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Southern takes to road against Coastal Carolina
Hatcher looking for stronger first half, more consistency
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Georgia Southern's defense smothered West Georgia in the second half of last week's season-opening 45-21 win at Paulson Stadium. Coach Chris Hatcher and the Eagles are looking to open their road season with a victory Saturday at Coastal Carolina. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

            The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers won’t take their eyes off Jayson Foster tonight.

            Stopping him, however, is an entirely different issue.

            Coastal coach David Bennett is very familiar with the elusive senior who accounted for 355 yards and four touchdowns as Georgia Southern’s starting quarterback last week. One of Bennett’s first glimpses of Foster came a year ago in Statesboro when Foster, serving as the holder, reeled in a high snap on a field goal attempt, zigzagged through defenders and danced into the end zone to put GSU up 7-0. The Eagles went on to win 38-21, and the rematch is slated for 7 tonight at Brooks Stadium in Conway, S.C. The game will be televised live on SportsSouth.

“Foster is as dangerous a young man with the ball in his hands as you will see on any level,” Bennett said. “He’s as quick as Armanti Edwards at Appalachian State. You hold your breath anytime he touches the ball, and you just try to contain him as best you can.”

            After being relegated to receiver in 2006, Foster has resumed his role as GSU’s top quarterback for his final season. What was Bennett’s first reaction when he heard Hatcher moved Foster back to the helm?

            “Hatcher’s a smart guy,” said Bennett, whose squad will host the Eagles (1-0) in GSU’s first road game of the year.

Georgia Southern has never played at Brooks Stadium where the Chanticleers (1-1) are 19-4 and have won six straight. The Eagles are hoping for a much-improved first half after a wobbly start last week against West Georgia. GSU couldn’t get rolling offensively or defensively in the first two quarters and trailed by 11 at the half before eventually settling down for the 45-21 win. Hatcher anticipates the come-from-behind victory will breed confidence and success.

“The second half was a probably as proud as I’ve ever been of a football team,” he said. “We went out there and played like I thought we were capable of playing going into the ballgame.”

Said Bennett: “You saw the real Georgia Southern in the second half against West Georgia.”

The Chanticleers – three-time defending Big South Conference Champions - are still regrouping from the loss of 36 seniors, more than any Division I program in the nation.            

            “We were a better team last year, no doubt,” Bennett said. “We caught Georgia Southern at the wrong time. They played probably one of their best games of the year last year against us.”

            The Chanticleers are young offensively, and the youth was costly at times last week, particularly when they were forced to settle for field goals or snapped it over the quarterbacks’ head in a key situation.

            “A veteran team would have had 21 points, but we were sitting there with six,” Bennett said. “I’m proud of them for finding a way to win, but if we play like that against our next three opponents – Georgia Southern, James Madison and Furman – it won’t be good in any three of the games.”

            Through two games the Chanticleers are averaging 372 yards of offense with more than 260 coming through the air.

            “They’ve got a lot of athletes,” Foster said. “It’s going to be a tough game, and we’ve got to be prepared. We’ve got to cut down on the penalties and hold onto the football. If we do those two things, we’ll be pretty well set.”

CCU junior quarterback William Richardson throws for 244 yards a game, and his favorite target is senior wide receiver Jerome Simpson, the Big South’s preseason offensive player of the year, who has 79 receiving yards per contest.

            “Those guys are mighty fast,” Hatcher said. “Everybody talks about them losing a lot of players and don’t have a lot of returners, but boy they had a lot of good backups. Coach Bennett will have his team ready to play.”

            Bennett and Hatcher haven’t crossed paths since 2001when Bennett’s Catawba team topped Hatcher’s top-ranked Valdosta State squad in overtime.

            “(GSU) has a great one in Chris Hatcher, and he will get that program back to where it was,” said Bennett, who looked to late GSU coaching icon Erk Russell when he was starting the Chanticleer program five years ago. Coastal made its first trip to the playoffs last season but lost in the first round at eventual champion Appalachian State.

            “They are like anybody else and will try to establish the run,” Hatcher said. “They are very good at throwing the ball as well. They’ve got tremendous team speed on defense, so we are going to have to really play better than we did Saturday if we are going to have a chance to win.”

            Playing well today will require another strong game from Foster, who Hatcher thinks will continue to improve in the new system as the season goes on. Redshirt freshman QB Billy Lowe continues his climb up the depth chart and practiced with the second-team offense all week.

            Though this year’s version of Hatcher’s offense has been catered to the run – the Eagles rushed for 477 yards last week - he believes the 2007 team will develop into a good passing team.