Lois Barr at 104
Lois Barr at 104
COLUMBIA, S.C. — For Wofford to continue its season of redemption, the Terriers will have to beat a Georgia Southern program trying to return to its national championship tradition.
The six-time national champion Eagles (9-4) have made it to the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in their first trip back to the postseason in five years, taking on fellow Southern Conference member Wofford (10-2) Saturday.
Georgia Southern was picked seventh and landed just two players on the preseason first and second all-conference teams. But the Eagles have won five in a row, including three regular season wins all needed just to make the playoffs. It all started with the only FCS win this season over top seed Appalachian State, breaking the Mountaineers 26-game SoCon winning streak.
It should be some old-time smashmouth football in Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg. Both teams run the triple option. The Terriers lead the nation with 307 yards rushing a game, while Georgia Southern is third nationally at 269 yards. And both teams have top 10 defenses — the Eagles allow 280 yards a game, while Wofford allows 289 yards.
The winner today will play the winner of New Hampshire at No. 3 seed Delaware next weekend. Wofford last went to the semifinals seven years ago, while Georgia Southern hasn’t been there since 2002.
The teams have split their last four games by a total of 11 points, including a 33-31 win by Wofford in October, and each game has been won by the road team.
Georgia Southern’s rise to national prominence has happened in coach Jeff Monken’s first year. He brought back the option that helped the Eagles win six national titles from 1985 to 2000.
He also brought back tradition. Monken was an assistant for 13 years under Paul Johnson, who won national titles in 1999 and 2000 before heading to Navy and Georgia Tech.
Johnson in turn was an assistant under Erk Russell, the patriarch of the Eagles program who started the program from scratch and won his first national title in the school’s fourth year of football.
Even with a five-year drought from the playoffs, Georgia Southern remains fourth in FCS with 17 playoff appearances.
Ayers said fullback Eric Breitenstein should be ready to play after being given an easy week of practice after hurting his shoulder in last week’s 17-14 win over Jacksonville State.
Breitenstein leads the Terriers with 1,537 yards, but he had his third worst outing of the season — just 73 yards — in this year’s win over Georgia Southern.
“He may not have had as many against us as he had against some other folks, but we were probably so concerned about him, we tried as much as we could to take him out of the game,” Monken said.
The Eagles don’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, but five players have run for at least 390 yards this season.
After starting the season 4-4, Georgia Southern is finally getting the payoff from sticking with its new offensive and defensive schemes.
“As you start to play better and improve, your confidence grows,” Monken said.
Ayers said Wofford’s win back in October doesn’t mean much now. He has been impressed with the Georgia Southern team he has seen in recent weeks.
“I know they are a lot better right now than what they were when we played them early in the year,” Ayers said. “Hopefully we’re better too.”