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Eagles celebrate huge rivalry win
GS Football
Georgia Southern defensive end Raymond Johnson III celebrates one of many defensive stops for the Eagles during their 24-21 victory over Appalachian State Thursday night in Boone, N.C.

BOONE, N.C. - Even after a win that was 12 years in the making, nothing needed to be said by Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford about what comes next for his team.

Fresh off a rivalry game at a hostile venue - and in even more hostile weather conditions - Eagle players hadn’t even loaded onto the busses for the long trip home before ensuring their coach where their minds were at.

“I had a bunch of them tell me that we need to go 1-0 next week,” Lunsford said. 

That the Eagles were already starting to focus on next Saturday’s game at Troy isn’t a knock on the Appalachian State team it had just upset. Georgia Southern’s 24-21 win over the 20th-ranked Mountaineers is yet another in a series of impossibly tense and dramatic clashes between the two heated rivals over the last three decades.

Instead, the insistence on getting an early start has everything to do with last season’s win over Appalachian State. The results were similar, with the Eagles grabbing a Thursday night win over a nationally-ranked App squad to put themselves in control of their own destiny to possibly win the Sun Belt East. Following that, the Eagles headed west to take on UL Monroe and were summarily thumped in an ugly loss. Another loss the next week put an end to any hopes of playing for the conference title.

As luck would have it, the Eagles now find themselves coming off of an emotional win and will clinch the East if they win out. And next up on the schedule is a trip out west to face a team - Troy this time around - which the Eagles will likely be favored over.

“We did this last year,” Lunsford said. “We beat (a ranked App State team). We can’t drink the Kool-Aid. We’ve got to be 0-0 moving forward and figure out how to go 1-0 next week.”

The motto of taking things one game at a time might fall flat for some fans as nearly every coach in every sport will cite it as a mentality for his team. Then again, history shows that there isn’t a better way to approach what is still a long season.

Following Appalachian State cracking the national poll and then becoming the first Sun Belt team to win a game in which it was ranked, the wheels of speculation started churning throughout Boone. 

Next week’s Mountaineers game at South Carolina was bumped into a primetime slot on ESPN. Prominent new outlets in North Carolina speculated what a win over another Power-5 school would mean for a -—presumably — 9-0 Appalachian team in terms of the national bowl landscape. Plenty of App fans openly started discussing what they would do with a bid to the Cotton Bowl, which holds this season’s G5 ‘Access Bowl’ slot.

And then it all fell, like so many snowflakes on a frigid high-country night.

That’s why Lunsford is dead set on not thinking of Thursday’s upset as anything but a big win and not thinking of anything else beyond the Eagles’ next 60 minutes of football.

“We’ve preached ‘Good to Great’ all season,” Lunsford said. “I wasn’t talking about being better than last season in terms of just wins. As our program grows, we need to get better in situations.

“We started out in a 1-3 situation and drowned out the negative noise. Now we’re going to get a lot of love. We need to concentrate on us and drown out the positive noise.”