The Georgia Southern-Furman rivalry is one of the best on the Southern Conference gridiron, and rightfully so, as the first two meetings between these tradition-rich programs took place in the national title game. The Eagles completed an unbelievable 44-42, come-from-behind win in the national title game in 1985, in which GSU trailed 28-6 early in the third quarter.
Furman would exact revenge three years later in Pocatello, Idaho, by coming up with a 17-12 win over the Eagles to claim the school's only national title. The Paladins and Eagles will be meeting for the 23rd time in series history this fall, with the Eagles holding a 14-8 all-time series edge. The Eagles and Paladins have played some epic games since GSU joined the SoCon as an official member in 1993.
No GSU fan can forget the Eagles' 27-24 win over the top-ranked Paladins in 2005, which allowed the Eagles to qualify for the FCS postseason. The Eagles were able to come up with the win when Terrance McBride stepped in front of an Ingle Martin pass in the waning moments to clinch the three-point win over the Paladins.
Most Furman fans won't soon forget the 2000 meeting with the Eagles, as Paul Johnson brought his top-ranked club to Paladin Stadium, having already clinched at least a share of the SoCon title. Furman needed a win to keep its postseason hopes alive. Johnson decided to bench his stud running back and all-time FCS leading rusher Adrian Peterson, who was nursing a minor injury.
The Paladins led 10-7 at the break, and the second half would belong to Furman running back Loius Ivory. Ivory not only set a school record, but also a SoCon regular-season record for rushing yards, rushing for 301 yards and three TDs and leading the Paladins to a lopsided 45-10 win over the Eagles. Furman would later end up qualifying for the postseason with a victory in its final game against Chattanooga, while Georgia Southern would be fueled by the thumping and go on to win their second-straight national title.
The 2001 season saw two classic games played between the schools, with Georgia Southern claiming a gritty 20-10 win in the regular-season home finale. Playing in front of the home folks for the final time, Adrian Peterson used the emotional, electric, sell-out atmosphere to rush for 158 yards on 24 attempts.
The two would meet against in the FCS semifinals, with the Paladins handing Georgia Southern its first postseason loss (27-0 coming in to the game) at Paulson Stadium, while also ending GSU's 39-game winning streak.
Furman, which played without star running back Louis Ivory, used a trio of running backs to control the ball and the clock in a 24-17 win over the Eagles in front 11,827 stunned fans. The Furman defense also did its job in the contest, holding Adrian Peterson to a career-low 68 yards rushing in the contest.
With nothing on the line for GSU in 2003 except a winning season, the Eagles showed a great sense of pride in gutting out a 29-24 win over the Paladins in a game that featured a matchup between two great running backs, FU's Hindley Brigham and GSU's Jermaine Austin.
It was Brigham who began the fireworks that afternoon with an 80-yard scoring scamper, establishing a Paulson Stadium record for the longest rushing TD by an opponent. However, it would be Austin that had the last laugh, rushing for 136 yards and a TD on 25 carries despite a slightly injured knee. GSU posted an impressive afternoon offensively, rolling up 448 yards against the nation's third-ranked defense.
Sean Holland connected on five field goals, which accounted for more than half of GSU's points, and tied Reed Haley's school mark set against The Citadel in 1994.
A year later, an epic battle would ensue between the Paladins and Eagles. Furman came into the matchup ranked seventh in the nation, while the Eagles' offense had been steamrolling their opponents to the tune of 49 PPG and 487 YPG. However, in what would go down as a classic, Furman would win a 29-22 contest. The Paladin defense slowed the Eagle offense to 412 yards and 22 points in a matchup between the top teams in the SoCon.
The Paladins would get the game-winning score, with just over a minute left, from fullback Jerome Felton to take a 27-22 lead. The Paladins would go on to claim the Southern Conference title in 2004 after that victory over the FCS juggernaut Eagles.
Ever since that initial win in Statesboro, the Paladins have claimed victories in their last two trips to the place Eagle fans call The Prettiest Little Stadium In America. Last season, however, it was the Eagles who were able to come back from an early deficit and post a thrilling 32-28 win over Furman. It was the final game for head coach Bobby Lamb, who's tied to the GSU rivalry as much as any Paladin, having also quarterbacked the 1985 squad.
The Eagles used their opportunistic defense to overcome an early 14-point deficit and get back in the game. It was the GSU defense that became dominant in the second half, as the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage. In fact, the Eagles allowed the Paladins just three first downs in the second half and ended up holding nearly a 17-minute (38:20-21:40) advantage in time of possession.
It was a gutty performance by quarterback Jaybo Shaw, who kept getting up after taking vicious hits from Paladin linebackers Kadarron Anderson and Chris Wiley. Shaw more than showed his toughness, willing the Eagles to a win and rushing for 101 yards and three TDs, while passing for 126 yards.
Saturday's meeting promises to be an exciting one, as the past eight meetings have been decided by an average of five points per game.