Coming up in the next few weeks there will be some intriguing battles for the 24 FCS playoff spots. Some very good teams, as usual, will be left on the outside.
That’s why it’s natural for aspiring FCS playoff teams that are currently on the bubble to be a little jealous of Saint Francis.
The reason is simple. Before Halloween, the Red Flash had punched their ticket into the postseason, earning the first FCS playoff berth.
Saint Francis clinched the automatic berth with Saturday’s 44-14 home win over two-time defending Northeast Conference champion Sacred Heart.
This is the first of the 11 automatic bids.
Saint Francis is 6-2 overall and 5-0 in the NEC with three games left, including conference matchups with Duquesne and Merrimack. While Saint Francis has enjoyed an outstanding season, there is a reason that helped the Red Flash enjoy such an early clinching.
Merrimack also is 5-0 in the NEC, but the Warriors are ineligible for the FCS playoffs because they are transitioning from Division 2.
Still, the win over Sacred Heart was quite a feat. Besides being the two-time defending NEC champion, Sacred Heart was the favorite to make it a three-peat in the conference’s preseason poll. Sacred Heart is now 2-2 with the other loss being by a 31-25 score at Merrimack (which was fifth in the preseason poll).
Oh well, not all preseason polls match the regular season results.
What made it more impressive is that the Red Flash clinched the playoff berth by tying two single-game school records. Quarterback Cole Doyle threw five touchdown passes, and receiver Elijah Sarratt had three touchdown receptions.
Doyle completed 22 of 28 for 264 yards and five scores. He also rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
Sarratt had seven receptions for 121 yards and three scores.
What is interesting is that Sarratt isn’t even the team’s leading receiver. That would be freshman Makai Jackson (6-0, 180) who has 59 receptions for 607 yards and seven touchdowns. Sarratt, a 6-3, 205-pound freshman, has 27 receptions for 488 yards and seven scores.
Having two freshmen as leading receivers bodes well for the future, but it’s not bad for the present either.
This was far from just an ariel show. The Red Flash rushed for 304 yards, giving them 568 total yards. Junior QuaSean Holmes (5-11, 195) rushed for 168 yards on 13 carries.
The defense did its part, holding Sacred Heart to just 104 passing yards. Redshirt freshman linebacker Marcel Mami, redshirt senior linebacker Willie O’Hara and redshirt sophomore defensive back Gregory Reddick each had 10 tackles.
Not surprisingly, these are the three leading tacklers on the team, headed by Reddick (63), O’Hara (54), and Mami (51).
In its five NEC games, the defense has allowed just 10.8 points per game.
Saint Francis rebounded from a rough start, albeit against the best competition it has faced this year. The Red Flash opened with a 30-23 overtime loss at FBS Akron and then lost 31-21 at Richmond of the Colonial Athletic Conference.
That’s two difficult road games, but that type of competition certainly prepared the Red Flash for NEC action.
Now the win streak is six entering Saturday’s non-conference game at Georgetown.
Even with the early clinching, the Red Flash will have their work cut out for them in the postseason, but just getting there makes this already a successful season.
This is the second playoff FCS berth for Saint Francis in school history. The first came in 2016 when the Red Flash lost to Villanova in its opening playoff game, 31-21.
Now Saint Francis is able to prepare for the postseason earlier than any other team, but the season finale at Merrimack, especially if both teams remain unbeaten in the conference, will have a true playoff feel a week before the actual tournament begins.