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Eagles cant defend their house
gsu sign
A GSU fan displays their unhappiness with the second losing season in three years. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

STATESBORO — The sound pumped through the ceiling and through the walls, more than loud enough for the dejected Georgia Southern players in the next lockerroom.

On the other side of the wall, Furman’s jubilant players echoed the chant, once voiced loudly and repeatedly by the Eagles in their half of the fieldhouse long ago: “Whose house? Our house!”

But with Furman’s 30-22 victory Saturday at Paulson Stadium — in a game that the visiting Paladins led 24-0 and were never seriously threatened in — the Eagles dropped to 4-6 for the season. The playoffs are out of question for the six-time national champions. So too is a winning season.

“That’s one of our goals, to have a winning season,” said running back Brandon Nolley, who had 45 yards rushing. “To not be able to reach it hurts real bad.”

The Eagles also had to reach deep into their bag of tricks to get the offense going. Lee Chapple, the normal starting quarterback who instead came off the bench Saturday, caught a throwback pass from wide receiver Mitchell Williford for the Eagles’ first touchdown.

But GSU couldn’t maintain the momentum, as Furman answered with an eight-play, 65-yard drive. And the Eagles needed a pass off a double reverse for five yards on fourth-and-3 at their own 27.

“You know you’re having struggles offensively when you have to pull out every special play you’ve got just to get a first down,” Eagles coach Chris Hatcher said.

Even GSU’s normally reliable kicking game had its share of foibles. Adrian Mora missed two field goals, and a bad snap on a punt led to Matt Cesari’s 42-yard field goal to put Furman up 24-0.

“That was indicative of the way the afternoon went for us,” Hatcher said.

Even when the Eagles appeared to get a break, the tables turned on them quickly. Jordan Sorrells connected with Adam Mims on a 43-yard pass down the middle, but K.R. Snipes ripped the ball free from Mims’ grasp. Instead of bounding to another Eagle defender, it landed in the hands of Furman’s Jerry Williams, giving Furman a 48-yard gain.

After the Eagles cut the lead to 30-15 on Chapple’s 1-yard sneak and two-point pass to Patrick Barker, they recovered an onsides kick — only to have that nullified by an offsides call.

In his first start at quarterback, Kyle Collins went 13-of-22 for 124 yards and a touchdown. His third pass of the game became Ryan Steed’s 44-yard interception return for a score and a 14-0 deficit. Chapple finished 10-of-16 for 75 yards. The Eagles outgained the Paladins 367-331.

“I think we’ve gotten better in certain areas. And certain times, we just freeze and forget what we’ve been coached to do and that’s unacceptable,” Hatcher said. “Maturity-wise, we’re not where we need to be. But being mature enough to handle the Southern Conference schedule is really taking its toll on some of the guys. And they haven’t been playing like I know they’re capable of playing.”

But in building an insurmountable 24-0 halftime lead, Furman posted a 166-126 edge in total yards. The Paladins also converted seven of 11 third-down chances.

“We didn’t play a full game,” cornerback LaRon Scott said. “We played a good second half. We just didn’t come out with a sense of urgency. We’ve got to learn to come out swinging.”

Said Nolley: “We’re just not executing. We need to put it all together at once.”

The poor start came as a surprise to the Eagles, given the way they went through practices and pre-game.

“If you had seen us in the lockerroom before the game, you would have thought we could have run through a brick wall,” Collins said. “We just didn’t execute at certain times.”

The victory was also the second straight at Paulson for Furman, which had been 1-7 in Statesboro before 2007.

Georgia Southern will host The Citadel in the season finale this Saturday. The Eagles also will honor its 1989 championship team, which went 15-0 and sent legendary Erk Russell into retirement with a 37-34 victory over Stephen F. Austin in the national title game. The stakes are far less significant this Saturday, but the current Eagles want to send out their seniors with a win, a small salve for the second losing season in the last four campaigns.

“We wanted to win the last two games and finish with a winning record,” Collins said. “Now our mind is set on beating on Citadel and sending our seniors out with a win.”

The Eagles have not had a playoff appearance since 2005. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2002. And since Mike Sewak was fired following the 2005 season, the Eagles are 20-23. Georgia Southern went 7-4 in Hatcher’s first season in 2007, but slipped to 6-5 a year ago and now will have a losing record in 2009.

But the players remain upbeat about the future.

“I don’t think it’s headed in the wrong direction,” Chapple said. “As a team, we don’t think that. And I think that’s what matters most.”