SoCon Teams Press Forward in FCS Playoffs
The Southern Conference marches on with three teams still alive in the FCS playoffs and two incredible quarterfinal-round matchups to look forward to this weekend
By Myron Hosea
CSN South Columnist
College Sporting News
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — It’s a good time for the Southern Conference right now. Three of its football teams remain in play as the FCS quarterfinals occur this weekend.
Appalachian State and Wofford, SoCon co-champions, won their opening games in the playoffs.
The Mountaineers welcomed Western Illinois to a mountain snowstorm and then stormed to a 42-14 victory. The Terriers went on the road and held on to defeat Jacksonville State 17-14.
Meanwhile, one of the hottest teams in FCS – Georgia Southern – kept rolling. The Eagles went north to Williamsburg, Va. and bested second-seeded William & Mary 31-15.
It marked the first time since 2001 that the SoCon had put three teams in the quarterfinals, when Appalachian State, Furman and Georgia Southern made it that far. GSU knocked off ASU that year in the quarters, with Furman advancing to the championship game with a victory over Georgia Southern.
The wins last weekend created a rematch between Georgia Southern and Wofford while Appalachian State will host defending national champ Villanova. Both are great pairings. Let’s look at them.
Villanova (8-4) at Appalachian State (10-2), 12:00 p.m.
Two teams who know the way to a championship will tangle at the Rock Saturday afternoon. It’s a matchup of strong programs from strong conferences. Villanova advanced with a 54-24 road win over Stephen F. Austin while Appalachian State defeated Western Illinois.
The Mountaineers rarely lose at home, and their only recent home playoff loss came a couple of years back to Richmond, a CAA team that went on to win a national championship.
Villanova certainly looks to repeat that formula, but it will find a solid Appalachian State team in the way.
Quarterback Chris Whitney leads the Wildcat offense. He’s thrown for 2,040 yards and 21 touchdowns while tossing only five interceptions. He also has 551 yards rushing.
Aaron Ball added 681 yards on the ground. Norman White is the leading receiver with 62 catches for 754 yards and 10 touchdowns. Don’t forget Matt Szczur, who caught 11 passes for 128 yards and rushed for 68 yards against Stephen F. Austin.
The Mountaineers counter with quarterback DeAndre Presley, who leads the team with 1,096 yards rushing. Presley plowed through the snow and Western Illinois for 264 rushing yards last week. He likes to throw to Brian Quick, who has eight touchdown receptions among his 43 catches.
Both teams score well – Appalachian State at 35 points a game, Villanova at 30 – and defend well. The Wildcats allow only 17 points an outing compared to 22 for the Mountaineers.
Villanova ranks seventh nationally against the run, giving up 98 yards a game on the ground. Appalachian State is seventh nationally running the ball, averaging 227.
The Mountaineers present several leaders on defense, including Jabari Fletcher, D. J. Smith (132 total tackles), and Mark LeGree (five interceptions). Marquis Kirkland (88 total tackles) and Fred Maldonado (71) pace a Villanova defense that has picked off 16 passes.
Expect a close game. Three of Villanova’s four losses were by seven points each, the fourth by just three. Both teams should have lots of confidence coming from their recent history of success in the playoffs.
Georgia Southern (9-4) at Wofford (10-2), 2:00 p.m.
If this game simply follows the course of the recent battles in this series, it should be one of the best games of Dec. 11 at any level.
On Oct. 9 of this year, Wofford went to Statesboro, Ga. and held on with a late takeaway to win 33-31. The previous three games were decided by five points (another late takeaway figured in the outcome), one (in overtime), and three.
By the way, the visiting team won each of those four games, which bodes well for the Eagles.
Georgia Southern enters the game red hot. They have vanquished two good opponents in the playoffs by a combined count of 72 to 31. Last week, the Eagles produced 423 yards on the ground in ousting William and Mary.
Fans attending the game in Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg likely will have plenty of time for Christmas shopping Saturday evening because this could be one quick game.
Both teams run the option, and both play good defense. Wofford is number one nationally in rushing (307 yards a game) while Georgia Southern is third (269).
The Eagles are sixth nationally in total defense (280), and Wofford is ninth (289). Opponents score 17.6 points a game against the Eagles, while the Terriers allow 18.6. No wonder these teams played such a close game two months ago.
The Eagles and the Terriers have playmakers that have become familiar names over the course of the season.
Wofford’s Eric Breitenstein is fifth nationally in rushing with 128 yards a game. Freshman Robert Brown leads the Eagles in rushing, averaging 82 yards a game. Georgia Southern’s Jaybo Shaw (three touchdowns rushing versus William & Mary) and Wofford’s Mitch Allen are quarterbacks that are efficient at running the wingbone. Both can throw it a bit to keep defense’s guessing.
Brent Russell, Derek Heyden, Laron Scott, and Roderick Tinsley lead the Eagle defense. Wofford looks to Ameet Pall, Mike Niam, and Tommy Irvin for defensive leadership.
Keep an eye on a couple of other players. Wofford wide receiver Brenton Bersin simply knows how to beat defenses for the big reception.
Meanwhile, Georgia Southern punter Charlie Edwards was the best in the SoCon this year, and he may be a key performer in a game where field position will mean a lot.