|« MIAC Men's Basketball Week One: Tip Off Thrills||CSN Inside the OVC: The Streak Continues »|
No feedback yet
The CSN Way: The Long Goodbyes?
By Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist
It was a crazy first weekend of the FCS playoffs, with two team losing on a botched field goal attempts - one returned for a touchdown to provide the margin of victory - while another team enjoyed one of the best football comebacks in history in order to survive into the second round. Eight teams said goodbye - including hard-luck teams Elon, South Carolina State and South Dakota State - and eight teams survive to compete for the Division I National Championship.
Two of the venues for this game - Richmond Stadium, home of the Spiders, and McAndrew Stadium, home of Southern Illinois - are engaged in “long goodbyes” of their own. In their final year of service, every weekend could be the final game enjoyed in their stadiums before new stadiums open up in Richmond and Carbondale next year.
Add to that two teams in the “Gridiron Classic” that are playing their first postseason games at the FCS level, and you have one damned exciting FCS football weekend. Save your goodbyes for another time - it’s time to pick some games.
12:00PM EST (11:00AM CST)
Central Connecticut State at Butler
It’s a “Gridiron Classic” that few would have dared predict: Central Connecticut State, a team that has never played a postseason game in their history, and Butler, who hasn’t played one in 18 years (when they were Division II).
The Butler Bulldogs, now much better known for their top basketball teams, tasted their first success in FCS football this year since 1994, when they were co-champions of the second year of existence of the Pioneer Football League. Since that year, when they went 7-3, they had not eclipsed seven wins again until this year when their 10-1 record was enough to capture the championship. (The performance was so impressive that it allowed Butler to extend fourth-year head coach Jeff Voris’ contract after this season.)
You could attribute Butler’s success to underclassmen - running back Scott Gray (780 yards rushing, 111 yards receiving, 5 TDs), sophomore quarterback Andrew Huck (2,272 yards passing, 21 TDs), or sophomore defensive lineman Grant Hunter (34 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks). But more than anything else, these Bulldogs simply know how to win close football games. Three wins were cardiac affairs coming down to the last play - and six of their eight FCS games were determined by a touchdown or less. If the game comes down to intangibles, Butler would definitely have the edge.
But 9-2 Central Connecticut State, led by passionate head coach Jeff McInerney will certainly be a tough assignment for the Bulldogs. Unlike Butler, the Blue Devils beat a team from a playoff autobid conference (Lehigh) and played a team still alive in the FCS playoffs very tough before falling (William & Mary). Had they not suffered a 32-27 hiccup against Wagner, they may very well have been playing in the playoffs themselves.
The engine that makes Central’s spread option offense go is running back James Mallory (1,243 yards rushing, 15 TDs). Mobile quarterback Aubrey Norris (1,042 yards passing, 242 yards rushing, 6 TDs) became the full-time starter late in the season, and wideout Josue Paul (779 yard receiving, 5 TDs) is a shifty receiver that can certainly make teams pay. On defense, the Blue Devils boast a tough secondary to crack with safety Alondre Rush (71 tackles, 2 interceptions) and cornerback Marcus Dorsey (32 tackles, 5 interceptions).
Intangibles count for a lot, but Butler hasn’t seen a team this talented this year. As long as head coach Jeff McInerney summons up the passion they’ve shown all year, they should win what could be the final “Gridiron Classic". (Next year, the NEC will get an autobid to the FCS playoffs instead, and the future of the game is in doubt.)
Daddy McInerney 38, Not Voris’ Day 3
FCS Playoffs, Quarterfinals
12:00PM EST (11:00AM CST)
William & Mary at Southern Illinois
In the first round, Southern Illinois’ defense forced six Eastern Illinois turnovers, while William & Mary’s defensive front held Weber State to -6 yards net rushing and returned two interceptions for “pick sixes".
It seems destined that this weekend’s game in Carbondale is going to feature tough, aggressive defenses. And head coach Jimmye Laycock’s William & Mary team could have the best in the nation - with freshman defensive back B.W. Webb (21 tackles, 7 interceptions) and senior defensive end Adrian Tracy (68 tackles, 10 sacks) anchoring the defense. The Tribe have made it awfully tough for teams to run on them this year - they have the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, as Weber State discovered in a dominating 38-0 shutout.
If the Tribe offense can feed off a dominating defensive effort with players like running back Jonathan Grimes (1,102 yards rushing, 6 TDs) and quarterback R.J. Archer (2,347 yards passing, 238 yards rushing, 26 TDs), they most certainly have a chance to make their first playoff semifinals since 2004.
But the Salukis, who have a great defense in their own right, remain a powerful impediment to the Tribe’s quest for the semifinals. Dale Lennon’s team looks awfully tough to beat.
Start with linebacker Brandin Jordan (76 tackles, 5 sacks) and a lockdown secondary featuring safeties Korey Lindsey (58 tackles, 6 INTs) and Mike McElroy (68 tackles, 6 INTs). Add to thais disruptive force linebacker Kyle Walker (40 tackles, 8 sacks) and you have a force that can disrupt any offense.
The Salukis have been led by redshirt freshman Paul McIntosh (1,341 total yards, 13 TDs), but it’s Payton award finalist, running back Deji Karim (1,667 yards rushing, 18 TDs), that makes the offense run. Against Eastern Illinois - a team that had not allowed a 100 yard rusher all season - Karim got 155 yards and 3 TDs in a 48-7 rout of the Panthers.
It promises to be another crazy day at McAndrew stadium - but it won’t be the final game. In front of the home crowd, its the Salukis that make it to the semi’s again for the first time since 2007.
Big McSalukis 19, Jimmye’s World Wide Webbs 13
FCS Playoffs, Quarterfinals
2:00PM EST (12:00AM MST)
Stephen F. Austin at Montana
If you tuned into the third quarter score in the South Dakota State/Montana game last Saturday, you might be forgiven for canceling your hotel rooms for next weekend in Missoula.
In a game that was so fascinating that ESPN News tuned in live to broadcast its conclusion, wideout Marc Mariani’s 98 yard kickoff return for touchdown helped erase a second half 41-14 deficit and gave the Grizzlies the most improbable of 61-48 wins. Overcoming four first half turnovers, and a blocked punt recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, Mariani’s career day - 12 catches for 171 yards and 2 TDs, including his kickoff return - was the spark that caused the Grizzlies to survive this weekend, scoring 34 unanswered points in the second half to get the win.
Montana head coach Bobby Hauck put it even more bluntly. “He’s pretty slippery. When he gets the ball you just kind of hold your breath,” he said. “Without Marc today, we probably don’t win the game. He’s special and I’m fortunate to have been his coach this year.”
Will the emotion from the win take away from the Grizzlies this weekend, or will quarterback Andrew Selle (2,250 yards passing, 21 TDs) and running back Chase Reynolds (1,194 yards rushing, 18 TDs) ride the emotional wave all the way to the semifinals? It will certainly rest on the shoulders of the defense, led by linebacker Shawn Lebsock (82 tackles, 2 sacks), who shut down the Jackrabbits in the second half to allow the powerful Grizzly offense to shine.
In contrast, Stephen F. Austin jumped out to a 44-19 lead over Montana’s leaguemate Eastern Washington - but unlike the Jackrabbits, held on to get a 44-33 win over the Eagles.
In a game that was billed as a battle of Payton award candidates, the game didn’t disappoint. Coming from behind, Eastern Washington’s Matt Nichols torched the Lumberjack pass defense to the tune of 43-for-73 passing (no, that’s not a typo) for 595 yards of total offense. SFA’s Jeremy Moses may technically have lost the statistical battle - he “only” had 432 yards passing and 4 touchdowns, but also three interceptions and a crucial 4th down fumble - but the Lumberjacks won the war.
Stephen F. Austin’s pass-happy offense works when Moses is distributing the ball well to his many weapons on offense, including running back Vincent “Never Nervous” Pervis (1,149 all-purpose yards, 2 TDs) and wideouts Duane Brooks (1,022 yards, 6 TDs) and Brandon Scott (11 catches and 89 yards against Eastern Washington). Defensively, if defensive end Tim Knicky (37 tackles, 12 1/2 sacks) has got his game on, the Lumberjack defense can pressure teams to make mistakes.
Sometimes, a emotional win can propel a team to heights unknown. I don’t know if last week’s win will bring the Griz back to Chattanooga, but it will definitely propel them to the semifinals in another shootout.
Undead Griz 47, Unconscious Jacks (no, not Jackrabbits) 33
FCS Playoffs, Quarterfinals
New Hampshire at Villanova
Villanova’s quest for a perfect season ended in hard-fought 28-24 defeat at the hands of New Hampshire in October. Thanks to the magic of the FCS playoffs, they now have the opportunity to avenge that defeat and make what was once wrong right once again.
In that game, after Villanova rallied from a 15 hole in the first half to take a 24-22 lead, but ultimately lost it on two fourth-quarter field goals. In the last six minutes of the game, Villanova started three drives deep in their own territory and couldn’t bring across any points, while surrendering the two field goals that were the difference.
In their ought-to-be-patented “Wildcat” offense, quarterback Chris Whitney, “Wildcat” back Matt Szczur and running back Aaron Ball have combined for 1,974 yards rushing and 19 TDs on the year, while wideout Brandyn Harvey has been the guy that has made big play after big play, including the thrilling TD grab to secure a 21-20 victory over Richmond.
Defensively, head coach Andy Talley’s crew has one of the top units in the nation thanks to linebacker Terence Thomas (97 tackles, 7 sacks), defensive end Tim Kukucka (51 tackles, 7 sacks) and defensive back James Pitts (62 tackles, 4 INTs). They haven’t allowed more than 28 points a game all year - including to FBS Temple.
When it comes to New Hampshire, you know what head coach Sean McDonnell is going to do, too. He’ll rely on a solid, distributed offense, led by mobile quarterback R.J. Toman (2,135 yards passing, 19 TDs), tight end Scott Sicko (696 yards, 9 TDs) and running back Chad Kackert (790 yards, 10 TDs). New Hampshire offers lots of ways to beat you, and they’re always physical when they do it.
Defensively, they’ll have their always-opportunistic defense who boasts a secondary with 21 interceptions on the year (led by safety Terrence Klein’s 6 picks), and a special teams unit that is very, very special (led by Kackert’s and defensive back Dino Vasso’s kickoff returns, and kicker Tom Manning’s clutch kicks).
McDonnell isn’t the biggest talker in the world - and that’s fine by him. Quietly, slowly, and surely, he has New Hampshire on the brink of their first-ever semifinal - against a team they know very, very well.
They say that it’s hard to beat a team twice in the same season, but it’s a matchup that looks good for the Wildcats. It will be, oh, a typical CAA game, with plenty of defense and hard-hitting on both sides. But its the Wildcats up north that are going to come away with this one.
Wild Tomans 28, No-Nova Nation 26
FCS Playoffs, Quarterfinals
Appalachian State at Richmond
Could it get any better than this? The last two national champions facing off in what could be the final sendoff for Richmond Stadium before the Spiders head to a new on-campus facility in 2010? Are you kidding me?
It’s a matchup steeped in playoff history. The past two years, the winner of this playoff game went on to win the national championship. In 2007, the Mountaineers outlasted the Spiders 55-35 in quarterback Armanti Edwards’ coming-out year, while in 2008 it was Richmond quarterback Eric Ward’s turn to shine in s 33-13 victory for the Spiders.
So much of the main elements of the first two playoff meerings are there once again. Ward. Edwards. Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore. Richmond head coach Mike London. No wonder this is being billed the “clash of the Titans".
Appalachian State could be hitting their stride at precisely the right time. Running back Devon Moore (1,115 yards rushing, 15 TDs) has teamed up with Edwards to form an amazing rushing combination in the Mountaineers’ spread offense, while wideouts Brian Quick (819 yards, 4 TDs) and Matt Cline (793 yards, 1 TD) can also be dangerous weapons. On defense, the daunting presence of safety Mark LeGree (63 tackles, 7 INTs) anchors this defense.
Richmond’s power comes from its “Stonewall defense", who has held opponents to only 66 yards rushing per game and are led by linebacker Patrick Weldon (81 tackles) and Collin McConaghy (89 tackles). Offensively the emergence of running back Justin Forte (999 yards rushing, 6 TDs) has taken pressure off Ward and passing targets Tre Gray (622 yards, 3 TDs) and Kevin Grayson (494 yards, 2 TDs).
Who wins the clash of the titans? It’s tempting to say “too close to call.” How will the spread offense of App match up against the stonewall defense? Can Ward keep the ball away from LeGree? It’s an amazing matchup that demonstrates how awesome the playoffs really are - a clash of styles, and leagues, that is somehow perfect. It will come down to the very end - and it’s Appalachian State that will come out on top in the very last game at Richmond Stadium.
Fightin’ Armanti’s 35, Stunned Spiders 31