It's not often a three-time conference player of the year will be overshadowed by an opponent's star player coming to town. But that's the case for senior quarterback Jacob Huesman and Chattanooga as they host running back Chase Edmonds and Fordham in the first round of the FCS playoffs Saturday.
Huesman claimed the Southern's offensive player of the year award for the third straight year despite having numbers that didn't match his breakout 2014 season of 2,731 yards and 23 touchdowns. He threw for fewer yards (1,745) and TDs (seven) and had more interceptions but remained a viable threat on the ground, leading the seventh-ranked Mocs (8-3) with a career-high 1,018 yards as they took the conference's automatic berth to return to the postseason.
"The stats probably weren't mind blowing. I threw for seven touchdowns during the regular season," Huesman conceded, "but I'd sacrifice those for wins any day of the week. I think a lot of guys would on this football team. We have a lot of unselfish players."
He forms a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield with Derrick Craine, who rushed for 1,002 and a team-high 12 TDs. While Chattanooga did drop two of its last three games, one came to Florida State - ranked 14th in the FBS - and the ground game has been consistent, averaging 232.0 yards.
"You can look at all our other guys that got honored on the first and second teams, you can see how blessed I am to have so much firepower around me," said Huesman, who completed at least 10 passes to seven receivers. "That really helps me out in every category. I couldn't do it without those guys."
Huesman and Craine will have to be at their best to help the Mocs control the ball and keep Edmonds off the field. The sophomore was named Patriot League offensive player of the year - ranking third in the FCS with 1,643 rushing yards and second with 20 TDs, showing no letdown after bursting onto the scene in the Bronx with 1,838 yards and 23 scores in 2014 while winning the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS.
Edmonds is also a threat out of the backfield, having caught 31 passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns.
"If there's a better running back in FCS football than this kid, I haven't seen him and I'd be shocked if there is one," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said of Edmonds. "The kid could be playing at a lot of places, and I think that's the scary part.
"You have to limit sometimes second and 10 and you have him for a one-yard gain. The great backs turn that into a seven-yard gain. If you keep it to a one and now it's third and nine instead of third and three, that helps defensively, but great backs get that."
Edmonds had a four-game stretch in October when he rushed for 973 yards and 13 TDs, highlighted by a 347-yard performance in a 59-42 win over Lehigh.
Opponents have been unable to key on Edmonds since 14th-ranked Fordham (9-2), which finished runner-up to Colgate in the Patriot, also has a standout quarterback in Kevin Anderson. The Marshall transfer completed 67.2 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,854 yards and 29 touchdowns as the Rams averaged 38.4 points.
"Excited for the opportunity to compete in (at)NCAA-FCS for 3rd straight year," coach Joe Moorhead tweeted out after the brackets were announced Sunday. "Credit to our kids & culture."
While it's the first time in Rams history they have made the postseason three straight years, this will be their first time starting that journey on the road. Fordham advanced each of the last two seasons by defeating Sacred Heart at Coffey Field.
The winner of this game - the only one pitting two top 15 teams against each other - will play at No. 1 seed and top-ranked Jacksonville State in the second round Dec. 5.