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Hatcher, Eagles hope 08 finale win spurs a big 09
11.25 gsu file 1
Sophomore quarterback Antonio Henton (7) led Georgia Southern in passing and rushing this year. But he may find himself in a battle for the starting job again next season. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue
2008 Georgia Southern Eagles statistical leaders

Name                Comp.    Att.    Int.    Yds.    TD
Antonio Henton    156        279    12    1,852    15
Lee Chapple        78         121     4     787        5

Name                Att.     Yds.    TD
Antonio Henton    159    628    9
Adam Urbano        52    304    7
Samair Baker        25    166    1

Name                Rec.    Yds.     TD
Raja Andrews        64    873        5
Tim Camp            36    531        4
Michael McIntosh    23    270        4

Name            Tackles    Sacks    Ints.
Quentin Taylor    98        2         0
Chris Covington   95        6.5      0
Dakota Walker    55        8.5      0
Ronnie Wiggins    39        0        3

The 17-10 win over Furman was just what Georgia Southern needed heading into the offseason.

Following a rollercoaster of a season in which the Eagles finished 6-5 overall, Southern’s finish is what second-year head coach Chris Hatcher referred to as, “the start of a new beginning.”

But the slope that Georgia Southern has battled all year long is still a steep one, and though some of those problems can be remedied in the offseason, others could continue to delay the Eagles’ progress.

The main problem that Hatcher sees with the Georgia Southern program: continuity. After a 2007 season in which the offense was based around Jayson Foster, Southern effectively started from scratch this year, retooling its offense to spread the ball out. Add that to the fact that Southern fielded one of the youngest teams in the league.

But depth isn’t magically fashioned with one recruiting season, and Hatcher anticipates next year to be much of the same. The second year coach said he plans to sign 22 to 24 players in the offseason, and many of those will be expected to step in and play immediately.

Of the signees, Hatcher is especially interested in offensive and defensive linemen, followed by cornerbacks and receivers.

“The biggest need we have is on the lines,” he said. “We need some o-line and d-linemen, and, unfortunately, that’s the hardest position to come in and play right away out of the high school level. I think we’re going to be much improved next season. But again, we’re asking a lot of those guys to come play.”

But Hatcher said he did see some of that continuity develop throughout the year, and was especially apparent in Greenville on Saturday. Georgia Southern, who spent most of the year as the worst defensive team in the Southern Conference statistically, held the Paladins to 305 yards of total offense, more than 100 yards under than their opponents’ average this season and 56 yards less than Furman typically puts up in a game.

“Defensively, we were playing as good as we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Hatcher said. “I credit a lot of that with just familiarity and comfort.”

Southern also seemingly beat its season-long battle with penalties and turnovers. GSU finished with 66.8 yards forfeited per game on average due to penalties, second worst in the league (Samford is averaging 68.1) and had the worst turnover margin by far. Against Furman, the Eagles were flagged three times for 25 yards and committed only one turnover.

“For the first time since I’ve been the coach at Georgia Southern, I felt real comfortable that we were going to win the game,” Hatcher said, “because defensively, we finally got it, and offensively, we were doing what I know.”

With quarterback Lee Chapple back at the helm, the Eagles unleashed an aerial attack at Paladin Stadium, throwing 57 times and completing 40 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns.

Hatcher said last Saturday’s showing is an example of getting the program a bit closer to the way he’d like to see every game played offensively.

“Still, 57 times is an all-time personal best throwing the ball,” he said. “I’ve never thrown it 57 times in a game before.”

What effect did the season finale have on the perpetual starting quarterback battle between Chapple and sophomore transfer Antonio Henton? None. According to Hatcher, the two will battle throughout the spring for the starting spot.

Note: Hatcher said the three players who left the team in October, freshman running back Samair Baker, and wide receivers Demarcus Watts and Nick Bass, will not be welcomed back. Brandon Echols and Dakota Walker, who left the team last season, were eventually permitted to return.