The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

FCS playoff preview: Lafayette vs. Delaware

The Leopards have a chance to secure the program’s first-ever NCAA FCS Playoff win. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

After putting together their best season in recent history, the Leopards (9-2 overall, 5-1 Patriot League) will make the 100-mile trek to Newark, Delaware to take on the University of Delaware Blue Hens (8-3 overall, 6-2 Coastal Athletic Association) in the first round of the FCS playoffs this afternoon.

A win in this game would mark Lafayette’s first 10-win season since 1899 and its first-ever FCS playoff victory, putting the Leopards just three wins from the most prestigious title in the FCS.

The Maroon and White enter today’s game coming off one of the best halves of football they have ever played, scoring five unanswered touchdowns to come back and beat rival Lehigh 49-21 to officially clinch the Patriot League title (despite what Holy Cross might post on Instagram).

The game showcased what has been the strengths of the team all season: an offense run by the sophomore QB Dean DeNobile and RB Jamar Curtis, with DeNobile throwing for four touchdowns and Curtis adding another three on the ground.

Ever since DeNobile officially locked down the QB1 role during the second game of the season, the offense has looked unrecognizable from units of the past. Offensive coordinator TJ DiMuzio finally has a firm grasp of what he is looking to do with his offense. This season’s Leopards, other than one cold and windy weekend against Princeton, never once scored less than 24 points, the high mark of last season.

The defense, which has been consistent in its quality since even before the COVID-19 season, has remained characteristically stout, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks to rank fifth in the nation in sacks per game and 13th in tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Mike Saint Germain has continued his success from last year with Lafayette giving up the fewest points per game in the Patriot League, making the Leopards an incredibly well-rounded team that is poised to prove itself at the next level.

Not to be forgotten, the special teams this year have also significantly improved since last year, gifting both the offensive and defensive units better field position while also consistently making extra points and field goals.

They take on a Blue Hen squad that has been a consistent power in the CAA conference. A team that consistently produces NFL talent, Delaware has done a good job restocking and returning to the upper echelons of the FCS following down years during the pandemic.

This is largely to due to head coach Ryan Carty, who took over in 2022 and has overseen an offense averaging 32 points per game in a superior conference, more than Lafayette’s 30 points per game. They are a very balanced team, with no one player standing out as a star — only one player, senior linebacker Jackson Taylor, earned a first-team all-conference honor. On offense, the Blue Hens are led by junior quarterback Ryan O’Connor and senior running back Marcus Yarns, while defensively, Taylor mans the middle while fellow senior Chase McGowan is a wall on the defensive line.

There is much crossover between the two teams, mainly with Delaware defensive coordinator Manny Rojas who coached at Lafayette as the defensive coordinator in 2019 alongside current outside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Drew Seumalo.

This game is going to come down to the Lafayette defensive line — an area in which Leopards’ success has not gone unnoticed. Senior outside linebacker Billy Schaefer has been nominated for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the national defensive player of the year in Division I FCS, and freshman defensive tackle Jaylon Joseph finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, presented to the top FCS freshman. The pair has wreaked havoc in the backfield all season, and if the Leopards can get pressure on the quarterback and not allow Delaware’s running game to get to the third level, Lafayette should be in the fight the whole game.

Overall, the Hens are favored by a touchdown but the Leopards have really played impressive, well-rounded football all season. The team has faced tough competition before and has been up to the challenge. If DeNobile continues to pass the ball with accuracy and Curtis has a characteristically huge game while the defense holds up, the Leopards have a real chance to win this game.

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About the Contributor
Charlie Berman
Charlie Berman, Sports Editor

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  • J

    John CasseseNov 25, 2023 at 9:01 am

    Let’s Go Lafayette!