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Davidson Wildcats embrace football postseason milestone
4-2 season earns first FCS tournament berth
 
Published Tuesday, April 20, 2021 8:40 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | TIM COWIE
Davidson linebacker Jalen Jefferson (1) and safety Brian Jacobs and their Wildcats teammates made history by earning the school’s first berth in the FCS playoffs.

The last time Davidson football advanced to postseason play, Richard Nixon was president, humans took their first steps on the moon and gasoline was 35 cents a gallon.

The Wildcats, who earned a spot in the opening Division I FCS playoffs, last made a postseason appearance in 1969 when they lost to Toledo 56-33 in the Tangerine Bowl. It’s a new experience for a program that has struggled for relevance before coach Scott Abell’s arrival in 2018.


The vibe in the locker room has improved considerably since then, especially with Davidson (4-2) winning the Pioneer Football League championship, and with it Saturday’s date against national power Jacksonville State.


“We told the troops at practice last Friday we were officially named champions and it was about as emotional moment as I’ve had as a coach watching our players celebrate,” Abell said. “There were tears. You guys all know what this program has been and been through, and you know that you really can’t put or measure how this feels for this campus and our guys. It’s one of the things that I will cherish forever, watching this program get turned around.”


Abell credits his players with making the sacrifices necessary to succeed with changes to the FCS landscape due to COVID-19. Not only was the season pushed back, but a shorter schedule and the specter of infection tested everyone’s resolve.


“The mental part has probably been the biggest challenge, not the physical part,” Abell said.


“We’ve done some things differently physically just because you were playing in the spring knowing we have a full season coming up in the fall. I think the mental part of it – you’re getting tested weekly, bi-weekly – you’re waiting for the results, but we got into a good rhythm.”


Davidson, which sandwiched its four wins between losses to open and close the season, is embracing its underdog role against 9-2 Jacksonville State, a perennial national power. But the Wildcats, who average 293.8 rushing yards per game with an option attack, are taking a businesslike approach to the Gamecocks, much as they do against every opponent.

“What we really want them to feel like this feels every other week,” Abell said. “Now, we know it doesn’t, but you prepare like every other week. Practices look very similar, preparation look very similar, you want to keep the guys kind of in their lanes and in their zones so it feels as much normal as possible.


“And then I do feel like some of our experiences over these last couple of years – the big game against (league rival) San Diego, a premium playoff team that’s won a playoff game a couple times over the last four or five years.”


Regardless of the result, the Wildcats are savoring the opportunity.


“It’s a lot of energy in our program right now,” Abell said. “The guys were credibly excited about this opportunity.”

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