Georgia Southern officially attained bowl eligibility with a win over UL Monroe last month. The Eagles ensured their spot in the postseason with a victory over Georgia State in the regular season finale and found out that they’d be facing Liberty in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl a litte over a week ago.
But now it’s officially game week for the Eagles.
Players filed into the Ted Smith Family Football Operations Center at Paulson Stadium Monday afternoon ahead of the day’s practice. That will be the final time GS dons its helmets and pads in Statesboro this year as Tuesday will bring a drive down to Orlando to set up shop at their bowl location.
“We’re very excited to have this bowl game against a very good opponent to finish off our season,” GS coach Chad Lunsford. “That’s not exactly how it looked at the beginning of the season. Back when we were at 1-3, we had two feet in the grave and dirt was getting thrown on ust. To win six of our last eight to get to this point says a lot about this team and how they’ve fought.”
Saturday figures to be a fun conclusion to the 2019 campaign. It’s a well-deserved finale for a team that has run a huge gauntlet from the get-go.
Georgia Southern began its season against the newly-crowned Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and his playoff-bound LSU squad. The first month of the season also featured a trip to a Minnesota squad that is also in a “New Year’s Six” bowl game.
That same opening span saw a rash of injuries. Starting quarterback Shai Werts missed nearly four full games and the offensive line - which lost one starting member in fall camp - continued to burn through its depth chart. The tragic death of freshman Jordan Wiggins dealt a blow far beyond the regular trials and tribulations expected during a season. And yet the team found a way to come out on the other side and play some of its best football in the final weeks when it was needed most.
“We’ve grown a lot and we keep getting better,” sixth-year senior offensive lineman Jake Edwards said. “We have that ‘next man up’ mentality. A lot of guys have had to step up a lot sooner than expected, but we’ve embraced the challenge and grown that much closer.”
Now that it’s bowl week, there are still distractions and hurdles, but the current challenges are much more to the Eagles’ liking.
In addition to spending several days out of town in the run-up to a game as opposed to the quick travel turnaround for other road games, there is also the matter of a pep rally and other team events that will allow the Eagles to roam the grounds of various parks at Universal Studios.
Throw in several thousand Georgia Southern fans that will be up close and personal for all those good times preceding the actual game and it makes for a game week like no other on the schedule.
“It’s definitely different,” Lunsford said. “I guess it helps that - with all we’ve been through this season - we haven’t really had a “normal” week all year. We have a game that we’re preparing for and that we expect to win, but I also want our guys to enjoy themselves. Everyone gets prepared and locked in at their own pace. I trust that everyone is going to be ready to play on Saturday.”
Georgia Southern and Liberty will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Exploria Stadium as the Major League Soccer venue hosts its first ever football game.