Look, it’s the off season. This is the time of year where we find anything to talk about in college football. In a Twitter conversation with good friend and fellow Georgia Southern fanatic Robert Greene recently following one of those “quote this tweet with…” threads regarding the 2014 Georgia Tech game, Robert made a comment that I decided was perfect fodder for off season discussion:
And, so, the list of Top Ten Georgia Southern Games I’m Still Not Over was born.
Come along, folks. Join me as we go down my own personal rabbit hole of Georgia Southern Football Hell. Some of these will be obvious. Some will be purely personal. But all are games I’m still not over the Eagles losing. Poor your favorite glass of whiskey as today we discuss numbers 10 through 6.
#10: 1990 vs Eastern Kentucky
Yes, this is a throwaway in the grand scheme of things. For me, though, it’s a memory burned into my brain. 1988 is when I really started paying attention to football after attending my first Georgia Southern games. I never saw the Eagles lose at home until this game. This is the one that broke the 38 game home winning streak. I can remember wanting to cry and seeing GUS (long before the mascot had a name) and saying “we’re not supposed to lose” to the person in the costume. Does it mean anything in the history of Georgia Southern football? No, not much. But for 8 year old Walt, it’s a day I’ll never forget. I truly understand Erk Russell when he said losing is about the worst thing you can experience.
#9: 2002 vs Western Kentucky
A season removed from one of the greatest players in Georgia Southern football history and 2nd greatest coach leaving to take the Navy job, the Eagles were led by new coach Mike Sewak and a freshman running back who finished his career second only to Adrian Peterson in total yards and is one of the best and most overlooked running backs in Georgia Southern history (who also has an excellent last name): Jermaine Austin. How good was Jermaine? If not for Adrian Peterson, Jermaine would be Georgia Southern’s leading rusher by 1,512 yards over Jerick McKinnon. Fresh off a semi-final loss to Furman the year prior (more on that, later), the Eagles made it to the semi-finals once again in 2002. It was a back-and-forth affair that saw show-boating, a WKU player shoving his own coach on the sideline after said show-boating (and still coming back in later to make a key play to win the game for them), and an amazing come back by the Eagles that fell just short. The Hilltoppers would go on to win the FCS title in 2002, but I’m still frustrated by the way their team handled themselves on the field that day and can’t stand that they walked away victorious.
#8: 2005 vs Texas State
Jermaine’s final season was also the final season for Mike Sewak. His teams put up prolific numbers on offense, but also struggled in the playoffs in inexplicable ways during his final two seasons. The loss to New Hampshire (with offensive coordinator Chip Kelly) in the driving rain in Statesboro in 2004 was frustrating enough. The collapse against Texas State in San Marcos in 2005 was enough to seal Sewak’s fate. This one may not seem like one that should be too bad and weird to not be able to get over, but with Sewak’s firing, That Damn Yankee Sonuvabitch was hired as head coach in 2006 and Georgia Southern entered a level of mediocrity for the next few years that I hoped – at the time – to never experience again. Plus, this was the last Georgia Southern football game Erk got to watch.
#7: 1988 vs Furman
I almost didn’t include this one because I’m barely old enough to remember it. It’s one of the first games I remember Georgia Southern losing. I was 6 when this game happened, and wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch it. I still hated being told the next morning that Georgia Southern lost it. Finding out how it was lost made it worse. Of course, without this loss, we may not have Erk in 1989 and that season. However, it’s still a) losing a title game and b) losing to Furman.
#6: 2007 vs Furman
After the horror of 2006, 2007 saw one of the most electric performances by a single player on a team I’ve ever seen. Chris Hatcher came in as head coach and inherited a mess of a team that wasn’t really ready to run his Hatch Attack offense, so they improvised and 2007 became the Jayson Foster Experience. Foster put on an amazing show for the 2007 season that ultimately fell just short of the playoffs when the Eagles ended up a missed field goal from defeating Furman. It’s frustrating because, again, Furman, but also because the Eagles obviously played for the field goal on that last drive rather than letting Foster go crazy. Plus, Foster was dynamic enough that no matter the rest of the team’s faults, he could have led the Eagles on a run that would have further removed the sour taste from the 2006 debacle.
#5: 2001 vs Furman
North Dakota State has gone on an amazing run through FCS football over the last few seasons. What they’ve done is unprecedented. It almost wasn’t, though. Back when FCS was at its strongest – the late 90s and early 00s – Georgia Southern came close to winning five straight championships of their own. From 1998 to 2002, the Eagles either played in the title game or came one game short of playing in it. The end of the 2001 season is one I can’t get over because it was a) the first home playoff loss in Georgia Southern history; b) ended Adrian Peterson’s playing career short of another title; c) spelled the end of the Paul Johnson era as he left for the Navy job; and, finally, d) it came to FURMAN. Seriously. F#!% Furman.
#4: 2014 vs Georgia Tech
Yes, Georgia Southern could have played much better in the first half and made The Play a meaningless event in the overall course of the game. Still, you’ll never convince me otherwise that this game wasn’t stolen by the ACC Replay Officials. There is absolutely no way there is definitive evidence this ball was going backward. On the contrary, frame by frame shows it pitched before the hash and touched halfway through the hash. Forward. Georgia Southern should have defeated Georgia Tech in their first meeting and in the Eagles’ first FBS season. That was an emotional day all around for other reasons, as well.
#3: 2015 vs UGA
Speaking of blown calls costing the Eagles a game, this one may be even bigger. I was watching this game in a bar in Auburn and ready to go roll Toomer’s Corner for Erk. When the muffed punt happened that set up UGA’s only regulation touchdown, I didn’t understand what Coach Fritz was so upset about since the volume wasn’t on. When I found out later, it only made this loss worse. You see, an inadvertent whistle was blown. That’s why the returner didn’t go after the ball as much. The down – by rule – should have been replayed. If it is, Georgia Southern likely fields it, runs more time off the clock, and UGA doesn’t score that short, easy touchdown that ultimately leads to the game going to overtime. Instead, they got a gift and the Bulldogs won in overtime after an inexplicable play call when the Eagles went with a Wildcat set with only LA Ramsby in the backfield on 4th down. I love LA Ramsby and trust him to gain almost any short yardage, but having him by himself telegraphed the call. At least give them the threat of the QB! Georgia Southern beating UGA would have been one of the single greatest college football victories of my fandom. Maybe higher than some of the FCS national championships. Instead, a blown call took that opportunity away.
#2: 1998 vs UMass
Georgia Southern was undefeated. It was cold. It was raining. It was just a miserable day. I watched – in person – the Eagles out gain UMass but still fall short because of a ridiculous number of fumbles. Adrian Peterson’s first season ended with one of the worst performances of his career. It did lead to the 333 yard – with the flu – slaughter of UMass the following season, but I would rather have had the national championship on that absolutely miserable day in Chattanooga.
#1: 2012 vs North Dakota State
There are so many reasons I’m not over this one. Georgia Southern owed NDSU for the 2011 game. Georgia Southern led a large part of the game. The Eagles had the lead late and just needed a defensive stop on the final drive. A few dumb personal foul penalties and the worst 4th and goal defense I’ve seen and the Eagles dropped their chance to put a dent in the Bison’s years of dominance. Seriously, everyone knew on that 4th and goal it was going to be a QB draw. They still let him waltz in from 5 years out right up the middle. The Eagles had a chance to win after that, but the lack of any field goal kicking during that season cost them once more. With a field goal kicker during the regular season, the Eagles are a higher seed and hosting that game in Statesboro. Instead, it came down to a need-a-miracle try that was off target. In their final chance at the FCS playoffs before beginning the FBS transition, the Eagles dropped a game they very well should have won to the team that took their place as the undisputed champion of FCS (at least in terms of number of titles).
So, that’s it. The games I still can’t get over in Georgia Southern’s history. Of these, I was in the stands for #2, #4, #5, #6, #9, and #10. I’m sure many of these are on your lists, as well. Perhaps in a different order, but I’m sure there will be a few that are on everyone’s lists. We’d love to hear about them in the comments.