HAMMOND – All the members of the Southeastern Louisiana football team wanted was a chance to extend their season.
Now that they’ve got it, the Lions are determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“This is the purest form of finding out who the champion is going to be – and the NFL playoffs,” Lions coach Frank Scelfo said. “You’ve got to play. You’ve got to win the games to win it all. You can’t just do something really good early in the year. You’ve got to finish this thing the right way. There’s only going to be one winner. That’s it. Everybody else goes home a loser. It’s kind of a sobering thought when you think about it that way, but if you don’t win it all, you’re a loser. That’s how people look at it. An opportunity for us to be in the playoffs and going all the way, man that’s awesome.”
Southeastern (7-4) hosts Villanova (9-3) in a first-round FCS playoff game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Strawberry Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN3 and can be heard on KSLU-FM (90.9), Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and the Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM WFPR, online at www.LionSports.net/live and via the TuneIn Radio and Lions Game Day Experience apps.
Villanova, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association and comes into Saturday’s game on a three-game win streak, including a 55-33 victory over Delaware to close out the regular season.
“This is a football team that’s very physical on both sides of the ball on the line of scrimmage, and I think we’ve been preaching that all season long about how we wanted to change that,” Scelfo said. “We wanted to become a physical football team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. This will be a great test for us to see how we do.”
Villanova ranks 10th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 36.8 points per game with junior quarterback Daniel Smith (217-366-10, 2,991 yards, 31 TDs) is 14th in the nation in pass efficiency (150.40).
“I think their quarterback is probably what makes them go,” Scelfo said. “He’s athletic. He reminds me a little bit of (Jon) Copeland at UIW. He’s athletic, extends the plays, keeps his eyes down the field to be able to throw when he is scrambling, so when he has an opportunity to throw the ball down the field, he does.”
Scelfo said Villanova uses a committee approach in the run game, and Smith’s main target is receiver Changa Hodge (59-1,020), who is tied for eighth in the nation with 12 touchdown receptions. Hodge had eight catches for 236 yards and four touchdowns against Delaware.
“He’s very similar to what we saw this past weekend at Nicholls,” Scelfo said, comparing Hodge to the Colonels’ Dai’Jean Dixon. “He’s a home run guy. He can score from anywhere on the field. He’s got great speed and length. Very good route runner. Good hands. He’s probably as good as anybody we’ve played this year, including the guy from the other night.
“When he gets open, he can go and he separates from people,” Scelfo continued. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re in his back pocket the whole game. That’s going to be critical, because he’s explosive. He can win a game.”
Southeastern is eighth nationally in total offense (473.8 ypg) behind quarterback Chason Virgil (239-367-10, 18 TDs), running back Devonte Williams (113-487, 7 TDs) and receiver Austin Mitchell (11-794, 8 TDs).
The Lions are giving up an average of 389.5 yards per game and will play the first half of Saturday’s game without leading tackler Alexis Ramos (71 tackles) after he was ejected for targeting in the Nicholls game.
“They look very athletic on film on both sides of the ball,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said of the Lions. “Statistically, when you look at the things they’re doing, I think both of us are very similar as far as how many points we’re scoring, how many points we’re giving up … So you’ve just got to show up and hopefully we’ll play a clean game down there.”
SLU faces a Villanova squad giving up 370.8 yards per game, led by linebacker Forrest Rhyne (105 tackles).
“Their linebackers are all about the same height, weight, speed, all that stuff, and they’re a physical football team,” Scelfo said. “But he’s (Rhyne) the guy that makes it go. He’ll get his share. He’s going to get his tackles, and we’re not going to block him all the time. He’s going to make some plays because he’s a good player.
“For the most part, they’re not a big pressure team,” Scelfo continued. “They cover and attack with their front guys because of their size. They plug up the holes in the run game, so we’ve got to do a great job of making sure we get our guys in the right position and the right place to be able to take advantage of some things.”
The Lions are also hoping to make the most of their opportunity.
“Everybody else wants it,” Scelfo said of making the playoff field. “There’s 24 that got it. We’re in the top 10 percent right now, so let’s take advantage of it. Enjoy it, but know that there’s a process that we’ve got to go through so that we can actually enjoy the preparation, because we don’t want to look back and say ‘We had this opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it.’ I want to be able to do that. I want to take advantage of it.”