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Eagles take on New Mexico State in homecoming tilt
GS Football
Georgia Southern's Wasley Kennedy III plunges n for the game-winning touchdown against Coastal Carolina last week at Pauson Stadium. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

There’s always a bit more pomp and circumstance leading up to the annual homecoming game, but many of the extra distractions have been anything  but fun for Georgia Southern.


The Eagles (3-3) enter today’s matchup with New Mexico State (0-7) needing another win to stay on track for a bowl bid. At the same time, the team’s mind could easily be forgiven for not being 100 percent focused on the game as it is still reeling from the suicide of freshman offensive lineman Jordan Wiggins earlier this week.


There’s no good way to cope with such a tragedy. Georgia Southern has done what it can. Practice on Tuesday was canceled. Counselors have been on call for anyone wanting to talk about things and GS head coach Chad Lunsford has been adamant that the well-being of his players is paramount for the school even as they continue to work towards playing another game.


As tough as the week has been, there is still a game to play - a game that Eagle players on the team’s leadership committee unanimously voted to play.

Georgia Southern enters today’s game riding a two-game winning streak, but nothing has come easy. The Eagles had to rally to force overtime three weeks ago in South Alabama and survived Coastal Carolina and a tropical downpour in three overtimes last weekend. New Mexico State looks to be the weakest team on the Eagles’ schedule, but no one on the home side is about to let their guard down.


“We’re looking forward to New Mexico State and hopefully a great homecoming crowd,” Lunsford said. “We’re playing better, but we haven’t played a great game yet. Just because they’re a winless team doesn’t mean we can take them lightly. We’re still working on us and we need to make sure that we play our best game.”

The knock on Georgia Southern throughout the season has been that its option offense hasn’t produced the big plays that were expected. The Eagles dominated the offensive stats in each of their last two games, but turnovers, miscues and ineffective red-zone production have forced them to walk a tightrope and work late magic in order to pull off wins.


The Aggies — at first glance — appear to be a prime candidate for the Eagle offense to work things out. New Mexico State is allowing 42.6 points per game and is surrendering an average of 243.6 yards of rushing in each contest.


Georgia Southern’s offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and the backfield is still adjusting with Logan Wright out of the mix, but a scoring outburst appears to be right in front of it for the taking.


Much of the Eagles’ potential success could key on slotback Wesley Kennedy III, who has played vital roles in each of the last two weeks after sitting out the first four games of the season due to an academic suspension.


“He’s a huge lift to our offense,” Lunsford said. “He was obviously missed those first four games. I’ll say this - he’s taken a negative and turned it into a positive. You can tell he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and I’m very proud of how he is bouncing back.”


On the defensive side of things, Georgia Southern has played a couple of dominant games, with only the rogue big play plaguing it. New Mexico State hasn’t done much to light up scoreboards this season, but it’s fast-paced passing attack dealt an early blow to the Eagles last season in Las Cruces before GS recovered for a comfortable win. 


Georgia Southern is hoping for all of the positives of last year’s game against the Aggies to show up once again while eliminating some of the early hiccups.

“It’s a game we can really get up for,” GS defensive end Traver Vliem said. “They’re a team that likes to pass, so it’s easy for (the defensive line) to get excited. We definitely are looking forward to rushing the quarterback and trying to make and impact.”


Today’s game is the final non-conference tilt for the Eagles this season. Georgia Southern is 1-2 so far outside of Sun Belt play.


Following today’s game, the Eagles face a two-week stretch that features games at Appalachian State and Troy and that will go a long way in determining Georgia Southern’s lot in the Sun Belt East race and bowl eligibility.



EAGLES TO PROMOTE SUICIDE PREVENTION

The Georgia Southern Athletics Department, in consultation with the school’s mental health professionals and the requests of the Eagle football squad, has released its plans to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to honor the life of the late Jordan Wiggins at Saturday’s game.


• A suicide prevention awareness sticker will be placed on the backs of the Georgia Southern helmets while the staff will be wearing the purple and turquoise ribbons. Purple and turquoise are the two colors used for suicide prevention awareness;


• The Eagle players will use purple mouth guards in lieu of their normal ones;


• At the 78-minute mark on the pre-game clock (1:47 p.m.), the team will gather in the end zone by its locker room to celebrate the life of Wiggins, a freshman offensive lineman who wore No. 78 for the Eagles. 


• Stickers replicating the ribbons adorned by the team will be handed out by Georgia Southern student-athletes and staff at the gates, as well as the student entrance. These supplies will be limited and fans are also encouraged to bring their own ribbons made at home;


• Finally, a moment of silence will be observed prior to the national anthem to recognize all those who have been affected by suicide.