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Mike Anthony - GSU finds a way against App St.
Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken celebrates after the Eagles beat top-ranked Appalachian State, 21-14, in overtime Saturday at Paulson Stadium.

       For a few years, a common feeling has spread over many of Georgia Southern's football games.
       The offense is spotty, some breaks just don't go the right way, and in the end, the team is just hoping to hang on - often to no avail.
       The same held true Sunday, but the Eagle made sure that top-ranked Appalachian State was the victim of those circumstances.
       Now before the celebration gets too carried away, I think some things should be acknowledged.
The Mountaineers are probably the most talented team in the nation, GSU is still a team that is growing and struggling with injuries and depth issues, and one win - however monumental - doesn't change a season or program overnight.
       OK. Enough with that. Back to Statesboro's biggest party since the last time a team came into Paulson Stadium - but didn't leave with - the nation's No. 1 ranking.
       Saturday was as big a win for the Eagles as it was complex. For as much as the victory helps Georgia Southern's transition back to a triple-option Southern Conference front runner, the most important aspect of the win may have been what it does for the team this season.
      This was a team that - heading into Saturday's kickoff - had a lot of reasons to be unsure of itself, if not downright pessimistic. The wear and tear of a long football season on a team with little experience had been taking its toll on the  Eagles, and a visit from the Mountaineers looked like the worst possible cure for what ailed the Eagles.
       But a funny thing happened on the way to what App State must have assumed to be another SoCon title.
       Maybe it was the return of a few key Eagles to the lineup. Maybe it was the boost from a huge homecoming crowd.  Maybe it was ill will from last year's embarrassing loss at Boone. I can't be sure what the biggest reason for the win was, but one thing that is certain is that the group of players on the Eagles' sideline is not to be taken lightly, and there is at least one formerly undefeated team from Mountaineer country that will agree with me on that.
       It's always hard to judge the progress of a team in transition. When schemes change and players switch positions, the stats won't always tell the whole story.
       The Eagles have taken their lumps in the return to their brand new (same old) offense, and a very young defense has seen a few teams take advantage of fatigue or injury late in games. Things like that make it hard to put a definite scale on progress, but one intangible - heart - can't be argued about GSU.
       This season probably won't end in a national title, and Saturday's win might not be the ultimate turning point as Georgia Southern tries to climb back to the top of the FCS world. However, Saturday's performance shows that everything necessary to achieve each of those is coming into place.
       It took determination for a battered team to prepare for the top-ranked squad in the nation to invade its home turf on homecoming. It took heart to keep fighting when the Mountaineers built an early 14-0 lead and seemed to be in cruise control. Finally, it took talent for the Eagles to battle Appalachian St. into overtime, stare down the best in the country, and prove that they could win despite everything that said they shouldn't.
       Georgia Southern might not be the best team in the nation this morning, but I can't think of any that should be feeling much better about itself.

Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.