Back Billy Napier’s Greatest Game

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Billy Napier’s Greatest Game

By Southern Pigskin Staff
SouthernPigskin.com
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Saturday marks Billy Napier's first time back to Paulson Stadium since the greatest game of his college career.

Second year coach of the University of Louisiana will be roaming the visitor’s sideline Saturday at Paulson Stadium for the first time -- as a coach -- when his Ragin Cajuns take on the Georgia Southern Eagles.

However, Billy Napier is no stranger to Paulson Stadium. Napier was a two year starter at quarterback for then-Southern Conference rival Furman in 2001 and 2002, playing twice as a visitor to Eagle Creek. He led his Paladins into Paulson Stadium twice in his junior season, taking on the Eagles once in the regular season, a 20-10 loss to the Eagles, and once in the semifinal round of the NCAA 1-AA Playoffs, a 24-17 win by the visiting Paladins in Napier’s best collegiate performance, the first ever home playoff loss for Georgia Southern.

In the regular season matchup, each team entered the game with one loss overall. Furman came in undefeated in the SOCON while the Eagles had lost the week before, in league play, to ETSU. The contest was tied heading into the fourth quarter, but the Eagles scored 10 points in the final frame to seal the win.

Napier’s stats on the day were 17 for 31 passing for 196 yards but with two interceptions and one fumble, the turnovers leading to 13 Georgia Southern points. The Paladins and Eagles would go on to share the SOCON Championship, each finishing the season with one conference loss.

In the rematch, Napier was phenomenal, leading the Paladins to a 24-17 come from behind victory to clinch a spot in the NCAA 1-AA National Championship game.

Furman’s All-SOCON Kicker in 2001, Danny Marshall, described the day that Napier had as “Near perfect. If I recall he didn’t have an incompletion at all that day, did he? Big second half comeback spearheaded by a beautiful slant touchdown to one Bear Rhinehart (Lead singer of Need To Breathe). In my opinion, he engineered one of the greatest Furman victories against one of the most talented Georgia Southern teams I can remember… and I’ve watched Georgia Southern play every year since 1986.”

Napier was indeed perfect on the day completing all 12 of his passes for 159 yards with the touchdown to Rhinehart that tied the score at 17, following a fumble by Georgia Southern on back-to-back kickoff returns which led to 10 Paladin points early in the third quarter.

Longtime Sports Information Director for Furman, Hunter Reid, recounts Napier’s receivers were near perfect that day as well. “The thing I remember about Billy Napier in that 2001 semifinal playoff victory was he was really good, but his receivers were even better.

Billy went 12-for-12 for 159 yards and a touchdown, which obviously is as good as you can get from an accuracy standpoint, but he will probably tell you his receivers, namely Bear Rhinehart, made some unbelievable, climb-the-ladder type catches to keep him perfect. It took plays like that and a superb defense to beat Georgia Southern that day… something nobody else had ever done in the playoffs in Statesboro.”

The Paladins would go on to Chattanooga, and the National Title game, the next week against Montana and finish as the National Runner-Up falling 13-6 to the Grizzlies in a hard-fought game. Napier finished up his career at Furman in 2002, leading the Paladins to a second place finish in the SOCON, an 8-4 record and first round NCAA 1-AA Playoff appearance.

Napier’s University of Louisiana Ragin Cajuns take on Georgia Southern in Statesboro Saturday night at 6:00 in a huge Sun Belt Conference match-up. Paulson Stadium is always a raucous atmosphere, but if anyone knows how to quiet that crowd, it’s Billy Napier.