FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview: Eastern Washington at Montana and Southeastern Louisiana at James Madison
FCS

FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview: Eastern Washington at Montana and Southeastern Louisiana at James Madison

With late-game heroics, overtime, road upsets and three first-time winners, the FCS playoffs got off to a fast start with the first round last Saturday.

This week, the action will be even sweeter with the round of 16 continuing on the Road to Frisco (Texas).

Following are capsule previews of two of the eight second-round games, with the winners set to meet in the quarterfinals:

Eastern Washington (10-2) at No. 6 seed Montana (9-2)

Kickoff – 9 p.m. ET Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana (ESPN+)

Series – Montana leads 28-18-1

Coaches – Eastern Washington: Aaron Best (40-14, fifth season); Montana: Bobby Hauck (107-28, 10 seasons; 122-77 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Eastern Washington: QB Eric Barriere (314 of 472, 4,540 yards, 41 TDs, 7 INTs; 242 rushing yards, 4 TDs), RB Dennis Merritt (186 carries, 853 yards, 14 TDs; 30 receptions, 368 yards, 3 TDs), LB Ty Graham (107 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 takeaways); Montana: QB Cam Humphrey (124 of 198, 1,541 yards, 13 TDs, & INTs), LB Patrick O’Donnell (107 tackles, 4.5 TFL), CB Justin Ford (33 tackles, 8 INTs, 8 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 TDs)

3 Key Factors – EWU is ranked No. 2 in the FCS in points per game (44.2) and Montana has the same ranking in fewest points allowed per game (13.0). Their Big Sky regular-season matchup fell in between with the Eagles rallying in the fourth quarter to a 34-28 triumph on Oct. 2 in Cheney, Washington. 2. Montana will seek to get pressure on Barriere, who has been sacked eight times in two career meetings. The Griz have 39 sacks this season, led by O’Connell and LB Marcus Welnel with 13 and six, respectively. 3. Third downs are pivotal: EWU’s offense has converted 50.3 percent of attempts into first downs (No. 3 in the nation) and UM has defended at a 29.4 percent rate (No. 8).

Up Next – The winner will play Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) or No. 3 seed James Madison (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction – Montana 31, Eastern Washington 27

Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) at No. 3 seed James Madison (10-1)

Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia (ESPN+)

Series – First meeting

Coaches – Southeastern Louisiana: Frank Scelfo (25-18, four seasons); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (31-4, three seasons; 98-30 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Southeastern Louisiana: QB Cole Kelley (370 of 502, 4,727 yards, 42 TDs, 7 INTs; 480 rushing yards, 16 TDs), RB Taron Jones (76 carries, 352 yards, 6 TDs; 37 receptions, 351 yards, 2 TDs), CB Zy Alexander (37 tackles, 6 INTs, 7 pass breakups); James Madison: QB Cole Johnson (233 of 342, 2,953 yards, 2 INTs; 184 rushing yards, 5 TDs), LB Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey (86 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery), PK Ethan Ratke (28 of 31 FGs with 47 long, 133 points)

3 Key Factors – 1. SLU’s Kelley is the FCS leader in total offense (433.9 yards per game), directing a team that ranks No. 1 in yards per game (561.3) and points per game (47.2). JMU’s season highs allowed are 388 yards and 28 points in a loss to Villanova. The Dukes kept five opponents under 200 offensive yards and five opponents to 10 or fewer points during the regular season. 2. While Kelley spreads the ball to the Lions’ FCS-high 10 players with 200 or more receiving yards, JMU’s Antwane Wells Jr. (67 receptions, 994 yards, 11 TDs) and Kris Thornton (69, 896, 11) form one of only two FCS duos to both have 850 or more receiving yards. 3. Johnson has led with excellent efficiency while JMU has tied for the fewest turnovers (seven) and produced the best turnover margin (plus-17) in the FCS.

Up Next – The winner will play Eastern Washington (10-2) or No. 6 seed Montana (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction – James Madison 30, Southeastern Louisiana 24