It’s been a strange season. It all started with “Bird Poop Gate.” When the starting QB gets arrested the first week of fall camp for having bird poop on the hood of his car, you know you’re in for some weirdness. But then there was the Wesley Kennedy III suspension, the Shai Werts injury, the Brian Miller and Jakob Cooper injuries. There was the near upset of Minnesota with a backup QB, the overtime escape in Mobile, the Mo Bamba Bowl vs. Coastal, and the unfortunate and tragic death of Jordan Wiggins.
But, as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Thursday night was a testament to that adage. For the second straight year, Georgia Southern was able to knock off a ranked App State team. Last night Chad Lunsford was able to do something that not even Jeff Monken could pull off: win in Boone. He cracked The Rock.
Last night’s win was historic. It was only the third time this century that Georgia Southern was able to win at Boone and only the fourth time in the modern era (post-1982). For a Georgia Southern fan, nothing feels better than beating App State, beating a ranked App State team in Boone, dashing their hopes at a New Years Six Bowl? Pure Ecstasy.
This win has a 2010-ish feel to it. For those that don’t remember, 2010 was Jeff Monken’s first year. After Chris Hatcher’s Hatch Attack experiment failed, Monken was plucked off of the fruitful Paul Johnson coaching tree to perform a triple-option counter-reformation at Georgia Southern. Eight games into his first season at the helm, the Eagles were sitting a 4-4. They had lost tight games to Wofford, Chattanooga, and Samford. Expectations were low heading into the match-up with #1 ranked Appalachian State.
The game started predictably, Southern fumbled on their first possession, which led to an easy Mountaineer touchdown. App followed that up with a ten-play 80-yard drive to jump out to a 14-0 lead at the end of the first.
But then things started to change. The defense made stops. They forced three turnovers. The offense lead by Jaybo Shaw made few mistakes the rest of the way. The Eagles scored a touchdown right before half, got the ball back at the start of the third and scored again to tie it up. The defense held on for dear life to force the game into overtime, where a Robert Brown touchdown and a fumble DeAndre Presley sealed the deal.
From that point forward, the Eagles went on a tear. They didn’t lose another game until the semifinals of the FCS playoffs against Delaware, finishing the season 10-5. Over the subsequent three seasons, Monken went on to lead the Eagles to two more semifinals, a win over Florida, paving the way for their ascent into FBS in the process. It was a turning point. The 2010 upset of App State turned into a game you can look back at and say, “That was a program defining win.”
That’s what I hope this game to be. Perhaps my narrative is a bunch of bull. Maybe wishful thinking, we shall see. But the Georgia Southern team I have seen the last two weeks is different. There is no doubt that the death of Jordan Wiggins weighs heavy on the hearts of everybody in that locker room. Southern is playing with a passion and intensity that was very noticeable last night.
The offensive line is gelling. Peyton Backer has stepped in at center after Jakob Cooper went down and has played great. The defensive line manhandled App State’s offensive line all night with CJ Wright, Randy Wade Jr., and Raymond Johnson leading the way. Kenderick Duncan was making plays all over the field. And Wesley Kennedy III….what can be said?
Here are Wesley Kennedy III’s last three games:
24 carries 117 yards 2 TDs vs. Coastal
6 carries 143 yards, 3 TDs (including a 67 yard punt return) vs. NMSU
13 carries 145 yards 2 TDs vs App
What he has done has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s safe to say that if he had played vs. Minnesota that the result might of been different. He might still get to 1,000 yards rushing playing in only 8 regular season games. Kennedy has been the spark this offense has needed.
We’re going to need more of that juice down the stretch.
Enjoy the moment, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Only one win separates the Eagles from bowl eligibility. But the schedule the rest of the way is daunting. Next up is a game at Troy, followed with a home date vs. ULM, a road trip to Jonesboro to play Arkansas State, and the last game of the regular season in Paulson against the resurgent Inner City Kitties of Georgia State.
All four games are winnable. All four games are lose-able. Win out, and a rematch vs. ULL in the Sun Belt Championship game is possible. Heck, an 11-3 season is still in play. When you look at it, the teams Georgia Southern has lost to LSU, Minnesota, and ULL, have a combined record of 21-2. They’ve only lost to excellent teams. Southern has to play their best ball to make it through this gauntlet. Good thing they are playing their best ball right now.