When Georgia Southern and Massachusetts met on the gridiron last season, it made national headlines. Both teams entered the game in Amherst winless. The Eagles were 0-5 and the Minutemen were 0-6.
The “War of the Winless” was broadcast on ESPN3 and drew attention from neutral fans across the nation to see who was the worst team in FBS. After allowing 55 points, 670 yards of total yards and sacrificing 114 yards on 11 penalties, GS was awarded the worst team in college football.
The next day, Tyson Summers was fired.
Last season’s game wasn’t the first time the matchup between the two teams was in the national foreground, but it was the first time they weren’t playing in the I-AA playoffs.
The first meeting between the two teams was in the 1998 I-AA national championship game in Chattanooga. The Eagles entered the game undefeated and it was Paul Johnson’s second year as head coach.
All season, GS had blown through their opponents with only two of the games being decided by fewer than 10 points. It was a dominate season for the Eagles on one side and the Minutemen were having a different season. Riding an 11-3 season into Chattanooga, UMass had lost their games by a combined seven points. So while there was a three game difference between the two, it wasn’t a completely defeated season for the Minutemen.
In the championship, GS quarterback Greg Hill had four fumbles and an interception and hall of fame running back Adrian Peterson fumbled the ball twice to offset his two touchdown performance. The Eagles put up 595 total yards, but the stat that decided UMass’ championship victory ended up being the seven turnovers.
“We haven’t had a game like this all season,” Johnson said to the Savannah Morning News in 1998. “We self-destructed and they capitalized. Give them all the credit, but we did not execute very well today. When you turn the ball over seven times, you couldn’t beat (Chattanooga’s) Brainerd High.”
The Eagles would get the opportunity for revenge the next season in the I-AA quarterfinals. To get to the quarterfinals, the 8-3 Minutemen beat Furman, one of GS’ rivals.
GS knew of UMass’ ability to succeed in the passing game, but they also knew of the power of Paulson Stadium, a place the Eagles had not lost in the playoffs ever. The players were also motivated by the loss in the championship the season prior and Coach Johnson knew the exact date.
“(It’s been) 351 days that we’ve lived with (the championship loss),” Johnson said to The George-Anne in 1999. “I know exactly how long it’s been.”
Sophomore running back Adrian Peterson had another fantastic game with 333 yards on his way to winning the Walter Payton award for most outstanding I-AA player. The Eagles were finally able to breakaway from the defensive front the Minutemen were putting them through and went on to win comfortably 38-21. GS then went on to win their fifth national championship.
Saturday marks another test for revenge for the Eagles, but head coach Chad Lunsford isn’t focused on the chance for redemption.
“I don’t think our team has an issue with being emotional from last year,” Lunsford said. “I think this whole season is about proving themselves.”
McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, [email protected]