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The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 30, 12 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cowell Stadium (6,500) -- Durham, New Hampshire. Surface: Synthetic Turf. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Lafayette 2-3; New Hampshire 5-0. Away Record: Lafayette 3-3; New Hampshire 2-4. Series Record: New Hampshire (5-1). Last meeting: October 24, 1987 (New Hampshire, 21-19 at New Hampshire). Conference: Lafayette - Patriot League; New Hampshire - Colonial Atlantic Athletic Association. Nicknames: Lafayette Leopards; New Hampshire Wildcats. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Lafayette (NR); New Hampshire (15). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Lafayette (NR); New Hampshire (NR). Head Coaches: Lafayette - Frank Tavani (14th season, 76-81 at Lafayette and overall); New Hampshire - Sean McDonnell (15th season, 111-70 at New Hampshire and overall). Playoff Records: Lafayette (0-3); New Hampshire (6-11). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Lafayette 3 (2004-06); New Hampshire 11 (1991, 94, 2004-12). Current Playoff Streak: Lafayette has lost its last three; New Hampshire has lost its last three.
GAME NOTES: This first playoff game could accurately be called "the battle of playoff teams that snuck in by the skin of their teeth," although the name itself probably won't catch on.
Both Lafayette and New Hampshire desperately needed wins in the final week of the regular season to earn their spots on the national stage, and both needed to do so against higher-ranked competition. Lafayette defeated Lehigh on the road (where Lehigh had not lost a game all season) to win the Patriot League title and the automatic bid, while New Hampshire downed rival (and previously No. 4-ranked) Maine at Cowell Stadium to stay perfect at home and earn a 6-2 record in CAA Football.
New Hampshire has now made a nation-leading 10 consecutive playoff appearances. And for the first time since the 2005 season, when the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the country, New Hampshire will be hosting a playoff game. It's against the only team in FCS history with a losing record to make the postseason.
But that in no way describes the Leopards. Lafayette, under field direction of freshman quarterback Drew Reed, has won four if its last five games, including against previously unbeaten Fordham in Week 12 and Lehigh this past Saturday.
Reed's efficiency has been apparent this season. This past Saturday, the freshman completed 20-of-27 pass attempts for 378 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. Turnovers are characteristically the problem of a young, inexperienced player on the college level, but Reed, aside from the Fordham contest, has overcome that stereotype.
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, the Wildcats have found success with either of their two quarterbacks under center. Against Maine, regular starter Andy Vailas went down with an injury, so Sean Goldrich stepped in and completed 5- of-8 passes for 38 yards and a touchdown and orchestrated the victory. And if the effectiveness isn't there through the air, the Wildcats will turn to their ground game, which finished the regular season averaging 196.4 yards per game, which ranks third in the CAA.
Both teams got hot at the right time this season. But New Hampshire's success at home can't be ignored. Three of New Hampshire's five wins this season at home came against Top 25 squads, and the Leopards haven't beaten a non- conference opponent this year.
New Hampshire is a program that has been starved of a home playoff matchup for the past eight years, and has only hosted a postseason game five times in its history. The usual friendly confines of Cowell Stadium will be even more so this weekend for the Wildcats with the home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Hampshire 28, Lafayette 20.
11/26 12:49:31 ET