SPARTANBURG — Wofford will try to advance from the Sweet 16 into the Great Eight with a second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff game at 2 p.m. today against New Hampshire in Gibbs Stadium.
Both teams are already champions.
The Terriers share a third of the Southern Conference title and the Wildcats a quarter of the Colonial Athletic Conference.
“We set three goals for ourselves,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “You might say it was our vision to win the Southern Conference championship, get back in the playoffs and compete for the national championship. This is step No. 3.”
Wofford (8-3) made the postseason for the third straight year and fifth time in six seasons. The Terriers lost in this spot, the second round after an opening-round bye, last season at Northern Iowa, 27-20, despite rushing for 457 yards and beating UNI in total yards by 240.
New Hampshire (8-3) is in the postseason for a ninth straight year, the longest streak in the country. The Wildcats lost their playoff opener in 2011, 26-25, at Montana State on a blocked extra point with six seconds left.
The winner here earns a likely shot next week against No. 1 overall seed North Dakota State — if the Bison beat rival South Dakota State — and would be two games away from the national championship to be played Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
“We know that it’s going to be a tough contest. We know that it’s going to be a struggle,” Ayers said. “But this is what you work for, to be in the playoffs and, hopefully, make a long run and get all the way to Texas.”
Wofford comes in as the second-best rushing team in the country with a triple-option offense keyed by senior fullback Eric Breitenstein, named earlier this week as one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the best offensive player in FCS. He has broken the Terriers’ record in career rushing yards, his own single-season record for yards and the Southern Conference all-time high for a single game.
New Hampshire doesn’t see much of the option. The Wildcats haven’t faced a true option team since opening the 2008 season against Army. That’s made it difficult for them to prepare for a polished attack like the Terriers.
“The hardest thing to do is simulate the speed of what they do,” Wildcats coach Sean McDonnell said. “We tried to do it without a ball. But you just can’t do it without a ball. They just do it so well.”
New Hampshire has an explosive offense ranked ninth nationally in total yards. The defense has struggled, and is ninth among 11 CAA teams in scoring and yards. But the Wildcats were second in the league with 13 interceptions and recovered seven fumbles. Wofford has fumbled 27 times, losing nine.