The Georgia Southern Eagles will have to wait at least one more year to claim their ninth conference title. Their hopes for a 16th playoff berth are still alive — barely.
The Southern Conference championship slipped through their hands Saturday evening, leaving the Georgia Southern Eagles to hope a victory over Colorado State will get them into the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Eagles’ heart-breaking 24-22 loss to archrival Furman in the regular-season finale at Paulson Stadium denied the Eagles a chance at clinching their first SoCon title since 2002. Kicker Jesse Hartley, who missed three field goals on the day, had his 33-yard attempt on the game’s final play miss wide right.
“I thought he had made it and that was the thing that was the most disappointing,” said coach Chris Hatcher. “I was in disbelief.
“One play to win the conference championship and we fell a little short. It’s a game of inches, and we didn’t get that one inch.”
The Eagles needed a Citadel win over Elon to secure a tie for the title and get the tie-breaker with their wins over fellow two-loss teams Wofford and Appalachian State.
Georgia Southern got what it needed from The Citadel, not that the players and fans would have known — the score of the game, over well before the conclusion of the Eagles-Paladins contest, was not announced to the stadium crowd.
“It didn’t matter,” Hatcher said. “We had to beat Furman. That was all we were worried about.”
Said defensive end Dakota Walker: “Regardless of they had won or not, we still had a job to take care of.”
Not knowing what had transpired in Charleston, S.C., was OK with the Eagles — losing to the Paladins on senior day in front of the third-largest crowd in Paulson history was another matter.
“We feel like we let the fans down,” said senior offensive lineman Russell Orr. “To not get it done at the end was disappointing. It shouldn’t have come down to this.”
“There was never a time where I thought we were going to lose,” senior running back Dusty Reddick, whose first career touchdown catch cut the Furman lead to 24-22, said. “There was a thousand different plays we could have made.”
Furman leads the SoCon in rushing defense and held the Eagles, the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense in FCS, to less than half their average of 341 yards on the ground and limited quarterback Jayson Foster to 82 yards rushing, less than half of his 174-yard per game average.
Foster did become the single-season rushing leader for a quarterback in FCS play and threw three touchdown passes.
He now has 1,096 yards passing and 1,649 yards rushing. Last year, Foster had just 728 yards of total offense, though he had 573 yards in kickoff and punt returns.
“We kinda tailored our offense around his skill,” Hatcher said.
Of Southern’s three losses, two have come in overtime and the third was the loss at the gun to Furman.
To have a shot at the postseason, the Eagles will have to do something they have not done before in 14 previous tries — beat an established Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Yet the Rams (1-9) may be the perfect opportunity for the Eagles to get their first win over a team in the FBS. A win could push the Eagles (7-3) into the playoffs, something not lost on the Eagles in the wake of their loss to Furman.
“If we go up there and score a lot of points and beat them, we might get a playoff bid,” Reddick said. “Our season’s not over yet. We signed up to play 11 games and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Said Foster: “We have to go out there and get a win, hopefully propel us into the playoffs. We just have to take care of business and hope they pick us.”
Notes: Wofford senior linebacker Seth Goldwire had a team-high six tackles as the Terriers locked up the SoCon automatic bid with a 42-10 victory over Chattanooga on Saturday. Goldwire, an Effingham County High graduate, leads the Terriers (8-3) with 90 tackles. He also has a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery this season.
Wofford is off until the first round of the FCS playoffs on Nov. 24.