Southeastern, New Hampshire ride long winning streaks into FCS quarterfinal showdown
One thing’s for certain in Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal between Southeastern Louisiana and New Hampshire: One team will see its winning streak — and season — come to an end.
“It’s a one-game playoff,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “It’s one at a time. There it is — all the marbles on the table. That’s the beauty of playoffs. I mean, this is it. You can throw everything out. It doesn’t matter how you get it done. It doesn’t matter if you get it by one point or if you get it by 40. It’s not like cellphone service; you don’t get to carry the minutes over or whatever else. You’ve just got to get one and move on.”
No. 4 seed Southeastern is riding a 10-game surge, and New Hampshire brings a five-game winning streak — and eight of its past nine — to Strawberry Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
The Lions (11-2), who made their playoff debut in last week’s 30-29 win over Sam Houston State, face a New Hampshire team (9-4) that has qualified for the playoffs 10 straight years — the longest streak in the nation.
“They’re a very good football team, and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Roberts said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge to see how well can we play.”
In last week’s 41-27 win over Maine, New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich had a career-high 291 passing yards with three touchdowns. Goldrich has passed for 1,683 yards and 14 touchdowns this season and has added 298 yards and three TD rushing.
His main targets are Justin Mello (66 receptions, 936 yards, 10 TDs) and R.J. Harris (60-861, five TDs).
“(Harris) is probably as good as anybody in the country as a receiver talent-wise,” Roberts said. “Big kid. Can run. Runs real well with the ball in his hands, too.”
But that’s not the only challenge for the Southeastern defense, which is giving up 378.8 yards of total offense per game. Roberts said sometimes unorthodox is the norm for New Hampshire, which has run misdirection plays, halfback passes, double passes and reverse passes on film.
“I’ve seen more in their games than I’ve seen from anybody else all year combined probably as far as gadget plays,” Roberts said. “They’re going to keep your on your toes, and they’re going to play wide open. Their offensive coordinator (Ryan Carty) really is very creative, and they’re doing a good job of executing as well.”
Roberts said some of that trickiness could come into play against a Wildcats ground game led by Nico Steriti (177 carries, 946 yards eight TDs), whom Roberts compared to Sam Houston State’s Tim Flanders.
“They’ve got a couple of running backs, but (Steriti), he’s their main guy,” Roberts said. “He’s pretty phenomenal. You’re going to have to do a great job of tackling him. But with all the misdirection stuff, make sure (the defense sees) their keys. They’re going to have to be consistent because that’s what it’s based off of — you know, get you wrong one time and gash you out the back. So we’re going to have to be really disciplined and stay at home and trust your teammates that they’re going to do their job, don’t try to do somebody else’s.”
The Lions defense is led by linebackers Cqulin Hubert (77 tackles), Drew Misita (73 tackles) and defensive back Theo Alexander (70 tackles).
“Defensively, it all goes through Hubert,” New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. “He’s a beast, man. From sideline to sideline, big kid who can stop the run. Their two corners are tremendous and very, very good football players — good safeties.”
The Lions offense is led by quarterback Bryan Bennett (171-1,017, 15 TDs rushing, 190-308-10, 20 TDs passing), receivers Jeff Smiley (53-705, six TDs), Tony McCrea (38-678, two TDs) and Marquis Fruge’ (35-595, six TDs) and running backs Rasheed Harrell (122-629, eight TDs) and Xavier Roberson (117-538, six TDs).
“On offense, they’re very diverse, and they have a bunch of different people,” McDonnell said. “But it all goes through quarterback Bryan Bennett, the transfer from Oregon. The kid is a terrific athlete. Running and throwing, he’s the best quarterback we’ve seen all year. ...
“Their skill guys that they have there between Harrell and Sutton — they’ve got a bunch of guys that can run, catch, run, throw. They’ve got multiple amount of people that can attack you.”
The Lions will square off against a New Hampshire defense, which Roberts compared to South Dakota State’s, that is giving up 404.5 yards per game. The group is led by linebackers Akil Anderson and Shane McNeely (104 tackles each).
“(Tackles Sean McCann and Matt Kaplan) are just technicians,” Roberts said. “They play really well. High-motor guys. The backers inside are really athletic and run really well. That’s their strength, but they’ve got a lot of guys that can run and make plays.”
Roberts said he is hoping the Lions can utilize their home-field advantage as they face their first non-Southland Conference playoff opponent.
“I like it. I’m excited about it,” he said. “That’s what you really want. You want to get in the playoffs and be able to face some teams from different regions, different part of the country. ...
“That’s the big thing: You can’t underestimate the value of the experience of our players getting to line up against somebody from New Hampshire and go play in a playoff game. That’s going to benefit our program down the road.”
Note: Tickets for Saturday’s game can still be purchased at the Southeastern Athletics ticket office or at LionSports.net. The ticket office will open at 10 a.m. Saturday.