GREATEST MOMENTS | Furman beat fiercest rival for 1988 Division I-AA championship


Furman-greatestOne of the most heated rivalries in FCS  history ended in 2013, when Furman played Georgia Southern for the final time as Southern Conference rivals.

Among the most memorable of their 25 battles included Georgia Southern’s 27-24 victory in 2005 against the top-ranked Paladins, sending the Eagles to the FCS playoffs.

Back in 2000, Furman knocked off top-ranked Georgia Southern 45-10 behind Louis Ivory’s conference-record 301 yards rushing. The Eagles still went on to their second consecutive national championship.

A year later, Georgia Southern beat Furman in the regular season but the Paladins upset the Eagles in the FCS semifinals, 24-17, ending Georgia Southern’s 39-game winning streak.

Fittingly, the seeds of rivalry were sown in the 1980s, when the teams met twice for the Division I-AA championship. In 1985, their first meeting, Georgia Southern rallied from a 22-point deficit to beat Furman, 44-42.

“My freshman year (1985), I made the travel squad, and we played for the national championship,” former all-conference cornerback Julius Dixon said in 2005. “I stood on the sideline after that loss to Georgia Southern, and it was burning in me for three years to get back to that championship game.”

Three years later, on Dec. 17 1988, Furman returned and gained revenge, knocking off the Eagles 17-12 to win the 1988 national championship. It was the first by a private school, the first by a Southern Conference team and the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.

“It’s hard to explain, but when it’s all said and done, you know it, and nobody can ever take it away,” Dixon said. “As long as people look back in the record books, they’ll look at that year, and you get credit for being the best. It’s special.”

Furman Jimmy SatterfieldHead coach Jimmy Satterfield’s team finished 13-2, winning the SoCon and leading the nation in scoring defense. They beat Delaware 21-7, Marshall 13-9 and Idaho 38-7 to reach the championship game.

Against Georgia Southern, they took a 17-6 lead into the fourth quarter on Frankie DeBusk’s 19-yard pass to tight end Greg Key in the first quarter, Glen Connally’s 37-yard field goal in the second and Dwight Sterling’s 5-yard run in the third.

The Eagles cut it to 17-12 when Mark Giles blocked a punt and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown, and threatened to score again late in the game. But Furman’s defense came through again. On second down at Furman’s 10-yard line, Eagles quarterback Raymond Gross fumbled and Wade Sexton recovered.

“It made the championship game even more special when we got there because we beat the guys who took that championship ring from me three years prior to that,” Dixon said.

But he said he didn’t really get caught up in it until heading down Main Street in downtown Greenville, S.C., during a parade in their honor.

“The turnout was unbelievable,” Dixon said. “The whole trip down the street I kept pinching myself.”

And 25 years later, Furman ended its rivalry with Georgia Southern on a winning note. The Paladins sent the Eagles off to the FBS Sun Belt Conference with a 16-14 loss.

• Furman Athletic Hall of Fame

On the cover: Furman’s 1988 NCAA Division I-AA championship game, as seen on CBS. (Courtesy YouTube)
Middle: Furman head coach Jimmy Satterfield, who led the Paladins to a 66–29–3 record and three Southern Conference titles in eight seasons. (Courtesy Furman Athletics)

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Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.