|(photo by Kenneth Lam/Baltimore Sun)|
It's a huge football Saturday in New Orleans and Richmond, Va., as the post season looms for three teams.
In Richmond, co-MEAC champion Morgan State visits Richmond in the first round of the NCAA FCS Football National Playoffs. It's the first time the Bears have appeared in the playoffs after last week winning a share of their first MEAC title since 1979.
"I still think I'm dreaming and that somebody is going to wake me up and say that this has all been a cruel joke," said first-year Morgan State head coach Lee Hull to the Baltimore Sun. "But it's great. It's a great feeling."
Richmond (8-4) comes from the Colonial Athletic Association where they limped into the postseason by losing two of their last three after storming through most of the regular season. They defeated William & Mary 34-20 last week, earning an at-large bid to the NCAA field.
"I think anytime you can finish your regular season with a win is big," said Richmond head coach Danny Rocco. "We have had kind of tough games the past two weeks and would have been just heartbreaking for this team to finish the season with a three-game losing streak. So we bounced back and did the things we had to do and positioned ourselves really well."
They are led by the two-headed quarterbacking duo of Michael Strauss (2,202 yards and 16 touchdowns) and Michael Rocco, who threw for 1,424 yards and four touchdowns after replacing an injured Strauss.
The Bears are led by running back Herb Walker Jr. who has rushed for 1,288 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. They also have a stiff defense that is among the nation's leaders in sacks this year.
Virginia State head coach Latrell Scott told the Richmond Times Dispatch that Bloomsburg is “a good football team, a well-coached team. Tough, physical team on both sides of the ball. They’ve been in the top 10 the majority of the year, so it’s a tough task for us.”
Down South, one of the biggest HBCU football classics and probably most well known, the Bayou Classic, pits their traditional rivals, Grambling and Southern. But this year's Classic is special as the winner claims the SWAC Western Division Championship and heads to the SWAC Championship Game next week against Alcorn State.
After turmoil over the last couple of years, Grambling turned it around this season, winning seven straight games after losing their first three. The Tigers would have won the division title outright had they defeated Alabama State last week, but Tigers fell 37-23, setting up this epic Bayou Classic matchup.
Now both teams are 7-1 in the SWAC and looking to keep their seasons going.
The Grambling offense starts and ends with quarterback Jonathan Williams. He has thrown for 1,719 yards and 13 touchdowns and has led the Tigers in rushing with 373 yards and seven TDs.
Southern relies on a strong rushing offense led by true freshman quarterback Austin Howard (1,924 yards, 14 touchdowns) and running back Lenard Tillery (973 yards, seven touchdowns) and a tough defense that is fifth in the SWAC.
It all sets up for a big game for a nationally-televised audience to see who heads to Houston next week.
"Anytime you win this football game and you have a chance to further on playing, I think it's good. It helps the off-season program. It helps you for the next season," Grambling head coach Broaderic Fobbs said to WAFB9 TV.
"[It's] business as usual," said Southern head coach Dawson Odums to WAFB9 TV. "We don't get too tight. Our guys are going to be relaxed. We're going to have fun. This is what it's supposed to be."