Spring 2021 FCS Round 1 Playoff Preview: Sacred Heart vs. Delaware
April 23, 2021
This first round game features the champions of the NEC, Sacred Heart against the champions of the CAA, Delaware. Sacred Heart will be making their third playoff appearance in school history. The Pioneers made the playoffs in back to back years in 2013 and 2014, both times falling to Fordham in the first round. Delaware won the CAA for the first time since they lost the national championship game in 2010. Its been a long road back to FCS prominence for the Blue Hens with only one other playoff appearance this decade which came in 2018.
Sacred Heart went 2-1 in their abbreviated regular season. Their loss came in their first game to Duquesne who was the favorite for the NEC league title this year. The Pioneers only lost that game by three but gained the knowledge for the future that they could hang with Duquesne if they were to meet again.
Sacred Heart then cruised to easy victories against Long Island and Merrimack. Those wins set up a return engagement with Duquesne.
It was again a hard-fought game which required overtime to decide the league title. The Pioneers scored on their possession and forced a Duquesne fumble on the ensuing defensive possession to secure the win and playoff berth. Sacred Heart enters the playoffs with a strong run game, ranked #9 in the FCS. The Pioneers have played good on defense allowing just 315 yards per game, good for 26th in the country.
Upon completion of the regular season, the CAA held a vote of Athletic Directors to determine the conference champion and automatic bid between Delaware and James Madison. The ADs voted Delaware and the Blue Hens were declared CAA champions. The Blue Hens have been excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking 30th in total offense and 4th in total defense. A big key to success for Delaware is ball security as they rank second in the FCS in turnover ratio per game.
Players to Watch on Offense
Running back Julius Chestnut has been the best back in the FCS this spring. He has 717 yards on 93 carries for a 7.7 average. He has 11 total touchdowns in four games and is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.
Quarterback Marquez McCray has brought balance to the Sacred Heart offense with a 64% completion percentage and a 7 to 2 touchdown to interception ratio. He will need to be north of 70% to keep the Pioneers in the game this weekend.
Running back Dejoun Lee has done it all for Delaware this year. He started the season with the 87-yard kickoff return. For the year he has 498 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 152 all purpose yards per game.
For years, the knock on Delaware has been the quarterback position. Nolan Henderson has finally settled that position in this spring. He has 988 years on 70.7% completion with 9 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Players to Watch on Defense
Defensive Lineman Rayshad Wallace has three sacks and five tackles for loss on the year in the four games played. His ability to get in the backfield would help get the defense off the field early in drives.
Linebacker Chris Outterbridge is always involved in the play for the Pioneer defense. His 33 tackles leads the team and his five tackles for loss are tied for the team lead.
Defensive back Nijul Lee has two interceptions and two pass break ups to lead the Delaware secondary.
Defensive end Chase McGowen has four sacks in the five games. Of his six total tackles, five of them are for a loss.
Fearless Prediction: Jamie: This game looks like a mismatch on paper and it will be on the field. Delaware is clearly the better team and they will prove it on Saturday. Delaware 40, Sacred Heart 16
Jamie is a proud 2002 graduate of James Madison University. He’s witnessed the growth of the program from no one in the stands in 1998, to the hiring of Mickey Matthews, to the 2004 National Championship, to the 2008 team, to the struggles in the early 2010s, and finally the rebuild under Mike Houston. He also allegedly really enjoys Washington, DC-based Stanley Cup winners.
Jamie is a proud 2002 graduate of James Madison University. He's witnessed the growth of the program from no one in the stands in 1998, to the hiring of Mickey Matthews, to the 2004 National Championship, to the 2008 team, to the struggles in the early 2010s, and finally the rebuild under Mike Houston. He also allegedly really enjoys Washington, DC-based Stanley Cup winners. Reach him at: