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Little Giants Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson and Furman's Louis Ivory are two reasons the Southern Conference is the toughest Division I-AA league

Growing up in Fort Valley, Ga., roughly 140 miles from the
Georgia Southern campus in Statesboro, Louis Ivory had heard
plenty about the school's powerhouse football program. He knew
the Eagles had won Division I-AA national championships in 1985,
'86, '89 and '90. However, while rushing for more than 3,100
yards as a four-year starter at Peach County High, Ivory was not
recruited by Georgia Southern. He wound up signing with Furman;
there, as a sophomore tailback two years ago, he intended to
make the Eagles pay for their slight when his Paladins made the
trip to Statesboro. Instead, with 33 family members in
attendance, Ivory was held to 44 yards on 16 carries in a 41-38
loss. Making matters worse, Georgia Southern's own sophomore
running back, Adrian Peterson, rushed for 197 yards and three
touchdowns. The Eagles went on to win another national title,
and Peterson became the first sophomore to win the Walter Payton
Award as the Division I-AA player of the year.

After Ivory returned home to Fort Valley that summer, he got an
earful about Georgia Southern whenever he slipped into the chair
of his favorite barber, Donald (Stinky) Mathis. "Everyone would
say, 'You know Georgia Southern can't be beat,'" says Ivory.

Imagine the vindication he felt last Nov. 4, when he rushed for a
school-record 301 yards and three scores in Furman's 45-10 romp
over top-ranked Georgia Southern, during which Peterson stood on
the sideline nursing a hyperextended left elbow. The performance
helped catapult Ivory to the 2000 Payton Award and left him
rubbing his hands over the next time he would sit in Stinky's
chair. "I went back and told them, 'Georgia Southern can't be
what?'" says Ivory. "The game would have been more interesting if
Adrian had played, but it wouldn't have changed the result. He
couldn't have made up 35 points by himself."

Maybe not, but when Peterson returned to the lineup for the start
of the Division I-AA playoffs, he led the Eagles to their second
consecutive national title. Furman, meanwhile, lost in the first

With Ivory and Peterson ready to battle for the Payton Award one
more time, and with Georgia Southern, Furman and fellow Southern
Conference member Appalachian State all ranked in the top 5 of
SI's preseason I-AA poll, there's no debating that the Southern
is the toughest small-school league in the country. Even some
Division I-A schools would agree, especially North Carolina,
smoked 28-3 by Furman in '99, and Wake Forest, stung 20-16 by
Appalachian State last fall (the Mountaineers' third victory in
their last four games against the Demon Deacons).

"Nobody can question that there are a lot of great football
players in the South," says Montana coach Joe Glenn, whose
Grizzlies beat Appalachian State in last year's national
semifinals before falling to Georgia Southern in the title game.
"Everyone goes down there to recruit--even us--because there's so
much speed and talent to go around. The Southern Conference
schools do a great job finding that speed and talent and then an
even better job coaching."

Although the Eagles have won four straight conference crowns,
they haven't run the table against league opponents since going
8-0 in 1998. They lost 17-16 to Appalachian State in '99 and
won't soon forget the Furman blowout last year. Ivory, a 5'9",
200-pound slasher who relies on exceptional balance, had
touchdown runs of seven, 73 and 37 yards in that game. He
finished the year with a conference-record 2,079 yards, a
Division I-AA best 189 yards a game (7.3 yards a carry) and
topped 200 yards in a game five times. "We've had some great
backs," says Furman assistant coach Bobby Lamb, "but none of them
put together that kind of season."

If anyone's capable of matching the feat anytime soon, it's the
5'10", 212-pound Peterson. A bruising runner who picks up a lot
of his yards after contact, the Alachua, Fla., native has rushed
for at least 100 yards in each of the 43 college games he's
played and needs 1,454 yards to surpass the Division I career
record of 6,553 held by Charles Roberts of Cal State-Sacramento
(1997-2000). Moreover, Peterson has been at his best in 12 career
playoff games, with 2,266 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns.

It's that postseason record that separates Peterson from Ivory,
and Ivory knows it. That's why both players say that while they'd
welcome a second Payton Award, they're both after the national
championship trophy that the Eagles so jealously guard. "Once
they get in the playoffs, they understand that it's win or go
home," says Ivory. "They understand that better than anyone in
the country. That's what we have to learn."

If the Paladins can beat Georgia Southern at that game, it will
give Stinky and the boys back at the barber shop something new to
talk about.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT SEAY/THE MACON TELEGRAPH Ivory may win his second straight I-AA rushing title, but Peterson (left) is set to become the division's alltime leading ground gainer.


Lower Division Rankings


1. Georgia Southern 13-2 1 16
2. Western Kentucky 11-2 5 20
3. Furman (S.C.) 9-3 10 19
4. Montana 13-2 2 14
5. Appalachian State (N.C.) 10-4 4 15
6. Eastern Illinois 8-4 17 15
7. Youngstown (Ohio) State 9-3 11 18
8. Delaware 12-2 3 15
9. McNeese State (La.) 8-4 16 13
10. Grambling (La.) State 10-2 13 15


1. Valdosta (Ga.) State 10-2 9 18
2. UC Davis 12-1 3 10
3. Delta State (Miss.) 14-1 1 12
4. Nebraska-Omaha 11-2 6 18
5. West Georgia 10-2 10 19
6. North Dakota State 12-2 4 13
7. Northwest Missouri State 11-1 7 10
8. Tuskegee (Ala.) 12-0 11 16
9. Carson-Newman (Tenn.) 8-2 15 9
10. Chadron State (Neb.) 8-3 17 20


1. Mount Union (Ohio) 14-0 1 12
2. Hardin-Simmons (Texas) 12-1 3 16
3. Washington & Jefferson (Pa.) 9-2 16 15
4. Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) 9-2 7 17
5. Western Maryland 10-2 11 17
6. Trinity (Texas) 10-3 13 14
7. St. John's (Minn.) 13-2 2 5
8. Widener (Pa.) 12-2 6 16
9. Bridgewater (Va.) 10-2 15 18
10. Rowan (N.J.) 7-2 -- 16