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GSU ready for showdown at 'The Rock'


Brent Russell said it was among the worst moments of his life.

Georgia Southern’s junior All-America nose tackle vividly remembers the Eagles’ 52-16 loss to Southern Conference rival Appalachian State in 2009, the last time GSU played at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.

"A lot of points for them," he said. "It was pretty bad, a hostile environment. We went up there and they gave it to us pretty good. We’re definitely not going to take them lightly. They’re a great team."

The No. 1 Eagles (7-0, 5-0) will return to "The Rock" to play No. 5 Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday in a game with major SoCon title implications.

"I don’t think we’ve ever been controlled as a team like that," Russell said. "It’s just how they prepare. They’re a great team. They’re the champs until somebody knocks them off. And we’re going to prepare like that."

GSU beat Appalachian State last season, 21-14 in overtime, at Paulson Stadium when the Mountaineers were No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision.

"Everybody on the team is talking about how it’s a vice-versa situation to last year, when they came in here," GSU sophomore Jerick McKinnon said. "We’re pretty much trying to not look at everything going on outside with the rankings and what people say, and just go up there and handle business because we know they’re going to give us all they’ve got."

This will be McKinnon’s first trip to "The Rock." He said his teammates have told him to expect bedlam.

"They say it’s crazy up there," McKinnon said. "They say it’s a good atmosphere, but that’s what we expect. We don’t expect for it to affect us and how we play. App State is a good team, and we’re going to go up there with the mindset to win the game."

GSU is coming off a 48-14 non-conference victory over Presbyterian College on Saturday. Appalachian State defeated SoCon opponent Samford, 35-17.

Wofford (5-2, 3-1) lost, 26-21, to SoCon opponent Furman (4-3, 3-2). GSU will play Wofford on Nov. 12 in Spartanburg, S.C.

"We’ve still got three games left," GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. "We’ve got a lot of football left to play in the league. It’s still anybody’s race. There’s a lot of teams, including Appalachian State, who we’re playing this weekend, who certainly have a chance to win the league.

"Wofford still does. There’s still a race out there. It’s not ours. We’ve got to earn it each week. We’re going to do the best we can to get prepared for Appalachian State, and we know that if we’re going to have a chance to be in the hunt that we’re going to have to go through Boone (N.C.) to do it."

There is no doubt that Appalachian State, after being No. 1 and losing to GSU last season, wants to beat the top-ranked Eagles on Saturday.

"I’m sure it’s a motivation for everybody who plays the No. 1 team, regardless of what level it is," Monken said. "But it wouldn’t matter if we were ranked 1 or 101. I think Appalachian State will be ready and excited and motivated for this football game."


Monken returns to "The Rock"

Monken said he has not been to Appalachian State since 2001, when he was the slotbacks coach on a GSU team that finished 12-2 and won the SoCon championship.

"They hadn’t done the renovations to their stadium, so this will be the first time for me to experience the new Kidd Brewer Stadium," he said. "I’m excited to see it. I see it on film and I see all the crowd, and it looks like it’s fantastic."


Inspirational speech

GSU’s football team received a pep talk after practice last week that Monken said he believes will stick with his players.

"We had Col. (Roger) Cloutier from the 3rd Infantry Division (at Fort Stewart in Hinesville) talk to our team on Thursday, and he talked about the war in Iraq, and talked about how they could not underestimate any opponent, any enemy," Monken said. "That they had to go with full firepower and battle the best that they could, fight the best war possible, never underestimate anybody.

"And he’s right. You can’t. And we’re the same way as a team. We had to come out (Saturday) afternoon and play full firepower, the best we could. I thought our guys responded and did a great job, and came ready to play. We had a good week of practice. I didn’t see our guys loafing through , practice, having a bad attitude or an attitude of, ‘Hey, this isn’t a conference game so it’s not as important.’ I think our guys know what’s at stake, and that it was an extremely important football game."


Strange feeling

After GSU beat Presbyterian on Saturday, Blue Hose head coach Harold Nichols said it was "somewhat strange" being back at Paulson Stadium.

Nichols was a GSU assistant from 1992-95 under Tim Stowers. Nichols’ wife, Dee, is a GSU graduate. She served two seasons as the Eagles’ volleyball head coach, and a season as a GSU women’s basketball assistant coach.

"It was real interesting coming into the stadium today, seeing all of the changes that have happened over the last 10, 15 years, since I was here," Nichols said. "I’ve got a lot of great memories from being here. This is a special place, a lot of great people here in this community and at the university. My wife is a Georgia Southern graduate, so she had some split loyalties today. But it was great seeing a lot of old friends and it was great coming back here."


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.