Saturday’s NCAA Division III second-round playoff football game between Husson University of Bangor and Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania) should be a close one, according to Western New England head coach Keith Emery, whose Golden Bears played both teams this fall.
Delaware Valley (11-0) and Husson (10-1) square off at noon in James Work Memorial Stadium in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Western New England dealt Husson its only loss (21-14) on Sept. 23 while Delaware Valley eliminated the Golden Bears 35-0 last Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. Husson upset previously undefeated Springfield College 23-21 on Saturday for its first ever NCAA playoff victory.
Husson outgained Western New England 420-267 while Western New England held a 355-296 edge over Delaware Valley but was victimized by the big play.
Delaware Valley scored on a 67-yard pass from Dashawn Darden to Aaron Nelson, a 50-yard punt return by Vinnie Nelson and a 100-yard interception return by Sammy Mohr.
“They match up extremely well,” said Emery, whose team eliminated Husson 44-27 in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. “I’m looking forward to watching it. It should be a great game.
“Husson matches up better against DelVal than we did. Husson has a little bit more of a skillset in the defensive backfield than we had. They matchup much better against DelVal’s outside receivers,” Emery added.
Husson boasts Division III’s leading rusher in three-time Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year John Smith (308 carries, 2,081 yards), but he will be up against the nation’s 12th-ranked rush defense in Delaware Valley (74.9 rushing yards per game).
However, Emery said, “there is definitely running yardage to be had. It is a matter of breaking second-level tackles. [Smith] could go off against them.
“DelVal’s outside linebackers have excellent closing speed and they’re real good tacklers,” Emery said. “And their weak-side safety [senior Shawn Miller] is very, very talented. He’s the best we’ve seen.”
Western New England ran for 159 yards on 44 carries against Delaware Valley.
“We could move the ball between the 30s without a problem but then they would close up the passing lanes and it would be much harder [to move the ball] inside the 30,” Emery said.
Delaware Valley has allowed opponents to convert on just 52.2 percent of their forays into the red zone (20-yard line to the goal line), which is sixth best in the country.
The X factor could be the availability of Delaware Valley running back Devauntay Ellis, who has rushed for 1,155 yards on 175 carries (6.6 yards per carry) and was the Middle Atlantic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
He carried just once for 14 yards against Western New England.
“He has a hamstring problem. I don’t know how hard they’re pushing him. If he was healthy, it would be a little different ballgame. Either way, I don’t think he’ll be at full strength,” Emery said.
The Western New England coach said the special teams are about the same, but Nelson, who averages 22.4 yards per kickoff return and 9.96 per punt return, is “really dynamic.”
The statistics would validate Emery’s prediction that it will be a close game.
Husson junior Quan Soyini is even better ranks seventh in Division III, averaging 15 yards per punt return. He is tied for third in the nation with eight interceptions. Miller is one of several with six.
Both teams are among the nation’s best in turnover margin as Husson is fourth with a plus-17 with Delaware Valley right behind at plus-16.
They are also comparable in scoring average with Delaware Valley putting up 39.7 points per game (19th) and Husson scoring 39.6 (21st).
Husson junior quarterback Cory Brandon has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has been intercepted five times. Kyree Calli (38 catches-466 yards, 5 TDs), Kyle Gaudet (31-451, 4 TDs), D.J. Allen (29-262, 2 TDs) and Robenson Saintard (26-368, 1 TD) have been his top receivers.
Dashawn Darden has completed 55.9 percent of his passes for 1,827 yards and 21 TDs with four interceptions. He has also rushed for 591 yards on 113 carries. Marquis Ellis (28-380, 7 TDs), Khalil Roane (22-255, 2 TDs) and LaQuille Nesbitt (21-174, 1 TD) have been his leading receivers.
Husson’s defensive leaders have been inside linebackers Elvin Suazo Jr. (80 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks) and Christian Mowrer (60 tackles, 7.5 TFL), tackle Luke Washburn (59, 7 TFL) and rover Jean Gabriel (56, 7.5 TFL 3 sacks, 4 interceptions, 8 pass breakups) along with Soyini (35 tackles to go with his eight interceptions and 12 pass breakups). End Frank Curran and tackle Tarik Smith have 10 and 9.5 TFL, respectively, and Smith has 5.5 sacks to tie him with Suazo Jr. for the team lead.
Inside linebacker Nicholas DiGati (87 tackles, 7.5 TFL), Miller (57, 6 interceptions), end Christian Snowden (49, 13.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and outside linebackers Nick Wright (47, 8.5 TFL) and Michael Ockimey (45, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks) have paced Delaware Valley along with end Vincent DiLeo (27, 8.5 TFL, team-leading 5.5 sacks).
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