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Georgia Southern coming to Amherst for UMass Homecoming

  • UMass running back Marquis Young runs past Ohio University’s Grant Cunningham to score a touchdown during a Sept. 30 football game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. File Photo

  • UMass wideout Andy Isabella runs 60 yards for a touchdown against Old Dominion this season at McGuirk Stadium. For the Recorder/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Above, battered UMass QB Andrew Ford is tackled by Ohio University’s Chad Moore during a Sept. 20 football game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Below, UMass running back Marquis Young runs past Ohio University’s Grant Cunningham to score a touchdown during a Sept. 30 football game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. File Photo



For The Recorder
Thursday, October 19, 2017

AMHERST — Just saying “Georgia Southern” evokes proud nostalgia for most UMass football fans.

In 1998, the Eagles were the top seed in the Division I-AA playoffs when the upstart Minutemen upset them in the championship game in Chattanooga, Tennesseee.

It was the biggest win in program history and changed the way the school looked at its football program.

If not for UMass’ magical run that season, it’s unlikely the university would have ever reached a point where it upgraded to FBS football.

Several members of that 1998 squad are expected to be in attendance Saturday when the Minutemen and Eagles meet again at 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Stadium during homecoming weekend.

There’ll be no title on the line and not much glory at stake. Both programs are simply trying to get their seasons on track and shed the ignominy of being among the FBS’ five winless teams.

Since upgrading to the FBS in 2014, Georgia Southern has not won a nonconference road game (0-10).

“It’s going to be two desperate hungry football teams. Somebody has to win. Why not us?” UMass senior De’Sean Downey said. “We need it bad. It’s obvious. We’ve been in every game. We just need to put it together and play complimentary football. That’s what it comes down to, playing our best game together. Getting a win would get us on a roll.”

Junior linebacker Jarell Addo agreed.

“We need this win. It’ll set the tone for the rest of the season,” Addo said. “I feel like as soon we get the taste of victory, we’ll be able to look at each other and know we can get this.”

Coming off a rare two-week bye, UMass coach Mark Whipple thought his team improved from where it was before the break.

“We’re better than we were when we left. Hopefully that’s enough to take another stride. We have to make sure we’re tight on everything and disciplined on defense,” he said. “It’s about putting the effort in and winning the game on Saturday.”

Georgia Southern hasn’t really been close to a win. It lost to Auburn (41-7) to open the season, then fell to FCS New Hampshire (22-12). Losses to Indiana (52-17), Arkansas State (43-25) and New Mexico State (35-27) were all marred by Southern’s inability porous defense.

The Eagles have given up an average of 429.6 yards per game — 242.6 in the air and 187.0 on the ground.

The Eagles have some uncertainty at quarterback entering the game. SavannahNow.com reported that quarterback Shai Werts, who has started all five games, is questionable with an undisclosed injury after absorbing a big hit late in last week’s loss to New Mexico State. Either LaBaron Anthony or Kado Brown, both juniors, would start if Werts is unavailable.

UMass’ Andrew Ford missed the end of Wednesday’s practice to receive treatment for an undisclosed injury but it still expected to play Saturday.