Originally created 09/13/03

Eagles take crucial trip



LAKE CHARLES, La. - Georgia Southern expects a swarm tonight during its Division I-AA showdown at McNeese State (8 p.m., FoxSports South).

And the Eagles aren't talking about the love bugs that are everywhere in this southwest Louisiana town near the Texas border.

"They're a real tough bunch. When they figure out what you're trying to do, they'll really go after you," Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Rusty Russell said.

The Cowboys have won two straight Southland Conference championships and advanced to the national championship game a year ago.

McNeese (1-1) began the 2003 season as the top-ranked team in the division, but dropped to third after a 55-14 loss at I-A's No. 6 Kansas State.

The Eagles, ranked second, won their season-opener against Savannah State 35-0 a week ago.

It's a big game, but how big? Despite a downpour here Friday and the threat of more rain tonight, ticket sales are brisk. Approximately 12,500 tickets have been sold. If it doesn't rain tonight, there shouldn't be any problem filling 17,410-capacity Cowboy Stadium.

But McNeese coach Tommy Tate knows this non-conference game won't make or break anyone's season.

"It's still relatively early in the year," Tate said. "The loser (of this game) can still go on and have a good season."

The Eagles and Cowboys know first-hand about the possibilities. Western Kentucky lost to McNeese 38-13 in September last season, but rebounded at the right time to beat both Georgia Southern and McNeese in the semifinals and finals, respectively.

But tonight's game is a good barometer.

"A game like this will let both teams know where they stand," said GSU coach Mike Sewak.

Both teams can be offensive-minded. The Cowboys are a little more diversified, coupling 1,000-yard rusher Vick King with the aerial team of quarterback Scott Pendarvis and wide receiver B.J. Sams.

GSU counters with an option offense that few can simulate in practice. Quarterback Chaz Williams and fullback Jermaine Austin contributed all four rushing touchdowns a week ago.

"That's the toughest thing, getting that look," Tate said. "No one does (the spread offense) like Georgia Southern."

Three years ago, during the teams' only meeting, it took the Eagles some time to figure out the Cowboys. McNeese led at half but GSU scored 28 consecutive second-half points to win 42-17.

Don't expect to see that kind of swarm in the end zone tonight.

"It's the first good offense we'll play," Russell said. "We certainly have a challenge."