NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut State football team cheered loudly in unison, and with good reason - it’s never had a Sunday morning quite like this.
For the first time in program history, the Blue Devils will have an opportunity to compete for a national title.
CCSU (8-3) will make its first appearance in the 24-team FCS playoffs when it travels to face New Hampshire (7-4) Saturday at 2 p.m. A win would then send the Blue Devils to Central Arkansas, which received the No. 4 seed and the top spot in their quarter of the bracket.
“It’s great for our program,” CCSU head coach Pete Rossomando said after his team watched the selection show live. “It’s excellent for what we’re trying to build here. You get into the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, go undefeated in the NEC for the first time in school history, there’s a lot of firsts happening here and hopefully we can get that first playoff win. Playing New Hampshire isn’t going to be easy; they have great playoff acumen. They know how to get ready and how to prepare. But it’s going to be fun. It’s great for our university.”
The Blue Devils sat at 0-3 after a Sept. 16 road loss to last season’s runner-up Youngstown State. But CCSU proceeded to win its final eight games, including all six against conference opponents, securing the Northeast Conference’s automatic playoff berth two weeks ago after a come-from-behind win at Duquesne. It was the team’s first NEC title since 2010.
The Blue Devils also earned their first top-25 vote last week since the start of Week 2 of the 2014 season.
“It helps a lot,” senior linebacker Randall Laguerre said of CCSU’s win eight-game win streak. “We’re going into the playoffs with momentum. We’re rolling right now.”
New Hampshire, meanwhile, received an at-large bid despite losing three of its final six games. The Wildcats have yet to lose at home this season, where they have compiled a 5-0 record compared to 1-4 on the road and 1-0 at a neutral site.
The last time the Blue Devils and New Hampshire played came in 2015, which ended in a 57-14 CCSU loss. This time around, CCSU is expecting a different result.
“At that point, we were still young, everyone was trying to figure things out,” senior safety Najae Brown said. “But now, we’re a veteran crew and we’ll be ready to play. We’ve been in certain situations where we’ve folded [in past seasons]. This year, when we’ve been in those situations, nobody panicked and we had a good outcome.”
That is what made Sunday morning a little more special for the Blue Devils, especially for a senior class that had a combined nine wins and 25 losses over the past three seasons entering this year.
“It means a lot,” Laguerre said. “I mean, this is your first time experiencing it, you don’t really know how to react. But we’re just going to take it a practice at a time and get ready.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach