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Eagles and App light up rivalry game once again
GS Football
Georgia Southern defenders Kenderick Duncan Jr. (27) and Rashad Byrd (45) do their part to stifle the New Mexico State offense during last week's homecoming victory at Paulson Stadium.

Cliches are a way of life in football as much as any sport. And most teams will pile on top of those used throughout their particular sport with mantras that are tailored to themselves.

For Georgia Southern, that’s meant that the Eagles are “0-0 - trying to go 1-0 this week.” As the season approached, they constantly urged themselves on from last season’s surprising turnaround, wanting to go “From good to great.” And the team tries to ensure that they’re as good off the field as they are on it by being “The Georgia Southern Man.”

But for this week, just one saying suffices and it was brought up by every coach and player asked for their thoughts.

“It’s App week.”

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State meet tonight at 3,333 feet up in the Blue Ridge Mountains for the latest edition of a rivalry that has been played every season since 1993. The home-standing Mountaineers (7-0, 4-0 Sun Belt) have everything rolling and are on track to grab a third consecutive conference title while currently enjoying a No. 20 national ranking.

On the other sideline will be a Georgia Southern squad that has battled injuries and a ton of adversity over the first two months, but has overcome a 1-3 start to win three consecutive games. Now standing at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play, the Eagles will be decided underdogs as they take on their archrivals, but have a chance to swing the balance of the Sun Belt East with an upset win.

“I’ve been a part of a lot of these,” Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun. We preach trying to go 1-0 each week, but this one’s different and they know that.

“How we put it is energy over emotion. We want to have a high and consistent energy and not worry about getting too high or too low in a big game.”

A big game might not quite do this one justice.

For the fourth consecutive season, the winner of this rivalry matchup will control its own destiny in terms of winning the Sun Belt.

Appalachian State could establish itself as a dominant force in the conference with another rivalry game win. And with its national ranking and some well-timed losses over the last two weeks, the Mountaineers may even have visions of a New Year’s access bowl dancing through their heads.

As for the Eagles, they know that they don’t have the same shining resume as their rivals, but that they still have all of their goals within reach. Georgia Southern’s defense has been on a roll for the last month and the offense’s statistical output has started to reach expectations recently, even as the Eagles haven’t played on a sunny day since late September.

The oddsmakers don’t see tonight as much of a contest as the Mountaineers have been favored by more than two touchdowns all week. But to bring another cliche into this one, all the records can be thrown out when these two teams get together.

“You know, to read everything coming out about this one, we probably shouldn’t even go up there,” Lunsford joked about his team’s underdog status. 

“(Appalachian State) is a really good football team, but we’re going to put our work in. We’re going to be disciplined, we’re going to be tough and we’re going to try and win a football game.”

Appalachian is led by an always-stingy defense and a balaced attack that is deftly led by quarterback Zac Thomas. 

The Mountaineers were without Thomas' services in Statesboro last season as he was knocked out of the game with a concussion on App's first drive  — a fact that has been brought up repeatedly by ASU fans in the run-up to tonight's tilt. 

Thomas can't make up for last year's lost time, but he seems to have his mind set firmly in the present as he is on pace to live up to his hype as the Sun Belt's preseason Offensive Player of the Year.

Georgia Southern continues to deal with a laundry list of injuries on its offense, but has looked much more dangerous since Wesley Kennedy III got into the lineup after missing the first four games of the season. Kennedy is coming off a career day last week where he battled both New Mexico State and the unrelenting elements for 143 yards rushing and two touchdowns before adding a punt return for a touchdown.

Kennedy adds electricity to the steady leadership that third-year starting quarterback Shai Werts provides.

Add in a GS defense that has been sharpening its teeth with each passing week and tonight's game could easily end up as another exciting chapter in the rivalry novel that is already a must-read for anyone with an appreciation for great college football.