Bears open playoffs with Fort Valley State
When the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears take the field on Saturday, they will attempt to do something that hasn't been done at Lenoir-Rhyne since 1962, and that is to win a playoff game.
Lenoir-Rhyne last won a playoff game when it defeated Northern State (S.D.) 20-7 in the NAIA Eastern Regional Playoffs. The last playoff appearance for the Bears was in that same season, losing to Central Oklahoma State in the National Championship game. Tomorrow, No. 3 seed Lenoir-Rhyne will take on No. 6 seed Fort Valley State in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at 12 p.m. at Moretz Stadium in Hickory.
"We are extremely excited for a second straight championship and to be in the playoffs," said Lenoir-Rhyne quarterback Reuben Haynes. "I am so proud of this team. We have overcome adversity all season and that shows the character of our team."
Last week, the Bears clinched the team's second straight South Atlantic Conference (SAC) with a 44-14 win over Catawba in the regular season finale. Meanwhile, Fort Valley State lost in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) championship 55-24 to Tuskegee. The winner of this game will take on Carson-Newman in the NCAA Super Region II Semifinals.
Offensively, the Bears rushing attack has proved to be lethal as of recent weeks. Lenoir-Rhyne continues to lead the country in rushing at 384.4 yards per game. The Bears also find themselves in the end zone quite often. Over the Bears' seven-game win streak, they have outscored their opponents 303-91. That's good for an average of just over 43 points per game. The conference champions have also scored 44 points in each of its last three games.
Sophomore running back Jarrod Spears was named a first-team All-Conference selection, while Haynes and sophomore fullback Isaiah Whitaker were second-team selections.
"Our offense begins with running the football," said Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Mike Houston. "We need to establish it (run game) and be very aggressive.
"Defensively, they are a very aggressive, attacking defense," said Houston. "They play a lot of man coverage in the secondary. They just play a very aggressive style defensively."
Defensively, the Bears will see a spread offense with a good balance between the run and the pass. The Wildcats have three offensive starters that originally signed with Division I programs. Starting quarterback Antonio Henton signed with Ohio State out of high school, while wide receiver Christopher Slaughter is a transfer from Auburn and right tackle Marquise Franklin is a transfer from Baylor.
"From top to bottom, this is the most talented team I've seen since I've been here (Lenoir-Rhyne)," said Houston. "They are huge up front, they move very well and they have a ton of speed at the skill positions."
Lenoir-Rhyne and Fort Valley State will take the field for first round action on Saturday at Moretz Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 12 p.m.
"At the beginning of the year, we set a goal to win a championship and make the playoffs," said Haynes. "But we don't want to settle for just being here. We want to keep rolling and keep winning, and I think we have a good chance of that."