CAA Notebook: FCS Playoffs Provide Reason To Believe
CAA Notebook: FCS Playoffs Provide Reason To Believe
The 2023 FCS Playoffs opened with a pair of dramatic wins for CAA teams, as Delaware and Richmond moved onto the Round of 16.
Both Delaware and its Coastal Athletic Association counterpart Richmond were in the late second quarters of their 1st Round FCS Playoffs at the same time. And, there was a point when their overlapping contests found them trailing by 34 combined points — Richmond down 20-7 to North Carolina Central, Delaware behind Lafayette, 28-7.
"I like the second half a lot. First half, not as much," Richmond coach Russ Huesman said of the Spiders' win over North Carolina Central.
The tide for both Richmond and Delaware turned on parallel timelines, each rallying from their multiple-possession deficits to advance to the Round of 16 in the FCS Playoffs.
Richmond's comeback functioned almost as a microcosm of its season: A slow start with inconsistent offensive performance, flipped into total domination in all phases once the Spiders got rolling.
Huesman referred to Nick DeGennaro's touchdown reception just before halftime as "the key to that game...It gave us some momentum going into the locker room."
"The locker room was calm," Huesman said, in spite of the deficit at intermission. "The coaches were making adjustments. I think our players believed we could do some things [to rally."
Indeed, that touchdown kicked off a 42-7 onslaught for Richmond en route to a 49-27 win. DeGennaro caught two of quarterback Kyle Wickersham's three scoring passes, Savon Smith rushed for a pair of touchdowns and ran back a punt to the house.
Big plays vexed the Richmond defense early against a North Carolina Central offense with electrifying, dual-threat quarterback Davius Richard. But in the second half, the Spiders forced three consecutive Eagles three-and-outs and allowed NCCU to cross the 50 just once.
Aaron Banks' interception provided a worthy punctuation mark on the win.
And, after allowing big plays led to the early deficit, Richmond's ability to generate big plays defined the second half. Jerry Garcia Jr.'s touchdown catch to put the Spiders up two scores provided one of the most remarkable moments of the 1st Round of the Playoffs.
"Proud of our guys for hanging in there. It wasn't looking good there for a while, but they believed that they could do it," Huesman said.
Belief goes a long way at this time of year. That includes believing even when the odds looks less than favorable. In its 36-34 win over Lafayette, Delaware's Win Probability according to ESPN.com was 5.3 percent in the second quarter after Leopards running back Jamar Curtis rushed for his third touchdown.
By that juncture of the game, Lafayette had reached the end zone as many times (four) as turnovers the Blue Hens committed.
Nick Minicucci, thrown into the starting quarterback spot with Ryan O'Connor and Zach Marker both still unavailable, was intercepted three times and Marcus Yarns committed a fumble on one of two Delaware drives into Lafayette territory that failed to generate points.
"It didn't start out right for us. A lot of things we not going our way," Delaware coach Ryan Carty said, but added: "All the things we talk about in this program, it was nice to see it all come to fruition and fight."
Like Richmond against North Carolina Central, Delaware's rally began just before halftime. The Blue Hens closed out another otherwise dismal first 30- minutes on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in Minicucci finding Joshua Youngblood on a 36-yard touchdown.
"Nick did a nice job, even early," Carty said. "He was a little unsettled, but there were a couple things that didn't go his way; a couple tipped balls that were intercepted...That would be the fear, right? That a young quarterback would let that snowball. And he was poised."
Minicucci Magic 🪄 pic.twitter.com/cw42TtFjdL— Delaware Football (@Delaware_FB) November 26, 2023
The young quarterback settled in to go 16-of-25 with three touchdowns, including a pair in the fourth quarter that, coupled with Quincy Watson's third-quarter scoring run, gave the Blue Hens the lead.
While turnovers plagued Delaware early, it was a takeaway that ultimately sealed the win and sent the Blue Hens on their way to Montana for a 2nd Round showdown.
Other 1st Round Results
Three of the four Missouri Valley Football Conference teams playing in the 1st Round — North Dakota State, Southern Illinois and Youngstown State — destroyed their competition by a combined 131 points.
North Dakota State dispatched Pioneer Football League champion Drake, 66-3; Youngstown State cruised past Northeast Conference champion Duquesne, 40-7; and Southern Illinois blanked Southland Conference champion Nicholls, 35-0.
The lone MVFC squad bounced from the field was North Dakota, which dropped a 42-35 shootout to Sacramento State.
With its win, Sacramento State joins fellow Big Sky Conference teams Montana, Idaho and Montana State, all of which received national seeds. Likewise, the three winners from the MVFC join reigning and defending national champion South Dakota State and South Dakota.
Richmond and Delaware's wins put them in company with UAlbany and Villanova, and Southern Conference champion Furman welcomes counterpart Chattanooga and Mercer to the 2nd Round.
Mercer shut down Big South/OVC Alliance champion Gardner-Webb in the Bears' first-ever FCS Playoffs appearance, 17-7, to move on. Chattanooga bested United Athletic Conference champion Austin Peay in one of the 1st Round's best games, 24-21.
That leaves just four conferences with representation in the Round of 16, an unprecedented development since the field's expansion in 2010.
2nd Round Match-Ups
The eight 2nd Round contests are set, kicking off with 3-of-4 CAA teams in action at noon ET. UAlbany hosts Richmond in a showdown of CAA co-champions, while Villanova welcomes Youngstown State.
Delaware is in one of the late-night windows, facing Montana at 9 p.m. ET in Missoula.
SoCon counterparts Chattanooga and Furman play at 1 p.m. ET, South Dakota hosts Sacramento State and South Dakota State welcomes Mercer at 2 p.m., then North Dakota State and Montana State lock up in a rematch of the 2021 National Championship Game at 3 p.m. ET.
Southern Illinois' visit to Idaho at 10 p.m. ET rounds out the full slate of Playoffs action.
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