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GSU looking for out-right SoCon title

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — As rivalries go the one between Georgia Southern and Wofford is relatively new.
    Furman and Appalachian State have been long time rivals for the Eagles. The Terriers didn’t get involved in the rivalry mix until 2002 when they pulled off an improbable win at Paulson Stadium.
    Wofford had been in the Southern Conference for five years prior to that 14-7 victory. Georgia Southern had won all five conference meetings by a combined score of 194-48.
    The Terriers showed it was no fluke by beating Georgia Southern, 20-14, the following season. It’s been a dogfight since with the two teams splitting the eight ensuing games. Last year Wofford won in the regular season, and the Eagles beat the Terriers in the FCS semifinals.
    Oddly, the visiting team has won the last five games. The last time the home team won was in 2005 when Wofford prevailed, 21-17.
    “Back in the day, it was not a rival game, because we never won,” Wofford Coach Mike Ayers said. “Then we were able to win in Statesboro and (since then) both of us have been upper echelon teams in terms of playing for a championship or a playoff spot.”
    Georgia Southern (8-1, 6-1) can clinch the conference championship outright with a win, its first SoCon title since 2004, when the two teams meet Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Terriers’ Gibbs Stadium.
    This is the Eagles’ final conference game as they end regular season play next week at Alabama. Wofford ends conference play next week at Chattanooga.
    “We started this back in January,” Ayers said. “We had goals and a vision, and ultimately it comes down to 1 o’clock Saturday at home against one of the best teams in the country to reach that dream.
    “It’s a big game, a lot on the line, a lot at stake,” Ayers said. “We know it, and they know it.
    “I’m hoping we play a great game. In the past against Georgia Southern, we, frankly, have not played our best. We’ve been sloppy and turned the ball over, much like they did against The Citadel.”
    The No. 4 Eagles are coming off a 14-12 win over The Citadel that left Coach Jeff Monken dismayed and concerned about his team’s overall play.
    Georgia Southern had five fumbles, losing two, along with an interception, and yielded a season high 239 yards to the Bulldogs’ option offense. Wofford leads the nation in rushing with an average of 374.2 yards per game.
    “We didn’t play up to our potential,” Monken said of The Citadel game. “Some of that is due to The Citadel. We didn’t lack effort. We just didn’t execute at times.
    “We have higher standards than what we showed and played to,” Monken said. “Those standards were set by six national championships and eight conference championships, and we didn’t play up to them.”
    The game will put some of the top players in the conference on display.
    Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein, a 215-pound junior battering ram, leads the conference in rushing with 1,139 yards and 15 touchdowns on 200 attempts. His counterpart is Eagle sophomore Robert Brown who has 824 yards on 77 fewer carries.
    Breitenstein has run for more than 100 yards in eight games including a conference high 217 against Elon.
    The two quarterbacks — the Terriers’ Mitch Allen and GSU’s Jaybo Shaw — are two of the steadiest performers in the conference, and bring strong leadership qualities to their respective teams.
    Shaw has thrown for 946 yards to Allen’s 591, but the Terrier veteran — he has started more games than any current SoCon quarterback — has run for 593 yards to Shaw’s 248. Terrier receiver Branton Bursin has 19 catches, and he had 127 receiving yards against Clemson.
    Defensively the Terriers are led by pre-season defensive player of the year Ameet Pall while Georgia Southern counters with Brent Russell. Both are finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award which goes to the top defensive player in FCS.
    Russell missed The Citadel game as he was suspended for violation of team rules.