By Steve Behr
It doesn’t matter where Appalachian State plays Georgia Southern. The game usually is close and the outcome is rarely determined by the fourth quarter.
So when the Mountaineers travel to Statesboro, Ga. Saturday to take on the Eagles, Appalachian State expects nothing but a tough, physical game.
“I think it’s a matchup that everybody looks forward to,” Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore said. “I’m sure their players do and our players do.”
It’s a rivalry that is deadlocked at 11-11-1. And the home team doesn’t necessarily win all the time either.
Georgia Southern (3-3, 1-2 SoCon) scored the first 14 points of its 38-35 victory last year at Kidd Brewer, while Appalachian State (4-2, 2-0) needed an overtime period to beat the Eagles 27-20 at Paulson Stadium in 2006.
Moore said that this is the type of Football Championship Subdivision rivalry that is a scaled down version of a Big 12 rivalry or a Southeastern Conference showdown, just with fewer fans and not quite as intense.
“I love coaching at our level, but it will never be like Florida versus Georgia or Texas versus Oklahoma,” Moore said. “But at our level, it’s the same type of game. Our games with James Madison or Marshall or Furman or Georgia Southern lend into that type of tradition.”
What is no longer traditional at Georgia Southern is the dominant running offense used by former coaches Erk Russell, Paul Johnson and Mike Sewak.
Second-year coach Chris Hatcher has brought in the spread offense that he coached with a lot of success at Division II power Valdosta (Ga.) State.
Also gone is last year’s Walter Payton Award winner Jayson Foster, who ran a hybrid of the old option offense and the new spread. Foster was one of the most dangerous runners in the FCS during his four years at Georgia Southern.
“We’ve changed our scheme a tremendous amount,” Hatcher said. “Last year, we snapped it back to (Foster) and tried to block nine of the defense and he could beat two of them. If they put three on them, it would be tough. We tried to get a one-on-two matchup.”
“They have always had a good quarterback,” Moore said. “Jayson was an exciting football player. I think people look forward to seeing guys who can scramble.”
The Eagles have turned to Ohio State transfer Antonio Henton and sophomore Lee Chapple to fill the void left by Foster. Henton has completed 77-of-135 passes for 933 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
Henton also leads the Eagles in rushing, gaining 348 yards and has scored six touchdowns this season. Hatcher said the biggest difference of not having Foster is the Eagles are starting to throw the ball more this year.
“We’re getting closer to what we like to do, which is spread the ball around and throw downfield,” Hatcher said. “We’ve had trouble doing that because of some inconsistency on our offensive line. If you can’t block, it’s tough to do just about anything on offense. We’re getting better and we play a lot of young players.”
Youthful mistakes have been a problem for Appalachian State, according to Moore. When the Mountaineers have played up to their potential, they’ve been unstoppable. In the second quarter alone, Appalachian State blitzed The Citadel for 34 points and scored 21 against Samford.
But in the other 45 minutes against The Citadel, the Mountaineers settled for 14 points in their 48-21 victory. Against Samford, it was also 14 points, a touchdown in the first quarter and another in the fourth, in their 35-24 victory.
Moore said part of the lack of scoring, especially late in games, is that the Mountaineers aren’t interested in running the score up on opponents. But a bigger part is a youth movement that has the Mountaineers starting just one senior on defense — linebacker Pierre Banks — and three on offense.
“We’re just young,” Moore said. “For example, (Samford) had a little pooch punt from field goal formation and we had a freshman back there and everybody in the stadium thinks he’s going to let the ball roll and he tried to recover it and we get the ball at the 8-yard line. We’ve got to be patient with them and they have to be patient with us and we’ll coach them and they’ll get better and we’ll correct things. We’ve done so much more correcting now than we have in the last couple of years.”
Mountaineers quarterback Armanti Edwards, who was named the SoCon’s Offensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row, realizes that the Mountaineers can’t rely on having big second quarters in every game.
“We can’t blow everybody out in the first half and relax in the second half,” he said.
The silver lining, at least for the offense, is the passing game has improved dramatically over the last two weeks. Edwards connected on 22-of-29 passes against Samford for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Two, a 50-yarder and an 11-yarder, went to CoCo Hillary. Edwards’ first was a 44-yarder to Tavaris Washington in the first quarter.
“We moved our receivers around to different positions during camp,” Edwards said. “Now they are set at their positions, they’re feeling more comfortable.”
ASU vs. GSU series
The series between Appalachian State and Georgia Southern is tied 11-11-1.
Year Site Result
1932 Statesboro GSU 33-0
1934 Boone GSU 33-12
1934 Statesboro ASU 7-6
1935 Boone Tie 0-0
1936 Boone ASU 27-0
1939 Boone ASU 59-0
*1987 Boone ASU 19-0
1993 Boone GSU 34-28
1994 Statesboro GSU 34-31
1995 Boone ASU 27-17
1996 Statesboro ASU 35-28
1997 Boone ASU 24-12
1998 Statesboro GSU 37-24
1999 Boone ASU 17-16
2000 Statesboro GSU 34-24
2001 Boone GSU 27-18
2001* Statesboro GSU 38-24
2002 Statesboro GSU 36-20
2003 Boone ASU 28-21
2004 Statesboro GSU 54-7
2005 Boone ASU 24-7
2006 Statesboro ASU 27-20#
2007 Boone GSU 38-35
* Denotes I-AA playoff game
#Denotes 2 overtimes