One month into the 1990 season there was little reason to expect Georgia Southern to continue its domination of NCAA Division I-AA football, which had seen the Eagles reach the championship game four times in five years.
Southern, operating under new coach Tim Stowers after the retirement of Erk Russell, lost three of its first four games, including two to I-AA opposition.But the Eagles (11-3) used 10 victories in a row to reach Saturday's national championship game again, against Nevada (13-1).
There was strong motivation for the Eagles. They didn't want to see two other teams vying for the title on their home field. Southern hopes its Paulson Stadium mystique will continue.
The Eagles have a 49-2 record in the 18,000-seat stadium, including a I-AA record 38 victories in a row during one stretch and a current 14-0 mark in playoff competition.
"It would make you feel bad knowing an opposing team was going to be in your dressing room," fullback Lester Efford said. "We don't want to be in the stands while someone else plays in our house. It just wouldn't be right."
"We've had great players and a legendary coach (Russell) walk those sidelines," Stowers said. "Just the fact that there have been those precedents might make those guys in blue jerseys play a little harder. The mystique is those 11 players trying to carry on the tradition."
The task of extending the home-field playoff streak won't be easy.
Nevada has reached the title game for the first time by surviving pressure situations, beating Furman 42-35 in the quarterfinals and Big Sky Conference foe Boise State 59-52 in the semifinals, with both games going three overtimes.
Nevada and Southern have met only once, the Eagles winning 48-38 in the 1986 semifinals at Reno.
The game will feature the Wolf Pack's passing game and Southern's option attack.
"It's interesting to see the contrasting styles of football," Nevada Coach Chris Ault said. "Georgia Southern has an option attack and plays teams that run the option quite often. We come from a passing conference, in which some of the teams think rushing the football is a disease."
Raymond Gross is the key to the Southern option. The senior quarterback has passed for 1,989 yards and rushed for 313 yards, accounting for 17 touchdowns.
Joe Ross has run for 1,088 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, leading Southern in both categories.
Ault has used two quarterbacks this year. The starter is sophomore Fred Gatlin, who has passed for 2,986 yards and 18 touchdowns. Behind him is redshirt freshman Chris Vargas, who has passed for 686 yards and five scores.
The Wolf Pack will need a hot hand at quarterback to overcome Southern's home field advantage.
Eastern Kentucky snapped the 38-game home field winning streak 42-34 on Sept. 22.
The only other loss was to Middle Tennessee 35-10 in 1985. The Eagles avenged that setback in the playoff drive to their first of three national titles.
"It's our house, and it's something special to the players and people in the area," Gross said. "And, we don't take kindly to people breaking house rules."