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A game of rivals
App State has sights set on beating Georgia Southern Saturday in Paulson Stadium
Photo Courtesy Georgia Southern Athletics Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease dives for the game-winning touchdown over Nebraska Sept. 10 in Lincoln Neb.

By Mike Brown

Special for the Effingham Herald

The mantra at Appalachian State this week is simple: get it done or stay at home. It’s the same at Georgia Southern.

Since they first started playing on an annual basis in 1993 when both were members of the Southern Conference it seems something has always been on the line when the two teams meet: national ranking, conference championship, a playoff berth, etc.

It’s no different this year with bowl eligibility being at stake for the now Sun Belt Conference rivals who end regular season play at 6 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN+.

Both lost any chance of competing for a conference championship weeks ago but the winner will get an opportunity to play one more game. The loser will pack away its gear and get ready for a long winter.

Other than 2014 when it was transitioning to FBS and thus not eligible to go bowling Appalachian State (6-5, 3-4) has not missed playing a bowl game. The Mountaineers are a five-point favorite to beat the Eagles (5-6, 2-5) to make it eight straight post-season games.

Despite having six wins two of the Mountaineers’ victories have come against FCS teams The Citadel and Robert Morris. Only one of those wins can count toward the required six needed for bowl eligibility.

Georgia Southern is in a three-game losing streak which has seen its hopes for playing in a bowl game put at peril.

“We haven’t talked about it,” Appalachian Coach Shawn Clark said with a straight face of attaining bowl eligibility. “Our goal is to win every week.”

This will be Clark’s 14th game against the Eagles: five as player (he was redshirted one year) and eight as a coach, his third as a head coach. He has a clear understanding of the rivalry.

“Both programs, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, would like to be bowl eligible right now,” Clark said. “To play in a game of this magnitude, the history we have with each other…I think it’s one of the best games in college football.”

The two teams first met in 1932 and Appalachian leads the series 21-15-1. It has won the last two games and eight of the last 11. The Mountaineers won 27-3 last year and the 37 games represents the most Georgia Southern has played against any opponent.

Appalachian is coming off a dominating 27-14 win over Old Dominion and Clark is hoping that will generate some momentum against an Eagles team which has lost its last three games.

“Our kids have given us everything they’ve got all season long,” Clark said. “I would never question how hard we play, the toughness we play with. Things have not gone our way in several games but the win this past weekend should give us some confidence and momentum.”

The Mountaineers have lost four games by a touchdown or less. Texas State inexplicably beat them by 12 points, 34-26.

Veteran quarterback Chase Brice leads a balanced attack as he has passed for 2,668 yards and a conference leading 27 touchdowns. Cam Peoples has run for 593 yards despite missing two games with injury. Nate Noel has 433 yards rushing and Dietrich Harrington 315.

Dashaun Davis leads App receivers with 36 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns. Christian Horn has 31 for 545 yards and four scores while Henry Pearson has five touchdowns on 23 catches for 282 yards.

Peoples missed the win over ODU but should be ready for the Eagles as will outside linebacker Nick Hampton who was also out last week. Peoples and Hampton both have been selected to play in the Senior Bowl.

When it comes to common opponents in conference play both teams beat Old Dominion and both lost to Marshall. App beat Georgia State who beat the Eagles while Georgia Southern knocked off James Madison which beat the Mountaineers.

“Georgia Southern is a real challenge for us,” Clark said. “They lead the conference in total offense. They’re going to get their yards. We’re going to have to do a lot of team tackling.”