No. 10 Monmouth (3-0) at No. 4 Sam Houston (6-0)
When: 11 a.m. Saturday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas
The Matchup: Saturday morning will mark the first ever meeting between Monmouth and Sam Houston, but Hawks coach Kevin Callahan and Bearkats coach K.C. Keeler have known each other for several years.
"I know coach Callahan,” Keeler said. “When I was out of football working for ESPN and NFL Films, one of my trips was to see coach Callahan and spend the day with him. He's a phenomenal football coach and even a better person."
The two head coaches met on the FCS playoffs when Keeler’s Delaware squad defeated Monmouth 42-7 in 2007.
History is on Sam Houston’s side in this contest marking the first time Monmouth has played a school from the Southland Conference. This will also be the first game the Hawks have ever played in the state of Texas.
Saturday will be Monmouth’s fourth FCS playoff game in program history while the Kats are making their 12th appearance in the FCS playoffs.
Keeler’s teams have excelled in home playoff games throughout his career, having won all 27 home playoff games in his career.
"I was fortunate at Delaware to get some great tutelage on how to attack the playoffs. It's a one-game season,” Keeler said. “The fans can have brackets, your parents can have brackets, the kids in the dorm can have brackets - you don't have brackets, your life is Monmouth, and I have a way of communicating that very directly."
While SHSU is the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, Monmouth provides a unique challenge for the Kats.
"We thought there was a possibility of three different opponents we might play, and this was the one we thought was the toughest,” Keeler said. They just don't make mistakes, they've turned the ball over one time, and that was on a quarterback exchange.
“They fit the right gaps, they block the right people, and the quarterback has been really impressive as a freshman. Our kids have great respect for who we're playing on Saturday."
The Hawks and Bearkats each bring one of the top-scoring offenses and two of the stingiest defenses in the country.
"Their defense is a lot like watching their offense. They’re very methodical and always in the right gap,” Keeler said. “They're not going to give any crazy Buddy Ryan blitzes, but they work really hard at what they do, and they do it really good."
Players to Watch:
Monmouth - Juwon Farri, RB, So, Germantown, Md. (Northwest HS)
Tony Muskett, QB, Fr, Springfield, Va. (West Springfield HS)
Lonnie Moore IV, WR, Sr, Sicklerville, N.J. (Paul VI HS)
Kahari Scarlett, DE, Sr, Bloomfield, Conn. (Bloomfield HS)
SHSU - Eric Schmid, QB, Jr, The Woodlands, Texas (The Woodlands HS)
Ramon Jefferson, RB, Jr, Bronx, N.Y. (Maine)
Jequez Ezzard, WR, Gr, College Park, Ga. (Howard)
Trevor Williams, LB, Jr, College Station, Texas (A&M Consolidated HS)
Key to Victory: Monmouth does not make mistakes, making it imperative for Sam Houston to avoid any critical errors.
The Kats will need to focus on remaining in a manageable down and distance on offense against a very stout and disciplined defense and convert all scoring opportunities.
SHSU has a slim advantage on special teams overall, but both teams feature explosive players on punt and kick return.
Prediction: Some books have the Kats favored by as many as nine points. Monmouth is a formidable opponent to face in the playoffs’ opening round, but I give the Bearkats a slight edge at home.
Sam Houston by 3
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