All-Big South quarterback Aramis Hillary has been outstanding for Coastal Carolina throughout the season.
But the Chanticleers learned something during a tight loss to Stony Brook on Oct. 13 - they can win by running the ball.
They churned out 201 yards in a defeat that dropped them to 2-4, but haven't looked back ever since. They've gone over 200 yards on the ground in six straight wins, including Saturday's 24-14 triumph over Bethune-Cookman in the FCS playoff first round, which was easier than the final score suggests.
In fact, the four teams that posted wins to reach next Saturday's Round of 16 followed the first-round blueprint of a year ago. They controlled the clock with a strong run game.
Coastal, which held a 24-0 lead, rushed for 202 yards and held the ball for 34 minutes, 1 second.
Wagner, behind Dominique Williams' 21st career 100-yard game, rushed for 245 yards and held the ball for 35:07 in a 31-20 win over Colgate.
Stony Brook totaled 263 rushing yards behind Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker to stop Villanova, 20-10. The Seawolves held the ball for 39:32.
South Dakota State tore apart Eastern Illinois, 58-10, with 434 rushing yards, as FCS rushing leader Zach Zenner (295) and Reggie Gandy (151) led the way. The Jackrabbits held the ball for 37:03.
The four winners will be on the road next Saturday against seeded teams, so a strong run game can be most effective for taking the crowd out of a game.
Football today may be about passing, but it's not quite being felt in the FCS this season. The nation's top three rushing attacks - Georgia Southern, Wofford and Cal Poly, which all run the triple option - remain in the playoff field and Sam Houston State boasts Timothy Flanders and one of the nation's better rushing attacks.
Follow the big uglies up front.
FCS PLAYOFF ROUNDUP
A recap of the first-round playoff games can be found at http://tinyurl.com/c5t5qa6.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
No teams have more to prove in the playoffs than Appalachian State and Montana State, who both host second-round games next Saturday.
Of course, it would seem hard to criticize the two perennial powers. App State has won at least a share of seven of the last eight Southern Conference championships and Montana State has captured a piece of the last three Big Sky titles.
But both programs underachieved in the playoffs in 2010 and last season.
App State has as much talent as any team in the FCS, but the pieces don't always fit together in the big games, especially on defense. After an easy win over Western Illinois in the 2010 playoffs, the Mountaineers have been blown out at home in their last two playoff games, first by 18 points to Villanova in 2010 and then by 22 to Maine last year.
Coach Jerry Moore is 73 and the second-oldest coach in the FCS to Albany's Bob Ford. He may have lost a step as he works his way toward retirement.
Montana State's most recent losses in the playoffs are worse than App State's. The Bobcats lost at home by 25 points to North Dakota State two years ago and then edged New Hampshire by one point in last year's second round before being mauled by 36 points at Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals.
With a third-year starting quarterback in DeNarius McGhee, a bruising running game and a stout defense, it's time for Montana State to make a bold statement in the playoffs.
App State, too.
Attendance usually drops off in playoff games because of declining weather, higher ticket prices, the holiday season and a short buildup to the games. Saturday's attendance figures weren't particularly strong:
Coastal Carolina-Bethune-Cookman: 5,465
Villanova-Stony Brook: 4,905
Eastern Illinois-South Dakota State: 4,367
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: The Big South Conference validated having two teams in the playoffs with wins from both Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook.
Falling: Villanova didn't show up offensively against Stony Brook or take advantage of the Seawolves missing injured quarterback Kyle Essington. It's a bad start for CAA Football.
The playoffs included 24 players and 12 coaches who are finalists for the four major awards in the FCS. They are:
Walter Payton Award (outstanding player): Eric Breitenstein (Wofford), Timothy Flanders (Sam Houston State), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), Taylor Heinicke (Old Dominion), Jamal Jackson (Appalachian State), Erik Lora (Eastern Illinois), Miguel Maysonet (Stony Brook), Gavin McCarney (Colgate), DeNarius McGhee (Montana State), Wynrick Smothers (Central Arkansas), Deonte Williams (Cal Poly) and Zach Zenner (South Dakota State).
Buck Buchanan Award (outstanding defensive player): Matt Evans (New Hampshire), Jeremy Kimbrough (Appalachian State), Demetrius McCray (Appalachian State), Brent Russell (Georgia Southern), Caleb Schreibeis (Montana State), Darnell Taylor (Sam Houston State), Colton Underwood (Illinois State) and Marcus Williams (North Dakota State).
Jerry Rice Award (freshman of the year): Vernon Adams (Eastern Washington), T.J. Lally (South Dakota State), Sean Price (Appalachian State) and John Robertson (Villanova).
Eddie Robinson (coach of the year): Dino Babers (Eastern Illinois), Beau Baldwin (Eastern Washington), Dick Biddle (Colgate), Craig Bohl (North Dakota State), Clint Conque (Central Arkansas), Walt Hameline (Wagner), Brian Jenkins (Bethune-Cookman), Joe Moglia (Coastal Carolina), Chuck Priore (Stony Brook), Brock Spack (Illinois State), Andy Talley (Villanova) and Tim Walsh (Cal Poly).
The FCS Awards winners, to be announced Dec. 17, can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
Last Week's Record: 4-2 (.667)
Season Record: 565-184 (.754)
Saturday, Dec. 1
All Times ET
X-San Diego (7-3, 6-1 Pioneer) at Marist (4-6, 3-4), noon. With a win, the Toreros will earn a share of the Pioneer Football League title with Butler and Drake.
Nicholls (1-9) at X-Oregon State (8-3), 2:30 p.m. Thanks, but we're going to pass on watching this game.
FCS Playoff Second Round
X-Illinois State (8-3) at Appalachian State (8-3), 2 p.m. In a terrific matchup, Illinois State has the better defense.
Central Arkansas (9-2) at X-No. 5 seed Georgia Southern (8-3), 2 p.m. GSU quarterback Jerick McKinnon has rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games.
Coastal Carolina (8-4) at X-No. 4 seed Old Dominion (10-1), 2 p.m. Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke will throw for, oh, 400-500 yards.
New Hampshire (8-3) at X-Wofford (8-3), 2 p.m. The visiting Wildcats are in the playoffs for a ninth straight year, but they need to tighten their defense.
South Dakota State (9-3) at X-No. 1 seed North Dakota State (10-1), 4 p.m. The defensive blueprint can be found in Fargo, N.D.
Cal Poly (9-2) at X-Sam Houston State (8-3), 4 p.m. The Bearkats are playing a home game? No way.
Wagner (9-3) at X-No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (9-2), 6 p.m. The Seahawks are flying 2,600 miles to learn the Eagles sit on a higher perch.
Stony Brook (10-2) at X-No. 3 seed Montana State (10-1), 7 p.m. The Seawolves probably need quarterback Kyle Essington back in the lineup.