Southern Conference Football 2013 Season Recap Part I: Seasons of Change

 

The 2013 football season inside the Southern Conference is one that will be remembered for many reasons, and when it was all said and done, three teams tied for the crown for a second-straight season and for the third time in the past four, as Samford, Chattanooga and Furman all found themselves perched atop the Southern Conference hieracrchy at season’s end, with two of those schools–Furman and Samford–qualifying for the postseason.

The season marked the first time since 1984 that every team in the league has finished with less than nine wins on the season, and the first time that every team in the league has finished with less than 10 wins since 1991.

Chattanooga was the odd team left out of the mix, and while it was the Mocs’ fifth Southern Conference crown since joining the league and first since 1984, the season was bittersweet, as despite an 8-4 overall record and a 6-2 conference mark, the Mocs were left out of the postseason much like the 2002 Wofford Terrier club that went 9-3, although that team did not tie for the conference crown. Huesman’s Mocs were left baffled, and what might have been the best team in the Southern Conference, saw its streak of missing the postseason extend to 27 years.

The season really set itself apart from others from the outset, as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern–two programs that had claimed a combined nine national titles (5 as SoCon members) would be leaving the league for the FBS ranks following the 2013 campaign in mid-March, rendering the two programs ineligible for the FCS postseason and conference title as a result due to added scholarships.

Then there was the shock of Elon, which was a team that just joined the SoCon as an official gridiron member back in 2003, but some 11 seasons later, the Phoenix are on the move to the Colonial Athletic Association. While Georgia Southern and Appalachian State were celebrated programs and ones that had garnered much respect as a result of so much success, Elon was kind like the team that everyone forgot in 2013. No big fanfare or much media coverage surrounded the Phoenix quiet departure from the league.

While it would be the end of the road for Elon, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, the 2013 season would prove to be a return to the top for a programs like Furman and Chattanooga, who had been dominant in the late 1970’s and 80’s. In fact, when Appalachian State joined the league in 1972,  Chattanooga and then Furman were the programs to emulate, and though success would not come until much later on the mountain, it was the benchmark programs like Furman and Chattanooga which helped point the Mountaineer football program towards that success.

For Furman, it was the unlikeliest of runs under third-year head coach Bruce Fowler, who easily had his youngest team returning to the fold in his third season, and one that was coming off a 3-8 season–its worst since winning only three games in 1994. Samford was a program that had never won a conference title at the Division I level, but former Heisman Trophy-winning coach Pat Sullivan felt the Bulldogs might just have their best chance at that in 2013.

In this four-part 2013 SoCon Recap, SaturdayBlitz writer John Hooper takes a look at the stories that shaped one of the most peculiar, and at the same time exciting seasons of football in the long, storied history of Southern Conference football.

Season of Change:

Appalachian State and Georgia Southern knew their fate well before taking a snap in the 2013 season. Both programs learned in March that the SoCon was no longer a destination of future championship success for either Appalachian State or Georgia Southern.

Not since Marshall left in 1996 for the Mid-American Conference had such success left the conference, but even the Thundering Herd were able to compete for the Southern Conference title and the national title. That would not be an option for either Appalachian State or Georgia Southern.

For Appalachian, the 2013 season not only represented a move to the Sun Belt Conference, but also a changing of the guard at the top, with Scott Satterfield replacing the legendary Jerry Moore as the head coach, as the Black and Gold headed into a season with a new head coach for the first time since 1989.

At the preseason media days in Spartanburg in mid-July, the coaches were allowed to vote for both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to win the title, despite neither being eligible to claim the league title or FCS playoff bid as a result of added scholarships to make such a sudden move to the Sun Belt next season. The Eagles were picked to claim the league crown by the coaches, while Appalachian State was selected second by the league’s head coaches.

Amazingly, both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern–two programs that had won 16 of the previous 19 Southern Conference titles heading into 2013–would not have even factored into the league’s championship race had either been eligible to do so.

The Mountaineers suffered through their first losing season since 1993 and just their second losing campaign since 1983, as the Black and Gold finished just 4-8 and 4-4 in the Southern Conference, however, it was easy to see the Mountaineers’ improvement down the stretch.

Appalachian lost five of its first six games to start the 2013 season, and to make matters worse, lost quarterback Jamal Jackson and Sean Price. Jackson was so beat up after the 2012 campaign, which he was able to lead the Mountaineers to make a miraculous run to a 12th Southern Conference crown in 2012, and thus, he was not the same quarterback he was in the previous two seasons, with his mobility severely limited.

Jackson finished his career with 5,971 passing yards to rank fifth in school history, while his 39-career scoring passes are tied for eighth-most in Southern Conference football history.

Price, who had been such a captivating career on the gridiron for the Apps as a freshman, couldn’t overcome his off-the-field struggles and was arrested twice during the 2013 campaign, and he didn’t even make it to mid-October of his sophomore season before he was dismissed from the Mountaineer football team. Price had a rec0rd-setting freshman campaign, which saw him break Randy Moss’ FCS freshman receiving record for receiving yards,  as Price finished with 1,196 receiving yards as a freshman, while his 81 receptions set a new FCS freshman standard.

But while Price’s unfortunate season unraveled early in the campaign, there was another just as compelling story occurring simultaneously. 

The compelling, positive story for Appalachian was freshman running back Marcus Cox, who posted the best freshman season ever by a Mountaineer running back. He rushed for 1,250 yards and 15 TDs, while hauling in 43 passes for 559 yards and six scores. to finish the season ranking second in the league in rushing, and his 1,250-yard performance in 2013 marked the 17th time in program history that a Mountaineer running back has finished a season with 1,000 rushing yards, and it was the 13th-best rushing performance in a single-season in school history.

Cox’s 1,250 rushing yards as a freshman eclipsed the previous mark of 1,153 yards set by Armanti Edwards back in the 2006 season. His 1,809 yards ranked second in the Southern Conference behind only Samford’s Fabian Truss. Cox’s 21 TDs (15-rushing, 6-receiving) led the SoCon in scoring en rout to garnering the SoCon Freshman of the Year accolade, and remains a candidate for the prestigious Jerry Rice Award, which is given to the nation’s top freshman player by The Sports Network.

Cox claimed the SoCon’s Freshman of the Week Award a SoCon record six times, while his 215 yards rushing in the regular-season finale against Western Carolina were a single-game rushing record by a freshman, eclipsing the previous record of 207 yards previously set by Alan Atwater back in 2003 against Chattanooga.

Appalachian’s season would get off to a bumpy start, with losses in six of their first seven games of the season, with that lone win coming on the road in the conference opener when Marcus Cox did something no other Mountaineer player had ever done–run for and receive for 100 yards in the same game to help the Mountaineers to the 31-21 road win at Elon, helping the Apps extend their winning streak to 18 games against the Phoenix.

The Apps would start hitting their stride towards the middle of the season, and a 38-14 win over No. 24 Georgia Southern would provide the confidence for what would prove to be a strong finish to conference play in Satterfield’s first season as the head coach. The win marked the sixth in eight meetings against the national power Eagles, with the Apps rolling up a season-high 515 yards en route to the win.

Kameron Bryant, who ended up being the Mountaineers’ starter Jackson was ineffective due to injury, had his coming out party against the Eagles, connecting on 27-of-33 passes for 381 yards and two TDs, tying a career-high with two scoring tosses. It was also a big day for Appalachian State’s senior receiving duo of Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock. Peacock hauled in 10 passes for 127 yards, while Washington caught five passes for a career-best 129 yards and a score. Peacock was just three yards and one catch shy of establishing new career highs in each category.

Appalachian held the Eagles to just 363 yards of total offense in the contest, which 128 yards less than the nation-leading 491.7 YPG Georgia Southern was averaging coming into the game.

A heartbreaking loss to Chattanooga, which saw the Mocs turn the game on a botched snap on a punt, as UTC punter Nick Pollard turned a high snap early in the fourth quarter into a first down, which eventually set the dominoes in motion for a 21-point fourth quarter and the Mocs’ first win in Boone since 1983, as UTC held on for the 35-28 win. Nakevion Leslie’s INT and 28-yard return for a score with just 2:51 remaining allowed Chattanooga to come away from Boone with the 35-28 win.

Following the loss to the Mocs, Appalachian was 2-7 overall and 2-4 in the SoCon, as the Mountaineers got ready for their final non-conference game of the season with a trip between the hedges to face the Georgia Bulldogs.

Despite suffering a 45-6 loss to the Bulldogs, Appalachian acquitted itself well all afternoon, trailing just 14-6 at the break, as the better than 92,000 fans in attendance booed the Bulldogs entering the halftime locker room.

After outgaining Appalachian State by just 21 yards in the opening half of play, the Mountaineers were outgained 353-58 in the second half and outscored 31-0 in the second half, as the Mountaineers were dominated in the second half–a stark contrast from the opening 30 minutes. In fact, Appalachian trailed just 17-6 with five minutes to play in the third quarter.

Andrew Peacock caught a career-high 12 passes for 90 yards, as he continued his strong performances against the Peach State in his career, which included 22 receptions against Georgia and Georgia Southern in 2013. Tony Washington added five catches for 78 yards, and running back Marcus Cox added 79 all-purpose yards (59 rushing, 20 receiving). Bryant connected on 22-of-39 for 221 yards, including 13-for-16 for 145 yards in the opening half of play.

Senior linebacker Karl Anderson had five tackles and registered the Apps’ only INT of the day, while Michael Frazier and Brandon McGowan added a team-leading seven tackles apiece.

Two-straight losses to Wofford had left a bad taste in the mouths of Mountaineer football fans in each of the previous two seasons, but the Mountaineers wouldn’t let it become a third-straight campaign, posting a 33-21 win over the 24th-ranked Terriers, avoiding a third-straight loss to the Terriers.

The 12-point win in Spartanburg by the Mountaineers also would be a new career-standard afternoon for Mountaineer senior wide receiver Andrew Peacock, who set a new school standard for receptions, who put together a dominant performance in the second half to establish the new school mark.

In total, Peacock hauled in seven passes for 54 yards in the contest, and his new school milestone setting catch would come on Appalachian’s second possession of the third quarter, as he hauled in a seven-yard pass from Kameron Bryant to post his 203rd-career catch.

Peacock’s 203rd reception broke the previous standard of 202 catches established from 2007-11 by current St. Louis Rams wideout Brian Quick. His 12-yard catch on the first play of the game made him the fifth receiver in Appalachian football history to eclipse the 2,000 yard plateau in a career.

The Mountaineers found themselves behind, 14-10, at the break, however, the Apps out-gained the Terriers to the tune of a 258-117 margin in the second half, which allowed the Apps to out-score Wofford 23-7 in the second half to cruise to the win. Appalachian’s win not only improved the Mountaineers to 3-8 and 3-4 in Southern Conference action, it also effectively eliminated the Terriers from SoCon title contention and playoff consideration.

It was a homecoming for Appalachian defensive coordinator Nate Woody, who was making a return to the school where he was a defensive coordinator for 13 seasons before moving to Boone in the same role. After the Apps allowed 228 yards of offense in the opening half of play, Woody adjusted his defense at the break and the Mountaineers allowed a paltry 14 yards on the first four series of the second half, allowing the Mountaineers to put points on the board on their first four possessions of the second half (three TDs and a field goal) to take a commanding 33-14 lead.

Leading 20-14 heading to the fourth quarter, Appalachian’s defense turned the tide of the game for good, when Kennan Gilchrist and Thomas Bronson were in heavy pursuit of Terrier quarterback Michael Weimer, who was trying to make something out of what seemed to be a broken play, however, suffered a bone-jarring hit by Gilchrist, forcing the ball free and it would be recovered by Mountaineer defensive end Adam Scott at the Wofford 17.

Three plays later, Marcus Cox danced into the end zone from three yards out to give the Apps a two-score lead (26-14) after a failed two-point play.

Appalachian would play its final game as a Southern Conference and FCS member on Nov. 23, 2013 at Kidd Brewer Stadium against its oldest Southern Conference rival–Western Carolina.

It marked the 78th meeting between the Mountaineers and Catamounts, and wouldn’t prove to be much of a football game, with the Black and Gold claiming a 48-27 win, thanks in large part to a signature performance by Marcus Cox, who turned in one of the best freshman seasons for an offensive player in the history of Appalachian State football.

Cox rushed for 215 yards and three TDs on 26 carries, setting a new freshman single-game mark for the Black and Gold, as he eclipsed the previous standard of 207 yards set by Alan Atwater in a game against Chattanooga in 2003.

The 48 points were the most of the season, and the first 40-point game since Sept. 29, 2012, when the Apps posted a 55-14 win over Coastal Carolina on Sept. 29, 2012. It snapped a streak of 18-straight games in which Appalachian had failed to reach the 40-point plateau–the longest such streak since the mid 1990’s.

The Apps moved to 59-18-1 in the all-time series, claiming their 27th win in the last 29 meetings with the Catamounts, including their eighth-straight, dating back to the Catamounts’ 30-27 win in 2004.  The season might not have been one that compares to the standards of what has come to be expected on the mountain, but it was certainly season which saw the Mountaineers improve in nearly every area of the game of the season from Aug. 31-Nov. 23.

With the adjustments made and meeting adversity like the Mountaineers did, the Mountaineers have a solid group of young coaches, meaning success in the Sun Belt isn’t all too far away.

Perhaps no tandem of receivers in school history were as successful as Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock, who ended his career as Appalachian’s all-time career receptions leader. Peacock led the Black and Gold with 78 catches in 2013, posting 706 receiving yards and a pair of TDs, averaging 9.1 YPR.

For his career, the senior from Durham, N.C., completed his career with a 208 catches for 2,108 yards and nine career scoring receptions. His 2,108 career receiving yards allowed Peacock to finish his career fifth on the program’s all-time receiving yards ledger.

Memorable Tandem:

Washington turned in his finest season as a Mountaineer receiver, completing the campaign with a team-leading 939 receiving yards and four TDs on 64 receptions, averaging 14.7 YPR for the season. It was a big season for Washington, who was the Mountaineers’ go-to-receiver all season, recording a number of big catches along the way this season for the Black and Gold.

For his career, Washington hauled in 100 passes for 1,385 yards six TDs, with his receiving totals from the 2013 season doubling his previous career numbers for the Black and Gold as a wideout. Washington was also instrumental as a kick returner during his career for the Black and Gold, which included a 99-yard return for a score last season in a 38-28 loss to Wofford.
But it wasn’t all about what Washington was doing on the field for the Apps as a receiver and a kick returner, but also what he was getting done in the classroom. Washington was named as one of 16 recipients of the National Football Foundation’s National Scholar-Athlete Awards. He is only the second Mountaineer football player to ever claim the distinguished award, with the only other Mountaineer football player to claim the prestigious honor being D.J. Campbell in 1992.
Washington sports an impressive 3.80 cumulative grade point average. He was a member of the Appalachian and Southern Conference academic honor rolls, and he was also apart of the Appalachian Dean’s List in the fall. As one of the 16 award recipients, Washington was awarded a $18,000 postgraduate scholarship.

 

 

The 2013 season might have been frustrating at times for Appalachian players, coaches and fans, but it represents the culmination of 42 seasons inside one of the top conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, with the Black and Gold having plenty do with the league’s lofty perch, contributing three of its eight national titles as a conference–the most among current FCS conferences.
Appalachian State remains the first team in FCS history to ever win three-consecutive titles, when the Apps claimed titles from 2005-07. During that span, the Black and Gold compiled a remarkable 39-6 overall record, including an 18-3 record against Southern Conference foes during that time frame.
Additionally, the Mountaineers won six-straight Southern Conference titles from 2005-10, with the six-straight league crowns tying Georgia Southern’s six-straight league titles from 1997-2002. The Apps would win 26-straight Southern Conference games, which spanned from Oct. 27 of 2007 to Nov. 6, 2010. All told, the Mountaineers won 12 Southern Conference titles, with the final one coming in its final season being eligible to win a league crown, doing so in quite remarkable fashion, with the 31-28 win at Georgia Southern not soon being forgotten by fans of the Black and Gold.
Appalachian also gave the SoCon its most recognition as a league on a national stage on Sept. 1, 2007, with the monumental, 34-32, victory over the FBS No. 5 Michigan Wolverines marking an unprecedented feat for the league and sub-classification, with that win marking the first by an FBS member against a ranked FBS foe. Thus, Appalachian would become the first FCS program to ever receive votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. An new amendment was added to the voting legislation, which is referred to as The Appalachian Rule allowing voters to vote for FCS teams in the FBS Top 25 poll.
Appalachian’s 20 FCS playoff appearances rank second to only Montana in number of FCS postseason appearances, with the Apps compiling an impressive 27-23 mark in postseason play as a member of the SoCon. With Appalachian’s three-straight titles from 2005-07, it marked the first time in 61 years that a Division I team (FBS or FCS) had claimed three-straight national crowns.
Finally, the players that came through the program during the 42 seasons the Black and Gold called the Southern Conference home were not only some of the best to ever suit up for the Black and Gold, but some of the best to ever play in the FCS.
In 1995, Summerville, S.C., native and Appalachian State linebacker Dexter Coakley won the inaugural Buck Buchanan Award and would duplicate the feat a year later, remaining the only player to win the sub-classification’s most prestigious award for a defensive player on two occasions. His 616-career tackles in a career remain the most by a Division I player (FBS or FCS) in a career. Coakley went on to an outstanding NFL career, garnering NFL All-Pro honors three times as a Dallas Cowboy. 
Armanti Edwards re-wrote the FCS and Southern Conference record books during his time under center for the Mountaineers from 2006-09, establishing himself as maybe the greatest player in FCS history. Like Coakley, Edwards became the only player in FCS history to claim back-to-back Walter Payton Awards. The Payton Award is given to the top player in the FCS each season by the Sports Network, and Edwards claimed the award in 2008 and ’09.
Among Edwards’ rewriting of the history books, he posted a program and Southern Conference record 14,753 yards of total offense in his career, which is second in FCS history to only the late Steve McNair of Alcorn State.
Brian Quick became the highest draft pick to ever come out of the tradition-rich Appalachian State football program, and marks the second wide receiver to garner a second round selection in the NFL Draft.
The highest draft pick to come out of Appalachian State prior the 2012 NFL Draft was linebacker Dino Hackett, who was taken 35th  overall by the Kansas City Chiefs  in the 1986 NFL Draft.
Quick set new program career marks for receptions (220), yards (3,418), TD catches (31) and yards per catch. Quick had a strong senior campaign, which saw him haul in 71 passes for 1,096 yards and 11 TDs (15.4 YPR) last fall.
Finally, Appalachian gave the SoCon coaching great Jerry Moore, who finished as the league’s all-time winningest coach after stepping down with 215 victories last season. The 73-year old Moore will likely be remembered by most as the coach who rode the shoulders of his players from the Michigan Stadium turf following Appalachian State’s historic 34-32 win over BCS fifth-ranked Michigan, as the veteran coach helped the school become the first FCS (formerly Division I-AA) school to ever knock off a ranked FBS (formerly Division I-A) since college football re-classification in 1981.
Moore finished his career with a 215-87 mark at Appalachian State, while posting an overall mark of 242-135-2 as a head coach, which includes his five seasons at the helm of Texas Tech (1981-85).
Moore helped Appalachian State to 10 of its Southern Conference standard-tying 12 league titles during his tenure, while presiding over just the second Division I team to claim three-straight national titles (2005-07) since Army (1944-46).  He helped ASU become one of just six programs at any level of collegiate football to claim three-straight titles.
He helped Appalachian State tie the league standard for most consecutive SoCon regular-season titles, as ASU won six-straight league crowns from 2005-10, tying Georgia Southern, who won six-straight from 1997-2002.
Moore oversaw 23 teams that posted six or more wins in his 24 seasons in the High Country, including helping the program to 18 of its 20 postseason appearances after taking over prior to the 1989 season for Sparky Woods, who left to become the head coach at South Carolina.  Only once did Moore have a team finish below .500 (1993, 4-7) in his 24 seasons on the mountain.
The Bonham, TX native finishes his career among the all-time greats at any level of college football, with his 242 wins ranking him 15th all-time among Division I college football head coaches. The eight wins this season helped Moore to surpass the likes of former greats Woody Hayes (Ohio State, 238 wins) and Bo Schembechler (234 wins, Michigan).
Moore is the only coach in the 77-year history of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) “Coach of the Year” award to garner the distinct citation three-consecutive years, doing so from 2005-07. He coached 257 players that garnered all-conference plaudits, while coaching 95 players to All-America honors in his decorated career.
The Mountaineers finished their 42nd season as a Southern Conference member, posting an all-time league mark 204-87-5 (.698), and the 12 SoCon titles ranks ASU second in SoCon history in league titles. The three national crowns are third-most in FCS history behind only Georgia Southern and Youngstown State, who have won six and four titles, respectively. North Dakota State could tie the feat originally established by Appalachian of three-straight titles when it takes on Towson for the FCS national title on Jan. 4.
While it was the end of the road for Appalachian State, the same can be said for Georgia Southern, who first joined the Southern Conference football scene in 1991.
The Eagles, who came into the 2013 season having won six national titles and 10 Southern Conference crowns, sported one of the best traditions in FCS football.
Head coach Jeff Monken, who led Georgia Southern  to three FCS Semifinal appearances in his four seasons as head coach, would leave at the end of the season to fill the head vacancy at Army, where Rich Ellerson was fired following the 2013 campaign.
The Eagles would enter the season as most folks’ favorites,  despite not being able to win the Southern Conference or go to the FCS playoffs. Georgia Southern would finish its final season in the Southern Conference with a 7-4 overall record and like Appalachian, were an even 4-4 in Southern Conference play.
The 2013 season may not have been a championship season for the Eagles’ football program, but it represented the end of one journey and the beginning of another, which was started by former legendary coach Erk Russell when he decided to he was chosen to be the head coach of the first  Georgia Southern football team after the program was brought back in 1982. From Russell, to Tim Stowers, to Paul Johnson, Georgia Southern was nearly unbeatable atop the FCS ranks. Players like 1999 Walter Payton Award winner and all-time FCS leading rusher Adrian Peterson (6,559 career yards) will not soon be forgotten, nor will 2007 Walter Payton winner Jayson Foster (3,835 career yards).
The Eagles had some really special talents which were apart of its final Southern Conference run in 2013, including quarterback Jerick McKinnon (8-of-17 passing, 171 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT / 161 rush att, 1,050 yds, 12 TDs, 6.5 YPC), who certainly would leave his mark on the Georgia Southern football program in 2o13 under center, and some called the senior signal-caller from Marietta, GA, the best player in the Southern Conference coming into the 2013 season.
McKinnon finished his career as one of the signal-callers to ever suit up in the traditional Blue and White of Georgia Southern, finishing as the program’s third all-time leading rusher, with 3,899 career rushing yards, including back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns.
What made McKinnon such a great player during his time at Georgia Southern was his versatility, and he logged time at three different positions for the Eagles in 2013.
McKinnon would battle injuries during his senior season, and the Eagles would be hit with a rash of injuries unlike any other season in recent memory, especially at the fullback position, which is the most important position in the GSU offense, along with the quarterback position.
The Eagles would lose Dominique Swope and William Banks to season-ending injuries, which proved to be costly, but despite all the injuries, the talented Eagles boasted seven victories, which in some ways proved to be more impressive than the 10 games the Eagles won in 2012.
Though the seven wins would bring an end to a string of three-straight campaigns which saw the Eagles win at least 10 games, a winning season didn’t seem to be a sure bet for the Eagles after a 16-14 home loss to Furman, left the Eagles just 4-4 on the campaign, with games against Western Carolina, at Elon and at Florida remaining on the slate.
Georgia Southern would get the season off to a solid start with wins over Savannah State (77-9), St. Francis (59-17), Chattanooga (23-21), as the Eagles won three of their first four games to open the campaign, ranked as highly as No. 9 in the nation. The lone loss in the first four games came on the road at Wofford (30-20).  But as the football season entered the month of October, the Eagles would see their season take a turn for the negative, with losses to at No. 16 Samford (44-34), at Appalachian State (38-14) and then opened the month of November with that two-point setback to Furman at Paulson Stadium. But after that loss to the Paladins, the Eagles would play some of their best football of the season.
The Eagles would play their final Southern Conference home game against Western Carolina, as the Eagles looked to close out their Southern Conference membership by maintaining an 18-game winning streak against the Catamounts.
The Eagles would get back on the winning track against the Catamounts, and with Jerick McKinnon back in the lineup under center and feeling healthy, it would help lead to an Eagle 35-19 victory in Statesboro, as Georgia Southern wore their throwback uniform.
It was senior day for Georgia Southern, and McKinnon would give the home fans who couldn’t travel to either of the remaining road games at Elon or at Florida one more chance to enjoy his talents. His 23-yard option keeper around the corner to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
However, Western would come right back and get a TD on the ensuing drive, as Garry Lewis found the end zone on a 1-yard run, capping what was an impressive 14-play, 75-yard drive, but Richard Sigmon’s PAT was block to keep the Eagles in the lead by a single point.
Back-to-back TDs by the Eagles–one of which came on tight end Da’Quan Heard’s first-career scoring catch on a 19-yard crossing route in the second quarter–staked the Eagles to a 21-6 lead.
A Georgia Southern turnover allowed Western Carolina to close the gap to eight, as Catamount quarterback Troy Mitchell made the most of the good field position, connecting with Kannorris Benson on a two-yard pass to make it a 21-13 game with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
However, Georgia Southern would stretch its lead back out to 35-13, as Nardo Govan’s two-yard plunge gave the Eagles a 15-point (28-13) advantage late in the third quarter, and then slotback Tray Butler took a handoff from freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison to gain 18 yards to the Catamount 40, and on the very next play, Ellison called his own number to make it a 35-13 contest with 6:23 remaining in the game.
Western Carolina would tack on a late score when John Sullivan hit Eddie Sullivan, and the two-point conversion play would fail, setting the final score, at 35-19.
The Eagles would close a chapter in their storied football history on Nov. 16, when the Eagles traveled to Elon for a final Southern Conference game with Elon. The next conference game the Eagles will play will be in the FBS as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. It would also be the Eagles’ final FCS opponent as an FCS member, and the Eagles would finish out their SoCon membership in strong fashion, posting a 38-20 on the at Rhodes Stadium against the Phoenix.
A pair of John Gallagher field goals in the opening quarter would allow Elon to take an early 6-0 lead, but Georgia Southern would answer with 31 unanswered points from that point, with Irving Huggins’ three TDs and a pair of scores from Kevin Ellison accounted for all the Eagles’ TDs on the afternoon. Ellison started things off with a 53-yard scoring run to make it a 7-6 game with a little over two minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Ellison’s second TD–this one a 14-yard jaunt– would close out the scoring spree for the Eagles, as they took their biggest lead at 31-6, with five minutes to play.
Kierre Brown’s 23-yard reception from Mike Quinn with 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter made it a 31-13 Georgia Southern lead, but the Eagles would put the game on ice in the fourth quarter as Huggins posted his third two-yard scoring plunge to make it 38-13. Elon would tack on a late Demetri Allison 27-yard scoring catch to close out the scoring.
The win set up the final game of the season and as an FCS member, as the Eagles traveled to The Swamp to face storied and tradition rich University of Florida, who claimed back-to-back national titles in 2005 and ’06, but were playing to finish the season with a winning record when they faced the Eagles, coming in with a 5-5 record.
Georgia Southern, who had never beaten an FBS school from a BCS conference, were able to make the most of their final game as an FCS member a memorable one.
The Eagles, who had never beaten a team from a BCS conference, were able to pick up a 26-20 win over the Florida Gators, which was the SoCon’s first win over a BCS Conference school since Appalachian State knocked off Michigan, 34-32, to open the 2007 campaign.
The Eagles improved their record to 10-0 in games when not completing a pass, rushing for all 429 yards they gained on the day, averaging 7.9 yards-per-carry.  The Georgia Southern defense was stout all afternoon, limiting the Gators to just 279 yards of total offense on the day. The 279 total yards by Florida were its lowest total since a game against LSU in 2002.
Florida would open the scoring on the afternoon when Francisco Velez connected on a 22-yard field goal to give the Gators a 3-0 lead. It appeared Velez would increase the Gators’ lead after Georgia Southern’s drive ended with a fumble at the three-yard line, with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter, but Valdon Cooper broke through the line and blocked the field goal, keeping it a 3-0 game.
Florida would extend its lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter, when Florida quarterback Skylar Mornhingweg completed a short three-yard scoring pass to Solomon Patton, capping a short five-play, 14-yard drive following a Georgia Southern turnover.
From that point, Georgia Southern scored 20 unanswered points to take control of the football game. First, freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison found a gap in the Florida defense on an option-keeper to score Georgia Southern’s first points of the day on a 45-yard scoring scamper, making it a 10-7 game with 2:07 remaining in the half, and that’s how the two teams would enter the halftime locker room.
Georgia Southern would mount an impressive drive coming out of the halftime locker room, and the 1-yard plunge by Ellison would give the Eagles the lead, as the 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal capped a five-play, 75-yard drive to make it a 14-10 Eagle lead.
After the Georgia Southern defense once again thwarted the Gator offense, The Eagles offense would get the ball back in great field position, moving 49 yards in eight plays to take a 20-10 lead on a three-yard run by fullback William Banks, with 32 seconds remaining in the  third quarter after Younghoe Koo missed the PAT.
Florida would get on the board early in the fourth quarter, as Velez connected on a 22-yard field goal to make it a 20-13 game with 12:02 remaining in the game.
Trying to run clock in the fourth quarter and with the ball back in its possession, Georgia Southern opted to go for a first down on a fourth-and-two at the Gator 41-yard line, but were stuffed for no gain. It took Florida just three plays to tie the football game, as Mornhingweg connected with Patton for a 46-yard TD behind the Georgia Southern secondary, tying the football game with just 5:41 remaining in the contest.
Georgia Southern’s offense would step up and provide its most important drive of the season,  as the Eagles mounted a final five-play, 75-yard drive which ended up proving to be the game-winning drive for the Eagles. It would be a pair of seniors that would come up huge for Georgia Southern on its game-winning drive, with William Banks rushing for 53 of his 94 yards in the contest on one play to get the Eagles down to the Florida 14. It would set up fellow senior McKinnon’s 14-yard scoring run around the right side to give the Eagles a 26-20 lead, but Koo’s kick was blocked, leaving just a six-point lead with 2:57 remaining in the contest.
From there, Florida would mount one last scoring drive, but the Georgia Southern defense, which finished their final season in the league ranking as the league’s second-best unit, would ensure the win by the Eagles.  On a third-and-two play at the Georgia Southern 17, Mornhingweg lofted a beautiful pass towards Quinton Dunbar, who could not bring in the catch between a pair of Eagle defenders, with the Eagles’ upset hopes coming down to one final defensive play. On fourth-and-game from the 17, Mornhinweg’s pass as time expired, which would have only gotten the Gators to the three, was broken up by a pair of Eagle defenders to secure the upset of the Gators.
November, 23, 2013 will go down alongside Sept. 1, 2007 as two of the biggest wins in Southern Conference history for two programs that have now moved on to the Sun Belt Conference, in Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. There’s no doubt the two teams will be missed, as the 2013 season was a Season of Change for the league, but both the Mountaineers and Eagles helped put the SoCon on the map as a conference, and it was fitting that Georgia Southern would complete their 21st season as a Southern Conference member in that fashion. In total, the Eagles finished 114-50 all-time in 21 seasons as a SoCon member.
It will certainly be interesting to see what the future holds for the Southern Conference, but you don’t just replace programs like Appalachian State and Georgia Southern overnight.  Stay tuned for Part II of the 2013 season recap, chronicling the runs of Samford, Chattanooga and Furman in the 2013 season in the coming days.