PREVIEW: Eagles head to North Carolina to take on long-time rival on Halloween

Kaitlin Sells

After an emotional win for the Eagles playing in honor of lost teammate Jordan Wiggins, the Eagles will be traveling to the Boonies to take on a long-awaited rival game.

The last time Georgia Southern and Appalachian State faced off in October of 2018, the Eagles beat a ranked ASU 34-14, after outplaying them in the rain. 

There’s no secret these two teams have a mutual dislike for each other, as the rivalry is known as a “feeling deeper than hate”- and that hate probably got deeper on the Mountaineers end after losing their ranked spot proceeding falling to the Eagles in 2018. 

The Eagles will enter their 35th match-up against App State on a three-game winning streak after topping New Mexico State on GS’s homecoming. The Eagles claimed the 41-7 win in honor of former teammate Jordan Wiggins who recently took his own life.

The Eagles have fought hard all season to get back into their rhythm they seemingly had trouble finding in the beginning of the season, and are finally coming together.

The rushing game seems to be working for the Eagles, as GS is the only FBS program that has six different players who have recorded a 100-yard rushing game so far this season, those being Wesley Kennedy III, J. D. King, Matt LaRoche, Justin Tomlin, Shai Werts and Logan Wright.

As a team, the GS offense is averaging 259.9 rushing yards per game while being lead by redshirt-junior quarterback Shai Werts who has notched 303 rushing yards on the season.

Junior running back J. D. King has been one that has progressed over the course of the season, as the transfer from Oklahoma State had his first game with over 100 rushing yards against New Mexico State, adding to his total of 457 on the season. King also rushed for two touchdowns against the Aggies. 

Another running back that’s gotten back his mojo on the grid iron is junior running back Wesley Kennedy III. He’s only been back for three games since serving an academic suspension, but is already a leader in stats for the In the three games he’s been back, Kennedy has rushed for 312 yard and five touchdowns while averaging 104 yards per game. The junior also recently was named Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week after collecting 222 all-purpose yards against NMSU and returning his first punt for a 67-yard touchdown.

Facing off against an App State defense will be difficult for the Eagles, as the Mountaineers have collectively notched 45 tackles for loss on the defense and 18 sacks on the season. 

“They’re very fast,” Kennedy said about their defense. “They play physical. They they gel together. They’re a good defense and I’m excited to get after it.”

The biggest monster on the Mountaineer defense the GS offensive line needs to watch for is senior outside linebacker Akeen Davis-Gaither who has logged 51 tackles on the season, as well as 7.5 tackles for a loss of  39 yards.

App State currently has a leg up on the Eagles as they enter Thursday’s match ranked once again, this time at spot No. 20 after claiming their most recent win over South Alabama. 

The Mountaineers are also hungry for revenge, and have probably been prepping for this game ever since GS pulled the upset back in October 2018 and dethroned ASU from their first-ever ranked sport.

Overall the Mountaineers sit on an overall record of 7-0 while being 4-0 in the conference with a seven-game win streak.

Failing to fall this season,  junior quarterback Zac Thomas has successfully led App State on the offense, logging 266 rushing yards and 1,295 passing yards on the season, adding to the team’s average of 439.6 offensive yards per game. Thomas has also thrown for 11 touchdowns while rushing for four. Thomas did not perform in the last matchup between the two foes for long, as he was injured in the first few plays of the game in 2018.

“As far as their offense goes, I think it starts with the quarterback,” Lunsford said. “I think he’s very efficient. He does not make many mistakes. He runs that offense and he’s very talented. He can throw and run. He can hurt you with his legs as much as he does with his arm. That’s a hard deal to defend.”

The GS defense will also have their work cut out for them, needing to be on the lookout for strong running backs like Darrynton Evans and strong receivers like Thomas Hennigan. 

Evans has been an impressive leader so far this season for the Mountaineers when it comes to their rushing game. The junior averages 103 rushing yards per game and rushing for a total of 10 touchdowns on the season while notching 722 rushing yards on the season. Evans has also notched one receiving touchdown.

“Number three, the running back- he’s an explosive playmaker,” Lunsford said. “That’s a tall order for our defense.”

It’s no secret the Eagle defense has struggled in the past against passing offenses, which is why they need to keep a focus on wide receiver Hennigan who averages 53.43 receiving yards per game and has caught four touchdowns on the season.

While challenged, the GS defensive side of the ball has remained a strength for the Eagles all season long. Captain Rashad Byrd is one that’s proven himself to be a key player on the defense, logging 51 tackles on the season as well as six tackles for a loss of 15 yards and a sack. The redshirt-junior linebacker also collected his second collegiate career touchdown after returning an interception against NMSU. 

Another leader that has emerged on the Eagle defense is Renard Ellis, as the Furman Transfer has racked up 48 tackles on the season as well as logging a blocked kick, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. in Boone, North Carolina on Thursday and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

Kaitlin Sells, The George-Anne Managing Sports Editor,