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A rivalry to round out regular season
GS Football
Georgia Southern head coach Clay Helton watches from the sideline during the Eagles' Nov. 19 contest against Marshall at Paulson Stadium. Georgia Southern hosts Appalachian State on Saturday in its regular season finale.

Throughout the years there has been plenty on the line when Georgia Southern and Appalachian State meet on the football field. Usually, it has been for a conference championship, and while that is not the case this year Saturday will leave one team bowl eligible while the other will have their season come to a close. 

The Eagles come in at 5-6 while the Mountaineers are 6-5, but two of their wins came against FCS teams and only one FCS victory can count toward bowl eligibility. Both teams had signature wins early in the season that had their fan bases thinking about a possible conference championship as the Eagles won at Nebraska, while App State beat then No. 6 ranked Texas A&M. Now the two teams are fighting for their playoff lives. 

“It’s an exciting opportunity Saturday at Paulson Stadium,” said Eagle coach Clay Helton. “All you want in life is a chance and to have a chance at home with Eagle Nation and to play a great rival with a chance at going to the postseason is a pretty exciting night.” 

Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark echoed Helton’s excitement as his team looks to spoil senior night for Georgia Southern. 

“You can throw the records out the window as this will be one of the premier games on television this weekend,” said App State coach Shawn Clark. “To play in a game of this magnitude with the history these two teams have had against each other makes this one of the best games in college football."

Clark has been with the Mountaineers since 2016, and while this is Helton’s first taste of “hate week” he is eagerly anticipating the atmosphere Saturday. 

“I know how special this rivalry is to our players,” said Helton. “Dillon Springer got up in front of the team the other day and especially talked to the younger kids about how special this rivalry is, what it means to our fan bases and how electric the crowd will be Saturday night. I wish I could say it’s just another game but it’s not. It gives me goosebumps right now just thinking about it and I’m excited about my first opportunity to be a part of this rivalry.” 

While there has been a lot of talk about the Eagles offense, the last two weeks Georgia Southern has scored a combined 27 points and has seen Appalachian State pass them up as they are now the second ranked scoring offense in the Sun Belt, while the Eagles have dropped to third. The Mountaineers have seen their fair share of injuries including to running back Camerun Peoples who missed last week’s game and his status for Saturday is still up in the air. App State is averaging just over 34 points per game and is rushing for nearly 200 yards per contest. Their defense is allowing just over 24 points per game and just over 200 yards per game passing. 

“Appalachian State has all three things you need to be successful on the road and that is a good running game, a solid defense and good special teams,” said Helton. “We have seen them just run the ball 40 times in a half and say this is our identity and this is what we do. This is also the fourth defense we have seen in November that is an elite defense in the nation. They are filled with a lot of veteran kids that have played really good football and they have a great culture over there. We know we are going to have to play our best to win.” 

Clark is well aware of the Eagles’ strengths and weaknesses and has been impressed by what Georgia Southern has been able to accomplish in Helton’s first year of taking over, particularly on offense. 

“Coach Helton has done a fantastic job with that offense,” said Clark. “Their entire offensive staff has done a great job. I looked at their stats and they have only been sacked seven times all year long. Their quarterback gets the ball out of his hands fast, so it’s tough to get to the quarterback and they have some weapons on the outside. If you play to stop the pass, they can run the ball so they take what you give them. They are leading the Sun Belt in total offense, so we have to have clean eyes in the backfield and be sound in tackling this week.” 

Saturday will also be the final game at Paulson Stadium for this year’s senior class which have some players Eagle fans have seen play for several years, and a few who have made an impression in only their first year in Statesboro including quarterback Kyle Vantrease who has already set virtually every single-season passing record at Georgia Southern.

“This team is one of the most tight-knit groups I have been around in my six years of college football,” said Vantrease. “It’s been great to get to know these guys and I know I’m going to be friends with some of them for the rest of my life. These guys are more like brothers to me after all we have been through and these rivalry games are why you play football so I am excited about playing Saturday.” 

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are scheduled for a 6:00 start Saturday at Paulson Stadium.