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Georgia Southern: Beat App State, win the SoCon

    The moment Georgia Southern has been playing for since Sept. 8 has arrived.
    That was the night the Eagles lost their Southern Conference opener at The Citadel, 23-21. When they awoke the next morning the task at hand was clear — win out and hope the Bulldogs would somehow manage to lose two conference games.
    The Citadel has come through with three conference losses to date, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Paulson Stadium, the Eagles will have their final chance to hold up their end of the bargain.
    Georgia Southern (7-1, 6-1), ranked No. 1 in this week’s FCS Coaches Poll, can clinch its second straight conference championship by beating Appalachian State (6-3, 4-2). With a win the Eagles would be the first team to qualify for the 20-team FCS playoff field.
    The meeting with the Mountaineers will bring to a climax a four-game run that has been physically and emotionally gut-wrenching for Georgia Southern.
    After losing to the Bulldogs the Eagles sandwiched wins over conference lightweights Elon and Western Carolina with a 35-16 victory over a solid Samford team.
    Then came wins over unbeaten Wofford, arch-rival Furman, and last week, a three-overtime 39-31 defeat of Chattanooga to set up yet another “biggest game of the year.”
    This is an important game for the Mountaineers, too, who need to win to avoid possibly missing the playoffs. And, should the dominoes fall in the right direction, coach Jerry Moore’s team could wind up with the conference’s automatic bid to the playoffs.
    A victory by Appalachian would open the door to a lot of possibilities that could lead, while far-fetched, to a four-way tie.
    Here are the SoCon contenders and their remaining games:
    — Georgia Southern (6-1) vs. Appalachian State.
    — Wofford (5-1)   at Samford, vs. Chattanooga.
    — Appalachian State (4-2):  at Georgia Southern, vs. Furman.
    — Chattanooga (3-2)  at Western Carolina, at Wofford, vs. Elon.
    If the Mountaineers and Chattanooga win out, and the Terriers beat Samford, no small chore, the conference race would finish in a four-way tie. Appalachian, with wins over GSU and the Mocs, would hold the tie-breaker for the automatic bid.
    “We’re a good team,” Moore said. “Now we have to go prove it.
    “We’re certainly not eliminated from the playoffs. But we’re in a deal where you don’t worry about what happens to everybody else. We just need to take care of our own business and win these next games.”
    Appalachian’s biggest challenge will be containing the Eagles’ triple option offense. Its two conference losses have come to option teams Citadel and Wofford.
    Against those two option teams Appalachian gave up an average of 45 points and 529 yards a game. Against everyone else its giving up 27 points and 376 yards a game.
    The Bulldogs rolled up 463 yards rushing in a 52-24 win and Wofford had 393 in a 38-28 victory. Both were played in Boone, N.C., marking the first time Appalachian has lost two games at home since 2002.  
    This will be the third straight year one of the teams has been ranked No. 1 going into the game. Each time the No. 1 team has lost.
    The Eagles were the victim last year, while Georgia Southern’s 21-14, overtime win over the Mountaineers two years ago was the catalyst for a run to the playoffs for a GSU team which finished 7-4 in the regular season.
    Since that signature win over the Mountaineers in coach Jeff Monken’s first season the Eagles are 24-5 including back-to-back trips the FCS semifinals, the only team to do so.
    Both teams could be without one of its principal offensive players.
    Dominique Swope did not play for Georgia Southern last week against Chattanooga, and his status for the Mountaineers is questionable.
    Appalachian State quarterback Jamal Jackson was injured in the first quarter of last week’s 38-27 win at Western Carolina — as misleading score as it was 38-13 in the third quarter.
    Jackson has thrown for thrown for 2,190 yards this year. Steven Miller leads the Mountaineers on the grounds with 1,077 yards rushing while freshman Sean Price has 51 catches for 683 yards.
    If Jackson can’t go, Logan Hallock, a sophomore and former walk-on, will start in his place.
    Hallock, who began the season as the third-team quarterback, came on in the first quarter and all he did was complete his first 20 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns before his missed on his final attempt of the game.
    GSU freshman William Banks had 69 yards on 18 attempts as Swope’s replacement at Chattanooga. The Eagles, who had 372 yards rushing, were led by quarterback Jerrick McKinnon’s 141. Slotback Darreion Robinson added 74 as nine different players had rushing attempts.
    McKinnon leads the Eagles with 734 yards rushing, and Swope has 729.