By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Lehigh is also pleased to be here because it's been rare of late for the Patriot League representative to accomplish much in the postseason. Both teams will try to take advantage of opportunities this weekend to exceed all expectations and advance to the semifinals.
After going 34-16 during the regular season, I was a disappointing 2-3 in CAA picks last week to fall to 4-3 in the postseason. However, I did pick the three non-CAA games correctly so we'll call it 7-3 so far in the playoffs. I'll stick with Montana and Montana State this week to set up a rematch of the Brawl of the Wild in next week's semifinals. In the other half of the bracket:
Lehigh at North Dakota State
Both teams got wins in expected fashion last week.
The Bison played some physical defense and then let Brock Jensen manage the game and ride the two-headed running game of DJ McNorton and Sam Ojuri. The recipe worked to perfection as Jensen was efficient and the ground game wore down the Dukes defense. The goal will be the same this week as the Mountain Hawks head to the FargoDome.
Lehigh pulled off the most unusual win of last weekend, winning on a safety in the fourth quarter. But it was the play of the dynamic offense, led by Payton Award finalist Chris Lum, that made the difference.
Three different times Lehigh took the ball after falling behind and all three times they responded with a tying touchdown. Add in the drive that killed the last five-plus minutes of the game and it was a tremendous performance, led by the senior signal-caller. Running back Matt Fitz also had an efficient game, running for two scores and throwing for another on a trick play.
All evidence points to this being a heck of a game. These are the only two 11-1 teams in the country and conference champions flat out know how to win games.
The main question is can the Lehigh defense be physical enough to get off the field against the Bison offense? If last week against Towson is any indication, it will be difficult.
On the flip side, despite the depth of the Missouri Valley this year, the Bison did not have to face many dynamic offensive teams and James Madison certainly was no different. It's been a while since North Dakota State faced a passing game the quality of Lehigh's with a quarterback as high-quality as Lum so it will be a challenge for the home team as well.
I think the keys to the game will be Lehigh's ability to control the ball on offense and getting some early stops on defense. If the Mountain Hawks can keep the Bison from dominating time of possession, it will keep the defense from wearing down under the pounding NDSU running game and stay fresh in the second half. I think Lehigh will bring it's best game to the FargoDome, but ultimately, I think the Bison will be a little too much for the Patriot League champs.
Fargo Favorites 31, O Little Town of Bethlehem 27
Maine at Georgia Southern
Maine will go for an unprecedented double as they play the second half of their Southern Conference playoff swing in Statesboro, GA on Saturday. The Black Bears will have to do what CAA brethren Old Dominion could not do, i.e. slow down the triple-option attack that rolled up 607 yards of offense last weekend. Maine will be trying to do what they couldn't do nine years ago, when the Black Bears lost at Georgia Southern 31-7 after beating the Mountaineers the previous weekend.
Given what Old Dominion was able to do offensively, I expect that Maine will be able to put points on the board, especially with the confidence they'll be bringing after the performance this past weekend. Warren Smith bounced back beautifully from his uncharacteristic performance to close the season at New Hampshire and Pushaun Brown looked back near top form as well. The two seniors will be looking to extend their carers another game and should be able to use their big play capabilities to attack the Eagle defense.
The real difference will be made by a Maine defense coming off an unexpected and dominant performance in Boone. The Black Bears thoroughly controlled the Mountaineers offense, most notably giving up only 3 yards rushing. Obviously, that kind of number will not be repeated this weekend, but the Maine defense at least showed that it has the capability to put up more of a fight than the Monarchs did last Saturday. But will it be enough?
One of the hardest things in sports is to come off a big road victory and get refocused and come back to do it again the next time out. It's even more difficult when the next team has an offense that's brutally difficult to prepare for with only a week of practice. If it was any other team, I'd give Jack Cosrove and Co. a good chance for the upset, but I just think it's a bridge too far for the team from Orono. A wonderfully unexpected season comes to an unfortunate close.
Eagles 37, Bears 27
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Enjoy the games this weekend and always feel free to offer thoughts, advice, criticism and scouting reports at firstname.lastname@example.org.