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Furman offense riding high
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    Chris Hatcher is getting ready to experience his first Georgia Southern-Furman football game, and the intensity of the rivalry is not lost on him.     
    “I know the history of the rivalry although I’ve never experienced it,” said the first-year Georgia Southern coach, “but our guys do. For them all I have to do is say, 'It’s Furman week.'”
    This will be the 19th meeting between the two with Southern holding a 12-6 lead in the series. It's seldom they meet when one or the other or both are not playing for a championship. Saturday’s game is no different.
    Georgia Southern (7-2, 4-2) needs a win to claim a share of the Southern Conference championship, which would be its ninth in 15 years in the league. Furman (4-5, 3-3) needs to beat the Eagles and Western Carolina to avoid its first losing season since 1998. The 3:30 p.m. game will be televised on SportSouth.
    The Furman-Georgia Southern rivalry is one of the more unique in college football. The die was cast long before the Eagles became a member of the SoCon, a league which Furman has been a member of since 1936.
    The two schools started their relationship playing for a championship in 1985, and little has changed since.
    All that was at stake in the first meeting was the national championship. The Eagles prevailed, 44-42, when Hall of Famer Tracy Ham hit Frankie Johnson for the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds to play.
    The second time they played was in 1988, and again it was for the national title. Furman prevailed, 17-12, to claim its only championship. Southern, of course, owns a record six.
    “It started in a unique fashion with two national championship games,” said Furman coach Bobby Lamb. “I don’t think any rivalry in the country can say that. We’ve had some great battles over the years, and they’ve won more than we have, but being in the state next door and how it started in a national championship game makes it a unique situation.
     “We’re trying from our end to get a winning season. Our only hope after the App game was to win three in a row. If we do that, we go 6-5 and get a winning season which is our goal.
    “We’ve got 18 seniors on this team, and they’ve won 33 games in four years. They have a lot of pride. These kids have been through a lot of big-time games against Georgia Southern. I don’t have to tell them a lot about what’s happened in the past.”
    It was Furman who ended the Eagles’ 39-game home-winning streak with a 24-17 win in the 2001 playoffs, and two years ago Southern beat the No. 1 Paladins, 27-24, to get in position to earn a playoff bid.  
    After starting 1-3 the Paladins have won three of their last five games including a 52-49 win over Elon last week. Furman dropped a seven-point decision at home against Appalachian State and lost 54-51 in overtime at The Citadel after leading 41-24 in the third period.
    “From our perspective we obviously have not played good defense,” said Lamb, “but when you look at the stats I don’t think anyone in this league has. The offenses are so explosive, and every quarterback you play each week is a great player.”
    Still, Lamb believes his team is beginning to show flashes of its potential as it closes out a disappointing season. Preseason all-conference picks quarterback Renaldo Gray and fullback Jerome Felton have struggled but are playing well now.
    Felton, at 6-feet, 246 pounds, had a career-high 154 yards and four touchdowns against the Phoenix. Gray is fourth in the league in total offense.
    “Offensively we’re starting to jell,” said Lamb. “Renaldo has played three straight solid games, and Felton is playing his best football. We’ll have to have it all together when we come to Statesboro because it’s a tough place to play.”