By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Furman, Senior Day enough said
Placeholder Image
    Chris Hatcher hasn’t had to do a lot of talking this week.
    “It’s Furman,” is all the Georgia Southern coach needed to say to get his guys to understand the importance of this one. The Paladins and the Eagles have been hated adversaries for a quarter of a century, and the intensity of the rivalry never wavers.
    Couple that with fact No. 11 GSU is one win away from at least a share of the Southern Conference title and a likely playoff trip, and the magnitude of today’s 3:30 p.m. (SportSouth) “blue out” game swells even larger. This year’s been a struggle for the Paladins (4-5, 2-3), who’d love to slash the Eagles’ postseason hopes and regain respect that’s surprisingly eluded them this fall.
    “If you can’t get up for Furman, then you don’t need to be playing college football,” senior offensive lineman Russell Orr said this week, summing up the Eagles’ sentiments.
    Georgia Southern (7-2, 4-2) is in the midst of a three-game winning streak and knows winning today is the only way to keep its season alive after next week’s visit to Colorado State. The Eagles pushed themselves into a three-way tie for first place in the conference after last Saturday’s upset at Wofford. The Paladins helped GSU out by topping Elon, 52-49, which knocked the Phoenix out of sole possession of first.
    At this point, Furman is simply trying to avoid a losing season and doing so will require containing the most explosive quarterback in the league, GSU’s Jayson Foster. Foster’s known for giving defenses fits, and the speedy senior leads the league and ranks second nationally with 174.1 rushing yards a game.
    “I’ll be glad when this year is over because Jayson Foster will no longer be in the Southern Conference,” Furman coach Bobby Lamb said. “Obviously he is quite a player.”
    Both teams enter the game playing as well as they have all season. Furman’s defense continues to struggle, but the offense looks like it’s finally starting to roll. As for Georgia Southern, Foster continues to be unstoppable, the team’s overcome numerous injuries and the front seven on defense has improved dramatically from the beginning of the year. The Eagles have also reduced errors, specifically limiting turnovers and penalties, and the result’s been a 7-2 start after last season’s 3-8 mishap.
    “I missed that winning feeling last year, and winning this year has revived the program,” junior receiver Raja Andrews said. “Last year many of the players were just scared to win. This year we expect to win, so we go out each week and play the game with the attitude that we are going to win.”
    Clawing out a victory this week will require the Eagles to slow Furman’s duel-threat quarterback, senior Renaldo Gray, and senior running back Jerome Felton, one of the most physical and talented running backs in the league. Gray and Felton are two of Furman’s 18 seniors who’ve won 33 games in four years and made three consecutive playoff appearances. Those players have never won at Paulson Stadium, and Furman’s lone victory in Statesboro was in the 2001 playoffs.
    “They have a lot of pride,” Lamb said of his seniors. “This season has not gone the way we intended it to go. I think going down to Statesboro, knowing the atmosphere that’s going to be there – they are always sitting there waiting for Furman – it’s always been a classic football game down there. I think it’ll be a great atmosphere, and I think our kids are really looking forward to it.”
    But as much as today’s game is about a rivalry, a championship, postseason plans and respect, it’s also about GSU’s seniors, who could possibly play in Paulson for the final time in their careers this afternoon.
    The group has been a solid force behind the team’s remarkable turnaround and has endured more than they ever imagined when they signed on at Georgia Southern. They’ve battled through three coaches in three years and the deaths of teammate Teddy Craft and program founder Erk Russell.
    “We just have a class of seniors that’s determined,” Orr said. “We just want to turn things around and get Georgia Southern back. This group of seniors has bought into what the coaches have brought here. We want to go out on top.”

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.