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Gritty Eagles Make History

By BJ Bennett
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A program built on persistence and toughness, and a no-excuses attitude, typified those traits when it mattered most.

We were tired, but we fought. Matt Dobson made a huge play at the goal line.
~Edwin Jackson

Georgia Southern's transition to the FBS, regardless of how year one played out, was going to be a historic one. In the end, the Eagles' debut was, instead, perfect. With a 22-16 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia Southern claimed an unscathed, undisputed Sun Belt championship just as the program and the conference are getting acquainted. The fine-print may now be different, but championship banners in Paulson Stadium are nothing new.

Already assured of at least a share of the Sun Belt crown entering the weekend, Georgia Southern got a defining defensive stand in its own redzone as time to expired to finish 2014 at 9-3, 8-0 in league play. The Eagles became one of just three teams ever in major college football to win a title in their first season in a new league.

A statement was made as Georgia Southern not only changed conferences, but also changed coaches. Willie Fritz, formerly of Sam Houston State, replaced now-Army coach Jeff Monken after a successful tenure that included three consecutive seminfal appearances and a triumph over Florida. While dealing with scholarship limitations compared to his peers, Fritz has made quite an impression. His team was picked eighth back in the pre-season. Ironically enough, Fritz's Eagles lead the nation in rushing. 

Victories over the likes of South Alabama, Texas State and rival Appalachian State helped move Georgia Southern into the history books. This past Saturday night in Statesboro, for a number of reasons, will lead a long line of memories. Backed up late, the Eagles held off a Warhawk bunch that nearly upended Texas A&M a few weeks prior. With tensions mounting, a game-winning pass deflection sparked a celebration for the ages.

"We were tired, but we fought," explained linebacker Edwin Jackson. "Matt Dobson made a huge play at the goal line."

Most of the fourth quarter was spent with Georgia Southern either trailing or clinging to a slim one-score lead. As the Eagles fought for a variety of firsts, a blast from the past led the way. Injuries to quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw forced Fritz to turn to senior Ezayi Youyoute, a part-time starter in 2012 who had played in just three games this fall. Against a defense that held the aforementioned Aggies to just 21 points, Youyoute rallied his teammates, ran five times for 81 yards and set up both of the Eagles' late scores.  

"You never know when your number is going to be called. Ezayi's was called tonight, and he did an unbelievable job. I'm just so proud of him," Fritz nodded. "He's been resilient all season long and what a spark he gave us. This game is going to be remembered for him. There are special moments in the history of this program and this is one of them and it's because of him."

A program built on persistence and toughness, and a no-excuses attitude, typified those traits when it mattered most.  

Expectations have long been unwavering at Georgia Southern; the more things change, the more they stay the same. For all that the Eagles have brought with them to the next level, a tradition of never settling is what stands out the most.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports