 6-2 in the PFL.
Missing are eight starters including quarterback Josh McGregor, a four-year starter who passed for 3,044 yards and 29 touchdowns last year. McGregor graduated as the all-time PFL and school passing leader.
Also gone is wide receiver Josh Philpart who had 50 catches for 675 yards and six touchdowns. Because of those losses JU is projected to finish fourth in the conference.
The Dolphins will be a green team offensively with Kade Bell, a redshirt freshman and the coach’s son, stepping in as the starter at quarterback.
If he is anything like his father he should develop into quite a talent.
Kerwin Bell went to Florida as a walkon where he played for Steve Spurrier.
He became the first Southeastern Conference quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards, and spent time in the National Football League and Canadian Football League before turning to coaching.
Scoring 30 or more points a game has become commonplace at JU under Bell, who is 38-21. He believes his offense will continue to be productive despite the huge turnover. The two deep for the offense shows a total of 18 freshmen and sophomores.
“Potentially there is more talent with that group than we had on our 2010 team when we led the nation in total offense,” Bell said. “We have only two starters returning on offense, but we have a defense that can win championships for us.”
It’s just the opposite on for the defense which is dominated by upper classmen.