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« The CAA Today: Week 13 – Regular Season FinaleCSN Down South: Texas State, the True Road Warriors of the SLC »

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CSN So South: Only Appalachian State and Wofford Continue On

floated rightBy Myron Hosea, CSN So South Columnist

The two solid selections were there. The two bubble teams were not.

When the selections were announced, Appalachian State and Wofford, as expected, had made the field. Apparently, though, Elon’s two late losses were enough to keep the Phoenix from the playoffs while Liberty’s 10-2 record and defeat of Elon was not enough to get it in.

...

The Mountaineers open Saturday at home with what should be an interesting challenge from MEAC champion South Carolina State. Wofford, meanwhile, earned another tough first-round draw with a trip to Virginia to face top-ranked James Madison.

Despite spending several weeks ranked in the top 10, Elon apparently didn’t do enough to convince the committee that three SoCon teams deserved invites. The Phoenix won eight games against a full FCS schedule (though Presbyterian is still in transition). Three of the Phoenix’s losses came against playoff teams: Richmond and Wofford at home and Appalachian State on the road. Did that help or hurt? The loss at Liberty probably hurt most of all. All four losses came against teams that finished ranked in the top 14 of The Sports Network poll.

The Flames won 10 games, eight against FCS teams. The loss at Presbyterian likely hurt more than the victory over Elon helped. Beating Youngstown State turned out to be less significant than many thought it would be before the season. Losing at home to Lafayette, which slipped down the stretch, surely didn’t help. While Liberty gave the Big South three victories over teams from conferences with automatic bids, the league still is in the process of growing its reputation.

So now the focus is on Appalachian State and Wofford. Everybody’s difficult at this point, so expect anything. Let’s look at these two first-round games.

Games of Nov. 29 (All times are Eastern)

No. 13 South Carolina State (10-2 overall, 8-0 MEAC) at No. 2 Appalachian State (10-2 overall, 8-0 SoCon), Noon

The Mountaineers begin their run for a fourth-straight FCS title with an intriguing matchup against South Carolina State, the MEAC champs. The Bulldogs, like Appalachian State, ran unbeaten through their conference. Their two losses came to FBS teams – 17-0 to Central Florida and 54-0 to Clemson.

One of the ways South Carolina State might challenge the Mountaineers is with their defense. The Bulldogs rank fourth in FCS in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. In fact, no one has scored on the Bulldogs since Nov. 1. They blanked their last three regular-season opponents (Howard, Morgan State and North Carolina A&T).

Offensively, South Carolina State is fairly balanced (209 yards rushing per game, 179 passing). Runningback William Ford, a Walter Payton Award candidate, is 12th in FCS rushing, averaging 115 yards a game.

Of course, Appalachian State is playing at home and has tons of playoff experience. That will be difficult for the Bulldogs to overcome. This is the Bulldogs’ third playoff appearance and first since 1982. Also, it will be interesting to see how South Carolina State’s strong defense handles the explosive Mountaineer offense that ranks third nationally in total offense (464) and scoring (39).

A key element will be the health of Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards. He sat out the Western Carolina game after suffering a bruised knee and a hip pointer against Elon. It seems likely that Edwards will play.

Appalachian State won the only meeting between these teams, a 24-0 outcome in 1984 in Boone.

Here’s an overview of how the teams compare statistically, showing per game average with national rank in ():

Category		SCSU	ASU
Rushing Offense 	209 (14)	254 (6)
Passing Offense	179 (73)	210 (52)
Total Offense	387 (35)	464 (3)
Scoring Offense	31 (27)	39 (3)
Rushing Defense	104 (19)	154 (69)
Passing Defense	144 (6)	179 (32)
Total Defense	248 (4)	333 (47)
Scoring Defense	15 (5)	21 (31)

No. 8 Wofford (9-2 overall, 7-1 SoCon) at No. 1 James Madison (10-1 overall, 8-0 CAA), 3 p.m.
Wofford head coach Mike Ayers might have seen the future soon after his team defeated Furman. Asked about the playoff prospects, he said, “I know, if luck holds true, we’ll probably have the toughest seed in the world.” Yeah, they’ve got a pretty tough draw, all right. Visiting Harrisonburg will be no easy task. But then, neither was the trip to Montana last year when the Terriers knocked off the unbeaten Grizzlies.

It’s also a tough draw for the top-seeded Dukes, too. They face a team that lost only to second-seeded Appalachian State and to FBS team South Carolina in a game that won the Terriers lots of respect in Columbia.

Wofford’s SoCon foes know why the Terriers can be a tough out in the playoffs. Here’s what Furman’s Bobby Lamb said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve always said if they get in the playoffs, they’re going to be very tough because of what they do on offense. People are not used to seeing it, and they can really keep the ball away from you and make it hard on you.”

Both teams rely on the running game. Wofford ranks second in FCS in rushing while James Madison is fourth. Quarterback Rodney Landers drives the Dukes’ offense, rushing for 1,377 yards and throwing for 1,236. Eugene Holloman added 778 yards on the ground, Griff Yancey 439.

Runningback Dane Romero led the Terriers with 991 rushing yards. Quarterback Ben Widmyer ran for 702 yards, threw for 1,190. Wofford had five other players tally rushing totals from 217 to 432 yards.

James Madison does well in the return game, having returned four punts and a kickoff for touchdowns.

Playing at home is an advantage. The Dukes have won eight straight at home dating to 2007.

Ayers has consistently shown an ability to motivate his team, much as he did last year for the trip to Montana. The Terriers will focus on going after the top prize. “We’ve got a goal, and we’ve got a dream,” Ayers said. “Our first goal was to win the Southern Conference championship, and we didn’t. You go to your second goal, and our second goal was to make the playoffs. We can start on that journey. That journey of trying to achieve the national championship.”

The Terriers and the Dukes have met just once on the gridiron. That occurred Oct. 25, 1980, a game James Madison won 3-0 in Harrisonburg.

Here’s an overview of how the teams compare statistically, showing per game average with national rank in ():

Category		WC	JMU
Rushing Offense 	343 (2)	279 (4)
Passing Offense	127 (108)	116 (111)
Total Offense	470 (2)	395 (27)
Scoring Offense	37 (7)	40 (2)
Rushing Defense	115 (28)	121 (34)
Passing Defense	246 (101)	175 (29)
Total Defense	362 (77)	296 (15)
Scoring Defense	24 (50)	21 (27)

The Games of Nov. 22

Wofford 35, Furman 10

The first indication that it would be a good day for Wofford came when Furman scored on the game’s first possession to take to a 7-0 lead.

Huh?

In four of its six home games this year, Wofford fell behind early only to rebound and win. The Terriers did that again Saturday, defeating the Paladins rather handily for the second straight year. Wofford won all six home games and won the four in which it trailed by an average margin of 16 points.

Wofford downed its nearby rival this time, in large part, by dominating in third- and fourth-down conversions. Five times Furman had a fourth down in Wofford territory and couldn’t convert. The Terriers, meanwhile, converted on all three fourth-down attempts and on eight of 14 third-down tries. The Paladins were six of 14 on third down and one of six on fourth.

“We went for it on fourth down, I’m not sure how many times, but that’s just part of our mentality,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “If we think we’ve got a play, then we’re going to run it. If not, go play defense. That’s the bottom line.”

The key fourth down came in the final minutes of the first half. Furman, trailing 14-7, began a long drive at its 26. On fourth and two at the Wofford four, however, the Terriers stopped wide receiver Sederrik Cunningham – running off the direct snap – for a one-yard gain.

Wofford then flipped the momentum. In just 2:27 of game play, the Terriers went 97 yards, mostly by throwing, to go up by two scores. Quarterback Ben Widmyer got the drive going on play four by hitting tight end Fenn Allen, who was running open down the middle of the field, for a 37-yard gain. Four plays later, Andy Strickland got open well behind Furman’s safeties, and Widmyer found him for a 29-yard touchdown pass.

For Furman coach Bobby Lamb, it was a case of trying to beat Wofford at its own game. “Mike will go for it anywhere on the field. Certainly, it’s a four-down game when you play them. So we tried to match them with fourth-down plays. The problem was, we couldn’t make on it fourth down.”

“People have to change their mind-set, quite frankly, because of the way we run the football,” Ayers said. “We can take a play 60 on you running as well as 60 on you passing. There were opportunities, and we felt like on this one particular route (the pass to Allen), we had it.”

After a short kickoff, Furman did respond with Matt Cesari’s 32-yard field goal to trim the lead to 21-10 at the break. Wofford, however, took the second-half kickoff and drove 65 yards for another score to take control, 28-10. Fullback Dane Romero, who finished just nine yards shy of 1,000 for the season, ran 32 yards to the Furman seven for the key play of the drive. Three plays later, Widmyer made a high pitch over Furman defenders that halfback Mike Rucker waited on before taking it in four yards for the score.

Widmyer said Wofford’s confidence on offense comes from a lot of preparation. “It’s just kind of the hard work we’ve put in all year. We get in a situation we’ve gone over in practice a hundred times, and we go out there and execute. The line does a wonderful job whether it’s run blocking or pass blocking. You know it all starts up front with them.”

Furman drove to the Wofford 17 on its next possession, but it again could not convert on fourth down. On their next possession, the Paladins got to the Terriers 37 before the defense hurried Furman quarterback Jordan Sorrells into an incompletion on fourth down. Furman would turn the ball over on downs at the Wofford 12 and the Wofford 36 in the fourth quarter.

While Wofford looks to the playoffs, Furman goes into the offseason on a two-game losing streak, the reverse of a year ago when the Paladins closed with three straight victories. “Two weeks ago, we’re sitting there in a good situation,” Lamb said. “With two wins, we could get in but obviously playing two very good football teams. To lose two is tough. Certainly, we’d have liked to have played a lot better today.”

Key Stats
Romero finished with 97 yards on the ground while Widmyer threw for 125 and ran for 80. … Cunningham, a redshirt freshman, had a busy day for Furman. He caught 11 passes for 89 yards and ran five times for 28 yards. … Sorrells completed 25 of 39 attempts for 226 yards but suffered two sacks and several hurries.

Liberty 26, Elon 3
Liberty’s task on Saturday came down to simple terms: Beat SoCon member and 12th-ranked Elon. The Flames did that impressively, beating the Phoenix.

Behind four Matt Bevins field goals, a Dominic Bolden punt return for a touchdown, and a tough defense, Liberty made a strong case for inclusion in the FCS playoffs – but ultimately fell short.

The Flames held the third-best offense in the SoCon 133 yards under its average and to just 3.9 yards per play.

Bevins hit from 44 yards in the first quarter to give Liberty the early lead. Later, the Flames drove more than 50 yards, but Elon stopped runningback Zach Terrell on the one on fourth down to take over. The Phoenix drove to their 30 before having to punt. That’s when Bolden struck with a 74-yard punt return and a 10-0 lead with 10:12 left in the half.

Elon placekicker Andrew Wilcox booted a 40-yard field goal with 4:35 left in the second quarter for his team’s only points. With the field goal, Wilcox set a single-season SoCon record for games with a field goal. He hit at least one in all 12 games this year.

Later in the second, and again in the third and fourth quarters, Liberty had long drives (68, 73 and 62 yards) end in Bevins’ field goals. He hit from 18, 27 and 35 yards, giving Liberty a 19-3 advantage with 14:47 left in the game after the last one.

Rashad Jennings capped the scoring with a 20-yard run with 1:58 remaining.

Key Stats
Liberty quarterback Brock Smith completed 17 of his 26 throws for 273 yards. … Bolden caught six passes for 95 and tallied 174 all-purpose yards. … Elon quarterback Scott Riddle finished 27 of 43 for 204 yards. … Jennings ran for 109 yards on 22 carries, the 22nd 100-yard ground game of his career. … Liberty linebacker Nick Hursky (Big South Defensive Player of the Week) made 12 tackles to pace the Flames’ defense. … The Big South awarded this week’s Special Teams Player of the Week honor to Liberty’s special teams unit.

Florida 70, The Citadel 19
The Bulldogs saw only a little of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, but it was more than enough as Florida coasted past The Citadel.

The Gators built a 42-0 lead with 9:46 to go before halftime. Those six scoring drives lasted six, five, five, five, one and three plays.

The Citadel scored three touchdowns in the game. Quarterback Cam Turner posted the first by catching a 29-yard pass from Scott Flanagan in the second quarter. Asheton Jordan added a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and Turner threw 15 yards to tight end Taylor Cornett in the game’s last minute.

Key Stats
Florida outgained The Citadel 705 to 317. … Turner completed 15 of 30 passes for 169 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. … Andre Roberts caught five passes for 66 yards. … Jordan (SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week) set a school record with 200 yards on kickoff returns and finished with 276 all-purpose yards.

VMI 49, Presbyterian 27
VMI turned on the turbos in its running game Saturday in defeating Presbyterian.

With quarterback Tim Maypray (Big South Offensive Player of the Week) running for four touchdowns, the Keydets ran for 497 yards and tallied 648 overall.

The teams posted 56 points on the scoreboard in the first half. VMI received rushing touchdowns from Zach Collins (12 yards), Maypray (four, 60, 75), and Travis Ludden (two). The Blue Hose scored runs of 11 yards by Terrance Butler and one by quarterback Brandon Miley and on Miley’s 13-yard pass to Jeremy Cole.

In the third quarter, Maypray ran 34 yards for a score, and Kyle Hughes added a 21-yard scoring run as VMI built a 49-21 lead. PC could not score again until 4:42 remained.

Key Stats
Maypray ran for 235 yards on 20 carries. … Hughes passed for 151 yards on just six completions in seven attempts. … Fullback Howard Abegesah ran for 151 yards on 15 carries. … Miley completed 32 of 56 passes for 318 yards. … PC defensive back Justin Bethel (Big South Freshman of the Week) made seven solo tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass to end a VMI drive at the Blue Hose 16.

Samford 30, Chattanooga 7
Samford capped an impressive first year in the Southern Conference by winning on the road over Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs finished 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the SoCon, which leaves them tied for fourth with Furman and Georgia Southern.

In this game, Samford implemented the formula that served it well all season: the running of Chris Evans plus the leadership of freshman quarterback Dustin Taliaferro plus the strength of its defense.

Evans ran for 134 yards and directly into the school record books. His 1,284 yards rushing set a single-season record for Samford. He scored three times against the Mocs on runs of nine, five and six yards. Taliaferro played efficient football again, completing all but five of his 18 attempts for 190 yards. He connected with Riley Hawkins on a 65-yard touchdown pass on the game’s second play.

The Bulldogs’ defense held Chattanooga, playing its final game under head coach Rodney Allison, to just 196 total yards. The Mocs committed four turnovers.

Chattanooga runningback Erroll Wynn produced Chattanooga’s only points with a nine-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Key Stats
Linebacker Rodney Shepard led Samford with 12 tackles, including two sacks while defensive end Mark Brown added two sacks as well. … Taliaferro had five completions of 18 yards or longer. … Wynn and Shaun Kermah led the Mocs with 32 yards rushing each.

Appalachian State 35, Western Carolina 10
With quarterback Armanti Edwards on the sideline resting his injured legs, the Mountaineers found themselves trailing Western Carolina at halftime of the Battle for the Old Mountain Jug. Then Edwards’ replacement, freshman DeAndre Presley, gained control of the offense, and Appalachian State rolled.

Appalachian State completed an unbeaten run through the SoCon schedule and enters the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak.

As the Mountaineers stumbled with three first-half turnovers, the Catamounts produced enough offense to capture the early lead. Late in the first quarter, Western Carolina started a drive with a penalty, an incompletion and a loss. Quarterback Zack Jaynes then found Levon Curtis for a 29-yard pass play to the Mountaineers 28. Appalachian State was flagged for pass interference on back-to-back plays, setting the Catamounts up at the Appalachian State two. Jaynes would score from the one for the 7-0 Western lead with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Mountaineers would tie the game in the second quarter when Presley capped a 52-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 8:36 remaining in the half.

Blake Bostic’s 43-yard field with 3:05 left gave Western Carolina its 10-7 halftime lead.

Appalachian State needed only one drive in the second half to take control of the game. On third and 10 at the Western 40, Presley (SoCon Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week) ran 33 yards, delivering his own hit on the defensive back taking him out of bounds. Fired up, Presley scored two plays later, and the Mountaineers had the lead for good.

Tight end Ben Jorden caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Presley on the next Mountaineers’ possession. Josh Jackson scored on an eight-yard run in the fourth quarter followed by Presley’s 30-yard scoring run.

Appalachian held Western to minus-15 yards in the third quarter and allowed just four yards in the final period.

Key Stats
Presley finished with 156 yards and three touchdowns on 25 rushes and completed 16 of 25 passes for 158 yards and a score. … The Appalachian State defense sacked Catamounts quarterbacks six times, holding Western Carolina to minus-two yards rushing for the game just 72 yards total offense. … Western Carolina linebacker Adrian McLeod (SoCon Defensive Player of the Week) made 17 tackles, including eight solos and 3.5 for losses.

Charleston Southern 24, Coastal Carolina 0
Charleston Southern’s victory at Coastal Carolina marked the first time the Bucs have won at Coastal’s home field and the first time the Chanticleers failed to score in their six seasons of football.

The teams played to a scoreless tie in the first half. Coastal missed a pair of field goals on its last two possessions of the half, and each team had possessions end with turnovers and on downs.

The Bucs took the second-half kickoff and drove 84 yards in six plays to take the lead. Quarterback Tribble Reese threw 17 yards to Tyrese Harris for a touchdown. A run for two failed, and Charleston Southern led 6-0.

Later in the quarter, the Bucs went 80 yards as Reese connected with Markus Murry for a 21-yard touchdown pass. The two teamed for a two-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.

John Paglia kicked a 26-yard field goal, and Gerald Stevenson ran 28 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina found little success against the Bucs defense. Three interceptions and two fumbles ended Coastal possessions in the second half.

Key Stats
Neither team lit up the box score. Charleston Southern finished with 235 yards of total offense, Coastal Carolina 276. … Stevenson rushed 10 times for 63 yards and caught four passes for 20 yards. … Three Chanticleer quarterbacks combined for 180 yards passing but threw three interceptions and suffered four sacks. Starter Zach MacDowall hit all eight of his passes but left the game with a first-half injury. … Linebacker Andrew McKain paced the Bucs defense with 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a pass break-up.

* * *

News and Notes

Here’s a quick glance at the 2008 season for the SoCon and the Big South. Look for more in-depth reviews of the SoCon and Big South teams in upcoming columns.

Southern		Conf.		Overall	
Team		W	L	W	L	Comments
Appalachian State	8	0	10	2	Can they win a 4th ring?
Wofford		7	1	9	2	Difficult offense to stop.
Elon		6	2	8	4	Two late-season losses hurt.
Furman		4	4	7	5	Two late losses hurt them, too.
Georgia Southern	4	4	6	5	Just mere points from a big season.
Samford		4	4	6	5	Strong debut in the SoCon.
The Citadel	2	6	4	8	Two FBS teams in a tough schedule.
Western Carolina	1	7	3	9	Team improved under new staff.
Chattanooga	0	8	1	11	Scored less than 13 points a game.


Big South		Conf.		Overall	
Team		W	L	W	L	Comments
Liberty		5	0	10	2	Do-over vs. Lafayette, PC?
Stony Brook	3	2	5	6	Won 4 of last 5 games.
Charleston So.	3	2	7	5	Finished with 4 wins in a row.
Gardner-Webb	2	3	5	6	Three losses by a total of 11 points.
Coastal Carolina	1	4	6	6	Worst finish in 5 BSO seasons.
VMI		1	4	4	7	Improved under new coach Woods.
Presbyterian	-	-	4	8	Upset Liberty but 0-6 on the road.