FCS Playoffs: Maine at Eastern Washington
FCS Semifinal-Round Playoff
The Matchup -- No. 7 seed Maine (10-3) at No. 3 seed Eastern Washington (11-2)
Kickoff -- 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Roos Field (8,600) in Cheney, Washington
Coverage -- ESPN2
Series -- First meeting
Coaches -- Maine: Joe Harasymiak (20-14, three seasons); Eastern Washington: Aaron Best (18-6, two seasons)
3 Players to Watch -- Maine: QB Chris Ferguson (181 of 317, 2,047 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs), LB Deshawn Stevens (112 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 9 sacks), LB Sterling Sheffield (79 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks); Eastern Washington: QB Eric Barriere (156 of 256, 1,900 yards, 17 TDs, 6 INTs; 550 rushing yards, 7 TDs), RB Sam McPherson (174 carries, 1,288 yards, 12 TDs; 20 receptions), LB Ketner Kupp (97 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT)
The Skinny -- Maine, the CAA champ, has advance to the semifinals for the first time, but it's making its second straight cross-country trip to the Big Sky Conference after eliminating Weber State in the quarterfinals (this one is 3,000 miles). The Black Bears are playing in a program-high ninth road game and have a 7-0 record against ranked opponents. Their defense wants to be physical and aggressive against an Eastern Washington offense that ranks second in the FCS in yards per game (538.3) and fourth in points per game (44.1). While the Eagles average 6.78 yards per carry (second-best in the FCS), Maine allows just 2.11 yards per carry (No. 1 in the nation). In Sheffield, Stephens and DE Kayon Whitaker, the Black Bears have three players with at least nine sacks. On offense, Ferguson has peaked in the playoffs and spreads around the passes, including to TE Drew Belcher (43 receptions). The most dangerous offensive weapons are WR/KR Earnest Edwards (49 receptions, 14 total TDs) and RB Ramon Jefferson (972 rushing yards, 9 total TDs). Eastern Washington is in the semifinals for the fifth time since 2010 and the sixth time overall. The Eagles needed 20 fourth-quarter points and a last-minute TD to slip past UC Davis in the quarters. Barriere is coming off a heroic game (four total TDs), but has to make smart decisions against arguably the best defense he has faced this season. The Spencer Blackburn-led offensive line seeks to open holes for McPherson, who's working on three straight 100-yard games. WR Nsimba Webster (71 receptions, 1,099 yards, 7 TDs) is the go-to receiver. The defense has been opportunistic, forcing 28 turnovers (two less than Maine) and DT Jay-Tee Tiuli commands double-teams, which frees up teammates. PK Roldan Alcobendas leads the FCS with a 1.000 percentage (15 of 15) on field goals.
Up Next -- The winner will play No. 5 seed South Dakota State (10-2) or No. 1 seed and defending champ North Dakota State (13-0) in the national championship game Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
Prediction -- Both teams have won six straight games, although Maine has been the better team in the playoffs. It's a tight matchup on paper. Will the travel catch up to the Black Bears? Maine, 28-24.
Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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