FCS playoffs review: First round
(STATS) – Whether it occurred on offense, defense or special teams, the first-round winners in the FCS playoffs were opportunistic.
Home for the holidays meant something as seven of the eight hosts won on Thanksgiving Saturday, with San Diego's upset at Cal Poly the exception. Six of the games were decided by double-digits.
Here's a first-round review:
NCAA FCS PLAYOFFS=
SATURDAY, NOV. 26
Villanova 31, Saint Francis 21
Story Line: Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk passed for 254 yards and three touchdowns and the Wildcats defense totaled six sacks and held the Red Flash to 27 net rushing yards on 22 carries.
Game Ball: 'Nova tight end Ryan Bell picked the right game to haul in a career-high 110 yards, turning two of his five receptions into touchdowns.
Key Stat: Bell (110), running back Matt Gudzak (117) and wide receiver Jarrett McClenton (115) each had over 100 yards from scrimmage.
The Takeaway: The Wildcats are motivated by their desire to keep retiring coach Andy Talley's final season going. They feature a good mix of run and pass on offense and a defense, led by CAA Football defensive player of the year Tanoh Kpassagnon, that is one of the best in Talley's tenure.
Up Next: Villanova (9-3) will play at No. 8 seed South Dakota State (8-3) in the second round Dec. 3 (3 p.m. ET)
Chattanooga 45, Weber State 14
Story Line: Chattanooga's playoff experience was on full display as it put the game away by halftime, 24-0. It was the sixth time this season they didn't allow a point in the first half.
Game Balls: The 1-2 backfield punch of quarterback Alejandro Bennifield (three total touchdowns) and running back Derrick Craine (160 yards, one touchdown) controlled the action.
Key Stat: The Mocs forced five turnovers, the most in over five years. They scored on two of them – Montrell Pardue's 99-yard fumble return and Trevor Wright's 41-yard interception return.
The Takeaway: The Mocs have opened play in three straight playoffs with dominating wins. The last two years, they've lost their second game on the road. This year, they'll need a superior defensive effort to overcome Sam Houston State's top-ranked offense.
Up Next: Chattanooga (9-3) will play at No. 5 seed Sam Houston State (11-0) in the second round Dec. 3 (3 p.m. ET)
New Hampshire 64, Lehigh 21
Story Line: New Hampshire's seniors led the way. Quarterback Adam Riese passed for a career-high 273 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for one score, while running back Dalton Crossan ran for 184 yards and scored three TDs. Cornerback Casey DeAndrade had nine tackles and an interception on the game's opening drive that set up Crossan's first touchdown, a 5-yard run.
Game Ball: Riese has had a secondary role in the starting lineup, but with starting quarterback Trevor Knight injured, the senior co-captain lifted his game.
Key Stat: Lehigh had an FCS-low eight turnovers entering the game, but committed four as its nine-game winning streak ended.
The Takeaway: The Wildcats looked like a team making their 13th straight appearance in the playoffs. That postseason experience gives them a chance as they head to the road for a rematch against CAA Football champion James Madison.
Up Next: New Hampshire (8-4) will play at No. 4 seed James Madison (10-1) in the second round Dec. 3 (2 p.m. ET)
Wofford 15, Charleston Southern 14
Story Line: Lorenzo Long rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns and the Wofford defense made winning plays in the tightest matchup of the first round.
Game Ball: With Wofford clinging to a 15-14 lead, cornerback Devin Watson intercepted two passes in the fourth quarter, including one in the final 2 1/2 minutes at his team's 29.
Key Stat: The Terriers avoided mistakes, as they didn't commit a turnover and had only one penalty in their fifth straight win.
The Takeaway: With 28 seniors, coach Mike Ayers' team has an intangible that's huge in the postseason. Their defense has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher heading into their rematch with Southern Conference champ The Citadel, once again the FCS rushing leader.
Up Next: Wofford (9-3) will play at No. 6 seed The Citadel (10-1) in the second round Dec. 3 (6 p.m. ET)
Richmond 39, North Carolina A&T 10
Story Line: Having lost its eighth starter – quarterback Kyle Lauletta – to a season-ending injury last weekend, Richmond answered the adversity with a dominating effort in all three phases of the game, especially special teams.
Game Ball: Quarterback Kevin Johnson, who had been in a redshirt season, played well in his first career start. He passed for 315 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a score.
Key Stat: Richmond limited N.C. A&T running back Tarik Cohen, the MEAC's all-time leading rusher, to 70 yards from scrimmage and forced his first fumble after 528 straight touches without one.
The Takeaway: The Spiders were considered one of the main contenders for the national title going into the season. Despite all the injuries, they have senior leaders who have won in each of the last three playoffs, so they won't be fazed by going on the road to North Dakota. There's no reason, they played at North Dakota State last postseason.
Up Next: Richmond (9-3) will play at No. 7 seed North Dakota (9-2) in the second round Dec. 3 (6 p.m. ET)
Central Arkansas 31, Illinois State 24
Story Line: Central Arkansas overcame a 17-7 deficit after three quarters by scoring 24 points on its first four possessions of the fourth. Antwon Wells' 4-yard touchdown run with 1:28 remaining was the game-winning score.
Game Ball: UCA special teams. George Odum blocked a punt that teammate Jakari Dillard returned for a touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter, sparking the UCA comeback. After the Bears went ahead 21-17 with 9:51 left, they recovered an onside kick which resulted in a field goal.
Key Stat: Illinois State was dropped for negative yards 10 times, including two sacks by defensive end Chris Chambers and one by nose tackle Terrence Partee.
The Takeaway: After getting picked apart by Sam Houston State's FCS-leading quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe in their regular season finale last Saturday, the Bears were adequate against Illinois State's emerging Jake Kolbe. But they will need a stronger effort against Eastern Washington's high-flying attack led by quarterback Gage Gubrud and wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
Up Next: Central Arkansas (10-2) will play at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (10-1) in the second round Dec. 3 (4 p.m. ET)
Youngstown State 38, Samford 24
Story Line: Youngstown State's first playoff game in 10 years was a rousing success as the Penguins rushed for 289 yards and five touchdowns.
Game Ball: Running back Jody Webb rushed for a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns, including a 62-yarder. He finished with 276 all-purpose yards.
Key Stat: The Missouri Valley Football Conference's No. 1 rushing offense kept pounding away to the tune of 38 minutes, 58 seconds in time of possession.
The Takeaway: Coach Bo Pelini's squad might have a deceptive home/road split – 7-0 at Stambaugh Stadium and only 2-3 on the road. But it includes games at West Virginia and the three other MVFC playoff teams (North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Illinois State), so the Penguins appear ready to take their shot at Jacksonville State.
Up Next: Youngstown State (9-3) will play at No. 3 seed Jacksonville State (10-1) in the second round Dec. 3 (2 p.m. ET)
San Diego 35, Cal Poly 21
Story Line: San Diego avenged a 38-16 loss to Cal Poly on Sept. 10 and earned the Pioneer Football League's first-ever win in the FCS playoffs.
Game Ball: Fifth-year running back Jonah Hodges was the workhorse on a sloppy track, carrying the ball 35 times for 171 yards and three touchdowns.
Key Stat: Hodges outrushed what had been the FCS' top-ranked rushing attack and the Toreros limited Cal Poly to 195 yards, nearly 300 below its average.
The Takeaway: This was a glorious game for the PFL as the Toreros played like, well, the seasoned veterans that they are under coach Dale Lindsey, who's led three league champions in four seasons. Having moved into the STATS FCS Top 25 for the first time this past week, the national ranking appears well-deserved.
Up Next: San Diego (10-1) will play at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (10-1) in the second round Dec. 3 (3:30 p.m. ET)