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Eagles finish year perched at No. 17
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Georgia Southern’s football team capped one of the best turnarounds in program history with a No. 17th ranking in The Sports Network poll and 18th according to the FCS Coaches Top 25 poll.

After the squad finished 3-8 last year, the Eagles turned in a 7-4 overall record and were 4-3 in SoCon action. The four-win improvement is the Eagles’ second-largest increase in regular season play. Only the 1997 team that finished the regular season 9-2 (after finishing 1996 at 4-7) had a bigger improvement.

GSU finished one game back from sharing the league title (and receiving the automatic bid to the playoffs) while the four losses were by a combined 20 points.

First-year head coach Chris Hatcher led the Eagles turnaround. Hatcher finished 11th in the Eddie Robinson Award balloting, which goes to the national coach of the year.

Last week senior quarterback Jayson Foster won the 2007 Walter Payton Award, given to the nation’s top offensive player. To date, Foster has also earned national accolades by the American Football Coaches Association (All-Purpose All-America) and the Associated Press (First Team All-America as a running back).

Thanks in large part to Foster’s 167 rushing yards per game, the Eagles led the country with a 326.3 yard per game average. Georgia Southern also finished eighth nationally in scoring offense (36.6 points) and total offense (456.3). The Eagles ended the year ranked 14th nationally in turnover margin (1.09), 18th in punt returns (11.8) and 23rd in sacks allowed (1.27).

Foster joins Adrian Peterson (1999) as the only Georgia Southern players to win the Walter Payton Award. Foster was also named Offensive Player of the Year in a vote by the Southern Conference’s head coaches and sports media association. He was one of nine Eagles to receive All-Southern Conference honors.

Georgia Southern began the year with a come-from-behind 45-21 win against West Georgia, then held off Coastal Carolina 42-34. Following a tough overtime loss to Chattanooga, the Eagles won two straight — a dominating 50-21 win over Western Carolina and a thrilling 41-38 win over South Dakota State when Jesse Hartley kicked a 54-yard field goal as time expired.

Following a three-point double-overtime loss at Elon, Georgia Southern rolled off three straight wins. The Eagles snapped national champion Appalachian State’s 30-game home winning streak with a 38-35 victory over the fifth-ranked Mountaineers. Foster engineered a fourth-quarter comeback against 25th-ranked Citadel, scoring two TDs in the 21-17 win.

Foster saved his career-best rushing performance for 10th-ranked Wofford, rushing for 279 yards and three scores in the 38-35 win. The defense made a key stop on fourth down late in the fourth quarter, and the offense was able to run out the clock. Georgia Southern returned to Paulson Stadium against Furman, holding one of the top scoring teams in the league well below their average but lost 24-22. At Colorado State the Eagles ran out of time trying to complete their comeback from down 25 points in the fourth quarter, losing 42-34 to close out the season.