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Eagles eye Pennsylvania's St. Francis
Georgia Southern running back Dominique Swope drags Savannah State defenders for extra yards on a second quarter run at Paulson Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 31. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

St. Francis (0-0) at Georgia Southern (1-0)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Paulson Stadium

    For the second straight week Georgia Southern will take a step into the unknown when it takes on Pennsylvania’s St. Francis University.
    The Eagles (1-0) will meet the Red Flash at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Paulson Stadium. It will be the season opener for the Red Flash, and it will be the first meeting ever between the two schools.
    St. Francis, a small Catholic school located in Loretto, Pa., which is near Johnstown, is better known for basketball than football having produced a pair of Hall of Famers in the late Maurice Stokes and Kevin Porter. Its undergraduate enrollment is 1,772 with another 679 graduate students.
However, fifth-year head coach Chris Villarial is trying to reverse the fortunes of a football program which has not had a winning season since 1991. The Red Flash have been a member of the Northeastern Conference since 1993.
    St. Francis is in its 90th year of football, but did not field a team from 1954-1968. Football returned on a club sport basis in 1969 and the Flash began playing at the Division III level in 1979, eventually moving to the FCS level in 1993 when it joined the NEC.
Villarial guided his team to a 5-6 record last year, the most wins for St. Francis since it went 8-2 in 1992. Four times during that stretch the Red Flash did manage to post three-win seasons.
    “St. Francis has a good run game with a lot of different personnel groups and formations,” Eagle Coach Jeff Monken said. “It appears to us they want to run the ball, and I respect a team like that.
    “We face very few teams out of that league,” Monken said, “and the last time we did we did get beat. We’ve got to get prepared to play our best.”
Monken was, of course, referring to Georgia Southern’s loss to Central Connecticut State (17-13) in the 2006 season which was the opener in Brian VanGorder’s lone ill-fated 3-8 year.
If the Eagles do indeed play their best odds are it will be a second straight romp although St. Francis looks to better prepared to put up a fight than the outmanned Tigers.
    St. Francis won its last two games of the season last year, and three of the losses came by a total of 12 points otherwise it would have been a season to remember. In pre-season polling the Red Flash was picked to finish fifth in the NEC which would be its best ever.
Last year the Red Flash offense established itself as the most prolific in school history as it set records for most points scored (307), touchdowns (39, rushing yards (2,610) and rushing attempts (502).
    What was more impressive was St. Francis did it without running back Kyle Harbridge who missed the season with a knee injury after setting a school record with 1,474 yards in 2011.
    Harbridge is back this season, but the Flash return only five starters off that offense, two wide receivers and three on the offensive line. St. Francis will play two redshirt freshmen, Capril Thomson and Max Ward, at quarterback against the Eagles.
    Defense figures to be St. Francis’ strong suit in the early going as the Red Flash return 10 starters including All-NEC safety Jake DeMedal who led the team in tackles with 88. Defensive tackle Terrace Bourne was second team All-NEC. Bourne had 32 tackles including seven for loss and three quarterback sacks.
Linebacker Bishop Neal (76 tackles), defensive end Joe Laukatis (62), and cornerback Ter’Shaudney Phillips (61) are other Red Flash players who are among the better defenders in the NEC.