No. 17 SLU travels to No. 3 JMU for FCS playoff showdown
Published 3:37 pm Thursday, December 2, 2021
No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana University will continue its postseason run on Saturday, traveling to third-seeded James Madison for a second round NCAA FCS Playoffs contest at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Va.
The game between the Lions (9-3) and the host Dukes (10-1) will be televised on ESPN+. Saturday’s contest can also be heard in the Hammond area on Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM, as well as online at www.kajun107.net.
In the midst of its fourth playoff appearance, SLU has advanced to the second round for the third time and is looking to earn its second spot in the quarterfinals. The winner of the Southeastern-James Madison tilt will face the victor in Friday’s second round game between Eastern Washington and Montana. The quarterfinal round is set for Dec. 10 and 11.
Southeastern advanced to Saturday’s game at James Madison with a dominant 38-14 win over No. 22 Florida A&M in the opening round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs. SLU held a 38-0 lead early in the fourth quarter only to see Rattlers score a pair of touchdowns in the final 5:30 after the game’s outcome was long decided.
Facing a FAMU defense that came in ranked atop the FCS in yards allowed, the Lions finished with 503 total yards, 29 first downs and maintained possession for just under 39 minutes. Southeastern’s defense yielded 291 total yards to the visitors – 164 of which came in the final quarter with the Lions holding a 38-0 advantage.
Southland Conference Player of the Year and Walter Payton Award finalist Cole Kelley threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns on 31-for-45 passing in Saturday’s win. Nolan Givan (six catches, 74 yards, one touchdown) and Taron Jones (5-85-2 TD) were Kelley’s top targets in the win, while Nick Kovacs had both a receiving and rushing touchdown. Sterrling Fisher (7 tackles), Jack Henderson (6 tackles, 1 INT) and Blayne Delahoussaye (3 PBU) led the Lion defense on Saturday.
Protected by an offensive line that features a quintet of All-Southland performers in right tackle Rendon Miles-Character, right guard Ethan McMullan, center Drew Jones, left guard John Allen and left tackle Jalen Bell, Kelley has engineered an offense that has scored a single-season school record 566 points this season. The Lions head to Virginia leading the nation in total offense (561.7 ypg), scoring offense (47.2 ppg), third-down conversion percentage (53.6) and completion percentage (72.9).
Kelley has thrown for 4,727 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 370-for-502 passing, while also rushing for a team-high 480 yards and 16 touchdowns. Looking to become the third two-time Payton Award winner in history, Kelley leads the nation in total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and points responsible for, while ranking third in rushing touchdowns.
Kelley has no shortage of weapons, as SLU features an FCS-high 10 receivers with 200 or more receiving yards with no other teams nationally having more than seven. The program’s career receiving yardage leader, Austin Mitchell paces the Lions with 69 catches for 1,055 yards and nine touchdowns. Givan (52-528-6 TD), Taron Jones (37-351-2 TD, Gage Larvadain (34-499-5 TD) and Brennon Dingle (31-357) round out the top five Lions in receptions. Kovacs (4 TD), CJ Turner (5 TD), Damien Dawson (3 TD), Anthony Spurlock (2 TD), Tim Wilson Jr. (2 TD), Ivan Drobocky (2 TD) and Cephus Johnson III (2 TD) also have multiple scoring catches.
Opponents are averaging 30.5 points and 424.7 yards per game versus the Lions. Alexis Ramos leads SLU with 71 tackles, followed by Henderson (49), Donniel Ward-Magee (48), Alphonso Taylor (45) and Herman Christophe (43). Garrett Crawford leads Southeastern with 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Southeastern is fourth nationally with 17 interceptions as a team. Zy Alexander is sixth in FCS with six interceptions, while Henderson, Taylor and Justin Dumas have two picks apiece.
Larvadain, the Southland Freshman of the Year, is sixth nationally with a 29.1 kickoff return average. Austin Dunlap (43.8 punting average) and Mateo Rengifo (8-13 FG, school-record 70 PAT) provide SLU with two productive options in the kicking game.
Saturday will be the first all-time meeting between the Lions and the Dukes. James Madison, ranked No. 2 in both of the final regular season national polls, is the No. 3 seed in the playoff field. The Dukes are making their 18th trip to the FCS playoffs. JMU, making its eighth straight postseason showing, has participated in three of the previous five national championship games, hoisting the trophy in 2016.
Saturday’s game will feature a pair of Walter Payton Award finalist quarterbacks, as Cole Johnson leads a JMU offense that is averaging 39.6 points and 439.1 yards per game. Johnson has completed 233-for-342 passes for 2,953 yards, 32 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Johnson also leads the Dukes with five rushing touchdowns with Latrele Palmer (659 yards, 2 TD) serving as the lead back for JMU. The dynamic pair of Kris Thornton (69 catches, 896 yards, 11 TD) and Antwane Ward Jr. (67-994-11 TD) are Johnson’s top targets.
The FCS leader in turnover margin, JMU’s defense has held opponents to 15.5 points and 252.6 yards per game. Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey leads the Dukes with 86 tackles, while Bryce Carter (17.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) and Isaac Ukwu (15 TFL, 8.0 sacks) are the team’s top pass rushers. Greg Ross has a team-high three interceptions and is one of four players with multiple picks.
James Madison features arguably the best special teams unit in FCS. Solomon Vanhorse leads the nation with 31.2 yards per kickoff return. The national scoring leader, kicker Ethan Ratke is 28-for-31 on field goals this season for the Dukes.
Saturday’s game will feature a family reunion. Justin Douglas, a defensive back for the Lions, will be playing against his twin brother, Austin Douglas, a running back for the Dukes. SLU’s Douglas has played in all 12 games with 24 tackles and an interception to his credit, while his brother has rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries and caught three balls for 35 yards in eight games of action for JMU.
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