Southeastern Louisiana coach Frank Scelfo arranged an FCS playoff announcement watch party for his team Sunday, but with one proviso — no cameras or outsiders just in case the Lions didn’t make it.
After the crushing disappointment of Thursday’s 28-27 loss to Nicholls State that cost SLU the Southland Conference championship and an automatic playoff berth, there was no need to possibly add to the misery.
As it turned out, Scelfo shouldn’t have been so concerned.
Not only did the Lions make the cut for the field of 24, they weren’t even on the bubble
And, on top of that, Southeastern (7-4) will be at home in Hammond on Saturday against 10th-ranked Villanova (9-3) in a first-round game at Strawberry Stadium.
The winner will travel to No. 6 South Dakota for the quarterfinals.
Still, Scelfo, who is in his second year at SLU, was taking nothing for granted.
“We sweat everything,” he said. “We were supposed to get the word before (the selection show), but we were in there watching it like everybody else.
“So we got the got the whole team together, just us because we didn’t know how it was going to come out. We knew how hard our guys had worked this year. I am so happy our season didn’t end Thursday.”
The playoff berth is only the school's third and Southeastern’s first since 2014 when the Lions won the second of its back-to-back SLC championships, but were ousted in the first round by fellow league member Sam Houston.
The previous year marked SLU’s only home playoff games, a victory against Sam Houston and a quarterfinal loss to New Hampshire.
This season, Southeastern was picked eighth in the Southland, but opened with a victory against No. 6 Jacksonville State and remained in or near the national rankings all year, including being No. 21 going into the Nicholls State game.
So even the loss to Nicholls, which featured the Lions fumbling at the Colonels’ 1 in the closing seconds, wasn’t generally expected to keep SLU out of the playoffs.
“We wanted to be the champions,” Scelfo said. “But we didn’t get it.
“But now we’re in the playoffs so that doesn’t matter as much. We’ll take playing on Thanksgiving week any day.”
Like Southeastern, not much was expected of Villanova this year. The Wildcats were picked ninth in the 12-team Colonial Athletic Association.
But they but they won their first six games, then lost three, including ones to conference champion and No. 2 overall seed James Madison plus fellow at-large team Albany, before rebounding to win their past three. The Wildcats closed the regular season Saturday with a 55-33 victory against rival Delaware.
Junior quarterback Daniel Smith threw for 378 yards and five scores and ran for another against the Blue Hens.
Villanova coach Mark Ferrante was 5-6 in his each of his first two years as the head coach at the Philadelphia school, but as a longtime assistant there he has been a part of all of the Wildcats’ previous 12 playoff appearances. That includes 2009 when they won the national championship.
“I don’t know much about them,” Scelfo said shortly after the pairings were announced. “But we’re getting right to work on them.”
Scelfo added he expected no residual effect from the Nicholls game, especially since the Lions are in the playoffs.
“You can’t sit there and dwell on anything,” he said. “That was a really good game against two good teams that came down to one play and one point at the end.
“You evaluate and move on. The great thing is that we have a chance to play again, and this wasn’t the end.”
A major reason for SLU getting the playoff berth was its 34-0 victory against Central Arkansas. The Bears, who wound up sharing the conference title with Nicholls, gained the No. 8 national seed, giving the SLC three teams in the field for the third straight year.
“That was huge for us,” Scelfo said. “It shows you how strong this league is.”
The home field advantage came about because of the strength of the bid submitted by athletic director Jay Artigues.
The Nicholls game drew a crowd of 10,071, second-most in Strawberry Stadium history.
“There’s no question we’re thrilled to be at home,” Artigues said. “Our student-athletes deserve it, our coaches deserve it and our fans deserve it.
“So we did everything in our power to make it happen by bidding as high as we possibly could. It’s going to be a great atmosphere in Strawberry Stadium.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game will go on sale Monday. Season ticket holders will have first option to purchase them.