The Pioneer Football League Report: Postseason Week 1

Tuesday, November 21, 2017
by Cody Bush, PFL Media Relations

All times Eastern.

San Diego at Northern Arizona, 8 p.m.

Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
Stadium:  J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome
Series: First Meeting
Video: ESPN3


Setting the Scene: San Diego makes a third trip to the Division I Football Championship in the past four seasons, this time traveling to Flagstaff, Arizona for an opening-round contest against Northern Arizona. The Toreros return after becoming the first Pioneer Football League team to win a contest in the tournament, downing Cal Poly in the opening round last season. They were the only road team to win in the 2016 championship’s opening round.

San Diego Story to Watch: Protect Lawrence. Junior quarterback Anthony Lawrence is one of the FCS’ most efficient passers, ranking among the FCS Top 5 in completion percentage (4th), passing efficiency (4th) and passing touchdowns (2nd). However, in the Toreros two losses, Lawrence was harassed taking two sacks at UC Davis and a sack and nine hurries at Princeton. In addition, the San Diego ground game suffered its two lowest yardage totals of the season, further increasing the pressure on Lawrence. That said, San Diego’s offensive line has allowed just six sacks this season – second fewest in the FCS – and the ground game has improved and enters the postseason ranked No. 40 among FCS teams.

Northern Arizona State Story to Watch: Cookus Cooking. On the other side of the field, the Lumberjacks boast their own sharpshooter under center in sophomore Case Cookus, who enters the postseason ranked No. 10 in passing yardage (3,235) despite missing the bulk of the Lumberjacks game at Montana. In fact, NAU’s three FCS losses this season have coincidentally occurred in games where Cookus has been held under 250 passing yards: Western Illinois (221), at Montana (44) and at Southern Utah (246). 

Complete news and notes available in PDF version

PFL’s 25th CAMPAIGN | The 2017 season marks the 25th year for the Pioneer Football League – the nation’s only non-scholarship, football-only NCAA Football Championship Subdivision conference. The league will feature 11 teams each playing an eight-game schedule to determine the league champion and recipient of the automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA FCS Championship.

PRESBYTERIAN TO JOIN PFL IN 2021 | Pioneer Football League Commissioner presidents’ council has agreed to accept Presbyterian College’s request for membership, effective for the 2021 season. Presbyterian College’s football program will remain a Big South member for the 2018 and 2019 seasons while beginning to phase out scholarships in order to obtain PFL eligibility. The Blue Hose will play one season as a Division I independent in 2020 before joining the PFL in 2021

VALPO’S CECCHINI NAMED ROBINSON AWARD FINALIST | After taking a team that was picked to finish 10th of 11 in the Pioneer Football League to its first winning season since 2003, Valparaiso University football coach Dave Cecchini has been named one of 18 finalists for the 2017 STATS FCS Eddie Robinson Award, which is presented annually to the FCS Coach of the Year.

PFL QUARTET AMONG FCS AWARD FINALISTS | Four PFL student-athletes were named as finalists for each of the STATS FCS Awards. San Diego quarterback Anthony Lawrence is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, presented to the FCS Offensive Player of the Year. San Diego defensive lineman Jonathan Petersen is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award for the FCS Defensive Player of the Year. Campbell quarterback Daniel Smith and Davidson running back Wesley Dugger are both finalists for the Jerry Rice Award for the FCS Freshman of the Year.

PFL AWARDS TO BE ANNOUNCED NOV. 27-29 | The Pioneer Football League will announce its annual awards, Nov. 27-29. Six of the league’s major awards will be announced Monday, followed by the 2017 All-PFL Teams, Tuesday. Wednesday the league will present its 2017 Academic All-PFL squads, highlighted by its Scholar-Athlete of the Year announcement.

TOREROS CLAIM NINTH PFL TITLE, LEAGUE’S AQ SPOT | San Diego clinched its ninth PFL title all-time in Week 11. The Toreros also have won four straight league crowns and all nine of their titles have come since winning the 2005 championship. 

SAN DIEGO EXTENDS PFL RECORD WIN STREAK | San Diego posted its 21st consecutive PFL victory with its regular-season finale victory against Marist. It is the second-longest active conference win streak in Division I entering Week 11, trailing only Ohio Valley Conference member Jacksonville State’s 32-game conference win streak.

TOREROS PETERSEN LEADS THREE FCS LISTS | San Diego fifth-year defensive lineman Jonathan Petersen, a Buck Buchanan Award Finalist, enters the postseason as the FCS leader in sacks (1.18 per game) and tackles for loss (1.80) while ranking second in fumbles forced (0.45 per game). Among FCS active career leaders, he ranks No. 1 in total sacks (39.0), sacks per game (0.85) and forced fumbles per game (0.30) as well as No. 2 in tackles for loss (1.50).

LAWRENCE MAKING PAYTON AWARD PUSH | San Diego junior quarterback Anthony Lawrence also was named a Walter Payton Award Finalist. He enters the postseason ranked among the FCS Top 50 in 11 statistical categories, including No. 2 in passing touchdowns (30), No. 4 in both passing efficiency (170.1) and completion percentage (67.3) and No. 10 in yards per pass attempt (8.71). Lawrence owns a career 159.49 pass efficiency rating that ranks No. 3 among NCAA career active leaders.

MARTINEZ IMPRESSES IN ROOKIE CAMPAIGN | Freshman running back Emilio Martinez has been a breath of fresh air in the San Diego offense after losing 2016 PFL Offensive Player of the Year Jonah Hodges. Martinez has become the FCS’ No. 11 ranked all-purpose runner (134.82 yards per game) thanks largely to his No. 28 ranking in rushing (81.3 yards per game).