STATESBORO, Ga. -- For the past three seasons, it has been The Game in the Southern Conference.
To Georgia Southern and Appalachian State fans, this game is just as important as the Ohio State-Michigan game is in the Big 10, the Texas-Nebraska game in the Big 12 and the Florida-Tennessee game in the SEC.
To fans at these two schools, no other game is as important. While it might not draw the publicity and the hype of a major Division I game, it's as big as it gets in Division I-AA.
Since 1997, either Georgia Southern or Appalachian State has claimed at least a share of the conference title.
The winner of Saturday's game gains the inside track to the Southern Conference championship.
Appalachian State beat Georgia Southern 17-16 last year in Boone, N.C. Luckily, Furman had beaten the Mountaineers the previous week, then Georgia Southern beat Furman three weeks later, and the three teams shared the Southern Conference title.
"The revenge factor is already in our minds, especially after last year," said linebacker Freddy Pesqueira. "I mean, they were the only team in the conference to beat us during the championship run. That really hurt us a lot. The coaches don't really have to give us much motivation."
As in any Georgia Southern-Appalachian State game in Statesboro, a full house is expected at Allen E. Paulson Stadium on Saturday.
"They are going to be very big," said Georgia Southern quarterback J.R. Revere, who will make his first start against Appalachian State.
"That's the way they (Appalachian fans) were up there last year. When we went up there last year, we had trouble audibling because they were so loud. We need the same thing here Saturday."
Two streaks will be on the line Saturday. Georgia Southern's 26-game home winning streak and a string of 14 consecutive Southern Conference home victories.
Nobody has to tell Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson how important Saturday's game is.
In his fourth season as the Eagles' head coach, Johnson is 1-2 against the Mountaineers, the only conference team he has a losing record against.
"I don't know that we don't like them," Johnson said. "We have a lot of respect for them. We've struggled against them. They've been the one team in the league that's had our number. I don't think it's dislike because we certainly respect them.
"Since I've been here, it's had a great bearing on the conference championship."
Since Georgia Southern began playing in the Southern Conference in 1993, the average margin of victory in the series is 7.4 points.
The players are aware of the game's significance, and one thing is for sure -- the road to the Southern Conference title runs through Appalachian State.
"App State took something from us last year, and we're trying to get it back," Pesqueira said. "We're just looking at this game as the next one we play and that's the most important one. This is one of the team's we're going to have to beat to stay No. 1, and that's how we're looking at it. We just have a little more incentive for this game."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.
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