HAMMOND — The last time Frank Scelfo was the head coach in a playoff game, it was almost four decades ago and just up I-55 in Amite.
Scelfo, then 23, was the second-year coach at Prairie View Academy of Bastrop, and his team was eliminated in the first round of the 1983 Louisiana Independent Schools Association playoffs by Oak Forest Academy.
Saturday, Scelfo finally gets to feel the experience again when Southeastern Louisiana plays host to Villanova in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m.
“This is why the FCS playoffs are so great,” said Scelfo, who had been an assistant on the high school, FBS and NFL levels since those days before coming to SLU a year ago. “This is the purest form of finding out who the champion is going to be.
“You keep playing as long as you possibly can until there’s just one team left standing.”
Southeastern (7-4) made the 24-team FCS field as an at-large selection, something that wasn’t assured after last Thursday’s 28-27 loss to Nicholls State that earned the Colonels the Southland Conference championship.
“It was a punch in the gut,” Scelfo said of the Nicholls game. “But we didn’t spend much time dwelling on it. To our fans, it might seem like it just happened. But we’ve got another game to play and for us, it’s like something from last year.”
Villanova (9-3) is also an at-large team after finishing third in the Colonial Athletic Association behind No. 2 national seed James Madison and Albany.
“We’re playing a really good football team,” Scelfo said. “They’re very physical on both sides of the ball and have a quarterback who really makes them go by keeping plays alive.
“It’s a great test for us.”
Villanova is No. 8 in this week’s media rankings and 10th in the coaches poll. SLU fell out of the Top 25 media poll and is No. 24 in the coaches rankings.
It’s always sunny in Hammond
Villanova may be the higher-ranked team, but SLU put in a stronger bid to host.
That means instead of the predicted 42 degrees and rainy conditions the Lions would be facing if the game was being played at Villanova, they’ll take the field at Strawberry Stadium on Saturday with a forecasted high of 78, albeit with a good chance of rain.
“Any time you get to play at home, it’s a tremendous advantage,” Scelfo said. “We’ll be nice and warm here in the sunshine.
“For us to be at home with a 7-4 record speaks volumes for the support of our administration.”
Road trip no problem
Villanova coach Mark Ferrante wasn’t that bothered about opening the playoffs on the road.
“We’re fine with it,” he said. “Our guys are excited to be in postseason competition. That’s the committee’s choice. We didn’t win our league, and we didn’t earn a first-round bye.”
It’s been a while
Villanova has been in the playoffs 13 times, but the Wildcats’ only other time against a Louisiana team was in 2002 when they fell 39-28 in the semifinals at McNeese State.
SLU defensive coordinator Lance Guidry held the same post at McNeese at that time while Ferrante, a 30-year assistant at the school before becoming head coach in 2017, was the Wildcats’ assistant head coach.
Got your back I
SLU backup quarterback Cole Kelley won’t remember the Nicholls game fondly. His fumble at the Colonels' 1-yard line in the final minute meant defeat in a game SLU had an 89.9 percent of winning at the time, according to the ESPN calculator.
But Scelfo emphasized that Kelley has been a major contributor all season, passing for 751 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for a team-high eight TDs, four of them coming in the 34-0 victory at No. 8 national seed Central Arkansas that played a major role in the Lions being in the playoffs.
“We wouldn’t be here without Cole Kelley,” Scelfo said. “In most of those situations he’s been fantastic. The situation Thursday is obviously magnified. But we’re rallying around him like we would anyone else, and Cole was in there celebrating yesterday just as much as the rest of them.”
Got your back II
Scelfo’s confidence level might not be as high for sophomore kicker Bryce Broussard, whose missed extra point in the fourth quarter was ultimately the difference in the game.
It was the fifth miss of the year for Broussard. He also has only eight field goal attempts, and just one in the past four games, a missed 28-yarder at Abilene Christian.
“The best way for a kicker to get confidence is making kicks,” Scelfo said. “It’s all about practice and proving yourself from Monday to Friday. We’re going to trust Bryce, but at the end of the day we have to do everything we can to win, so we may go for two.”
SLU junior linebacker Alexis Ramos will miss the first half of the Villanova game after being ejected for targeting in the third quarter of the Nicholls game. Ramos is the Lions’ leading tackler with 71, including 10 for a loss and five sacks.
SLU season-ticket holders, faculty and staff have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to purchase tickets for the game. Those remaining will go on sale to the general public at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Tickets are $40 for chair-back seats, $26 for bleacher seats and $8 for SLU students.
More information is available at (985) 549-5466 or lionsports.net.