Georgia Southern has handed its Southern Conference football rivals plenty of painful losses over the years. That will come to an end after this season as the Eagles move on to the Sun Belt Conference. For the remaining SoCon squads, that's perhaps one benefit of conference realignment.
For the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, last season's triple-overtime defeat by GSU at Finley Stadium had to be among the most crushing in program history. In a physical, back-and-forth game, both teams scored in the first overtime, neither did in the second and the Eagles scored in the third, then denied the Mocs for a 39-31 win.
"We look back at the film and we see a lot of things we didn't do right," UTC senior linebacker Gunner Miller said. "If we'd have done one of those things different, it might have turned out different. It just comes down to doing your job every play."
Georgia Southern (2-1, 0-1) has owned the series against UTC (2-1, 0-0), with a 22-4 advantage. The Mocs will try for their second win in 14 visits to Paulson Stadium in their SoCon opener Saturday evening.
The Eagles have won three of the four meetings since Russ Huesman took over as the Mocs' coach. GSU won 30-20 in 2009, UTC won 35-27 in 2010 and the Eagles denied a Mocs two-point attempt with 1:44 to play to preserve a 28-27 win in 2011.
Last season, the Eagles led 14-0 and 21-7. The Mocs answered with 17 straight points to take a 24-21 lead. GSU tied the game, and ultimately forced overtime, with a field goal with 8:06 remaining.
Tight games have become the norm of late in the series, as have physical matchups. Just ask Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman, a star in last season's game with 170 yards and two touchdowns rushing and 102 yards and a touchdown passing.
"Honestly, I think if it had gone to another overtime I would have died," he said.
GSU quarterback Jerick McKinnon was no slouch, either, with 141 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, and he was 3-for-5 passing for 55 yards in the Eagles' triple-option attack. McKinnon scored the winning touchdown in the third overtime.
The Eagles went on to share the SoCon title and advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs for the third straight season.
"I was proud of our team after that game," Jacob Huesman said. "I mean, triple overtime, and that was a good team that went all the way to the semifinals of the playoffs. And we were this close to beating them.
"It was a struggle, but I thought we persevered and we hung with them, and that's a semifinal playoff team. And that made it hurt that much more because we took them to three overtimes and then we saw what they did in the playoffs."
The Mocs know they have to be prepared to stop McKinnon and the rest of the Eagles' option attack. Where the senior McKinnon lines up remains to be seen.
Injuries have depleted Georgia Southern's backfield, and two weeks ago against Wofford -- the Eagles, like UTC, were off last Saturday -- McKinnon played some at quarterback but started at running back with redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison at quarterback. McKinnon ran for 114 yards and two scores and Ellison had 97 yards rushing, along with 68 passing.
Huesman said the Mocs have to prepare for the Eagles' system and not focus too much on who might play where.
"I'm sure they're going to have ways to get [McKinnon] the ball. He's really good," Coach Huesman said. "They've got so many players that it's impossible just to practice and say, 'All right, we need to know where McKinnon is every snap.' ... You've just got to defend their offense."
Mocs tight ends coach Chris Harr was a freshman tight end in 2007 when UTC won its only game at Paulson Stadium, 45-38 in overtime. ... It's family weekend at Georgia Southern, so most of the 18,000 seats at Paulson Stadium should be occupied Saturday.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.