By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — As if there wasn’t already enough on the line during the final weekend of the regular season for Football Championship Subdivision teams, as if fighting for playoff berths were not enough to get a fan jazzed about Saturday, consider this.
It’s also rivalry weekend.
The rivalry thing kicked off on Thursday night when Southeastern Louisiana took advantage of four turnovers by Nicholls State to win the River Bell Trophy, 31-14, Thursday night in Hammond, LA.
And last weekend, we had one of the most unusual trophies decided when Appalachian State held on to the Old Mountain Jug with a lopsided 46-14 victory over Western Carolina.
In all of my years of covering FCS, that moonshiner’s jug has stayed in Cullowhee, N.C. only twice.
Now while the River Bell Trophy and the Old Mountain Jug may not be the most serious pieces of hardware to change hands, there are some pretty good donnybrooks set for Saturday, including the 147th meeting between Lafayette and Lehigh in “The Rivalry.”
No teams in college football have played as many times as Lafayette and Lehigh and you can find out more about this year’s matchup by reading Chuck Burton’s columns on College Sports Journal and the Lehigh Football Nation.
For the best of the rest, here is a quick breakdown on each of these important games. All game times listed are Eastern time:
The Brawl of the Wild
Montana at Montana State
Bobcat Stadium, Bozeman, MT., 2:05 p.m.
First Meeting: 1897
Game No. 111
A few years back a poll of FCS fans voted this as the most heated rivalry in the subdivision and what could make a game more inciting than two rivals battling for an automatic bid to the playoffs and a share, or out-right Big Sky title.
Montana State (9-1 overall, 7-0 in conference) is trying to lock up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, as well as the outright Big Sky title.
Montana watched MSU celebrate a 21-16 victory and winning the Big Sky co-championship last year to end the Grizzlies’ 12-year reign with at least a share of the league title and an NCAA-record 17-season streak of playoff appearances on its home Washington-Grizzly Stadium field.
This year, the Grizzlies could return part of the favor by stealing the auto bid away from the Bobcats and forging a tie with MSU for the Big Sky championship.
The key to the game will likely be how well Montana’s tough and improving defense does against Montana State’s multi-talented quarterback Denarius McGhee.
Harvard at Yale
Yale Bowl, New Haven, CT., Noon
First Meeting: 1875
Game No. 128
Probably the biggest reason why Ivy League teams do not participate in the FCS playoffs is that Harvard and Yale argue foolishly that postseason football would take away from their season-ending rivalry game.
Still, few traditions in college football run as deep as those in the Ivy League and you can’t help but think of highlights like Harvard scoring 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie Yale, 29-29, in a battle of unbeatens in 1968.
Of more recent note, fans remember Yale coach Tom Williams running an inexplicable fake punt on fourth and 22 from deep in Bulldog territory and coming up six yards short of a first down to set up Harvard’s winning touchdown pass in a 14-10 victory two years ago at the Yale Bowl.
This year, Harvard (8-1, 6-0) is trying to finish off a perfect Ivy League slate after dethroning two-year champion Penn for the conference crown last weekend, 30-27.
Yale (5-4, 4-2) is trying to forge a tie for second place in the Ivy League with Brown and Penn, or take second outright with a Bulldog win and losses by the other two schools.
Senior quarterback Patrick Witt made news this week when he announced he was forgoing his Rhodes Scholarship interview to play against Harvard.
“I will be playing in the Yale-Harvard game this Saturday. I have withdrawn my application for the Rhodes Scholarship,” Witt said. “My focus this week is solely on preparing for the Game alongside my teammates and coaches.”
The Oldest Rivalry In The South
William & Mary at Richmond
Richmond, VA., Noon
First Meeting: 1898
Game No. 121
In recent years, this game has been an important one in terms of playoff berths and the CAA standings, but both Richmond and William & Mary have struggled through disappointing years and winning this game could provide some salve for a long off-season.
But despite the fact that Richmond is last in the CAA (3-7, 0-7) and William & Mary (4-6, 2-5) has gone from a national championship favorite in some people’s eyes to a team with a losing record, this game will feature some talent players making their FCS swan songs.
Richmond has struggled defensively, but has three potential NFL draft choices on offense with USC transfer Aaron Corp at quarterback, Kendall Gaskins in the backfield and Tre Gray at wide receiver.
William & Mary has shown atypic performance at quarterback, but still has one of the top runners in FCS with Jonathan Grimes and is also still solid defensively.
The Brice-Cowell Musket
Maine at New Hampshire
Cowell Stadium, Durham, N.H., Noon
Game No. 98
Both Maine and New Hampshire still have hopes of winning a share of the Colonial Athletic Association crown. If surprising CAA leader Towson is upset on the road at Rhode Island, the winner of this game would earn at least a share of the crown.
Maine (8-2, 6-1) could win the title outright with a win and a Towson loss. The Black Bears got running back Pushaun Brown back from an injury last week to balance the quarterback Warren Smith-led offense.
With a win, the Black Bears would almost certainly get a first-round bye in the playoffs, no matter what Towson does.
New Hampshire has one of the most lethal offenses in FCS behind quarterback Kevin Decker and receiver Joey Orlando, but the Wildcats are challenged defensively, even with linebacker Matt Evans — the top tackler in the subdivision — and defensive end Brian McNally in the lineup.
UNH (7-3, 5-2) would share the title with Towson with a win by the Wildcats and a loss by the Tigers, but after last week’s wild 56-42 loss at Towson, the Tigers would still claim the auto bid.
New Hampshire needs a victory over Maine to make sure it gets an at-large bid, though the Wildcats should be okay even with a defeat. But a loss might also drop UNH into a first-round playoff game again.
The Wildcats are looking for an FCS-leading eighth straight playoff berth.
The Trustees’ Cup
Cornell at Penn
Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA., 1 p.m.
First Meeting: 1893
Game No. 118
Though it might not have the clout of some of the other famous East Coast rivalries, the battle between Cornell and Penn is the fifth-oldest in Division I history.
It will be senior day for one of the most successful four-year classes in Penn history. That class has dropped just four Ivy League games during their tenure in University City and won conference crowns in 2009 and 2010.
The exciting Billy Ragone leads the Quaker offense and the defense is still solid, even if it isn’t the same shutdown unit of the past two years. Penn can finish with a winning record at 6-4 overall and would at least tie for second place in the Ivy League.
Cornell (4-5) has shown improvement behind the arm of prolific passer Jeff Matthews, who threw for a record 521 yards and five TDs by hitting 40-of-46 passes last week in a 62-41 victory over Columbia.
The Florida Classic
Florida A&M vs Bethune-Cookman
Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL., 2:30 p.m.
First Meeting: 1925
Game No. 65
No FCS game draws as many fans as this one (over 60,000 each year) and the two teams are again battling in a contest that will have playoff implications.
Bethune-Cookman won the MEAC auto bid last season, but was upset in the Florida Classic by Florida A&M, which grabbed a share of the league title with the Wildcats and South Carolina State.
The shoulder injury of All-American quarterback Matt Johnson proved costly for B-CU in that one as the Wildcats watched a big first-half lead slip away
Both teams are 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the MEAC, but Bethune-Cookman’s win over league champion Norfolk State on national TV puts the Wildcats in position to be considered for an at-large playoff berth.
Bethune-Cookman used three different quarterbacks last week and have won five consecutive games.
Florida A&M has won four straight as freshman quarterback Damien Fleming has settled in to lead the offense after a 1-2 start for the up and down Rattlers.
The Battle Of The Blue
Delaware at Villanova
PPL Park, Chester, PA., 3:30 p.m.
First Meeting: 1895
Game No. 45
Few rivalries have delivered such exciting finishes over the years as the Delaware-Villanova series.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the game got a trophy and the Wildcats have won every game since, including an overtime thriller last season that sent the defending national champions back to the playoffs.
This year, however, there is very little other than pride on the line. Villanova is 2-8 in a rebuilding year, though freshman stars like linebacker Dillon Lucas and quarterback Chris Polony have emerged.
Delaware coach K.C. Keeler has been telling anyone who would listen that his 6-4 Blue Hens are still going to make the playoffs with a win on Saturday.
But Keeler is blowing blue smoke. One of those six wins was against a Division II West Chester club and no team has ever received an at-large bid with less than seven D-I wins.
Still, the underachieving Blue Hens have a talent edge with a stout defense and Andrew Pierce in the backfield.
This year’s game is a noble experiment as Villanova hosts Delaware at PPL Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer. With close to a sellout crowd expected, this could prove to be a more permanent home for the Wildcats in the future, if this game goes well.
The Battle For Chief Caddo
Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State
Turpin Stadium, Natchitoches, LA, 4 p.m.
First Meeting: 1924
Game No. 68
No trophy in a rivalry game compares to the one that Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State play for. Carved from one, solid black gum log, standing 7-feet, 6-inches tall and weighing 320 pounds, the proud wooden Indian Chief Caddo is an impressive site.
The chief once checked in at over 400 pounds, but school officials will tell you he has “dried out” over the years since he was carved in 1961 by artist Harold Green out of a 2,000-pound log.
The apocryphal story goes that the fictional Chief Caddo sent his two sons in opposite directions, east and west from their village to establish new settlements when they stopped after a day’s journey.
The names of the sons were supposedly Natchitoches and Nacogdoches, the cities in Louisiana and Texas that host Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin.
Coming off back-to-back Southland Conference titles and playoff appearances, the high-powered SFA Lumberjacks have stumbled to a disappointing 5-5 record and are 4-2 in league.
The 2010 Payton Award winner Jeremy Moses has been replaced by sophomore Brady Attaway, who has been inconsistent. But the Lumberjacks have some great receivers, led by Graylyn Crawford.
Northwestern State is still in the midst of rebuilding its once-proud program and is 5-5 and 3-3 after dropping the past two games, but a win over SFA and the return of Chief Caddo for a year would make the off-season more bearable.