(STATS) - Picked to finish in first place in the Pioneer Football League for the sixth straight season, San Diego is right where it should be with November approaching. The same can't be said for the Toreros' opponent this week.
San Diego - and just about everyone - probably didn't think Saturday's visit to Marist would determine first place in the league, but that's what's at stake when the last two unbeaten teams in PFL play meet at Tenney Stadium in Poughkeepsie, New York.
The Toreros (6-1, 5-0) have been champions seven times since the PFL began play in 1993, trailing only Dayton's 12 titles. In the previous five seasons, San Diego either shared the title or won it outright four times.
The only year over that span that the Toreros failed to do so came in 2013, when Marist was co-champion for its only title since joining the PFL in 2009. The Red Foxes were picked to finish sixth in the 11-team league this year, but they've won their first four PFL games for the first time - a surprising start after they opened the season with three straight losses by a combined score of 77-33.
"It's hard to win," Marist coach Jim Parady said. "We're going to enjoy this thing. I think the kids have gained confidence as we've gone through the Pioneer schedule each week, but we know we respect our opponents as we go. The big thing is that you've got to enjoy wins when you get them."
In PFL action, San Diego ranks first in scoring offense (43.4 points per game), scoring defense (10.4), total offense (496.6 yards per game) and total defense (252.0). Marist is first in passing offense (337.8), second in scoring defense (19.8), third in total offense (437) and fifth in scoring offense (32.2).
The Toreros, though, are also dominating on the national level. They lead the FCS in scoring defense (12.9), rank second in passing efficiency defense (88.52 rating) and sit sixth in total defense (279.4).
On the offensive end, San Diego is No. 1 in the FCS in third-down conversion percentage (55.6) while ranking 14th in scoring offense (37.1) and tying for 15th in total offense (448.3). The Toreros are stacked on that side of the ball with redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Lawrence, redshirt senior running back Jonah Hodges, redshirt junior tight end Ross Dwelley and senior wide receiver Brian Riley leading the way.
In overall play, Lawrence leads the PFL in pass efficiency (170.9) and completion percentage (68.8) while throwing for 1,801 yards and 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Hodges leads the league with 715 rushing yards, 163.4 all-purpose yards per game, 11 total TDs and 10 rushing scores. Dwelley is tied for first with seven TD catches and Riley is second with 95.1 receiving yards per game while hauling in five touchdowns.
Marist has its own playmakers. Redshirt sophomore Mike White is second in the PFL with 1,941 passing yards and 296.6 total yards per game to go with 13 TDs and seven INTs, and he's also rushed for three scores. Sophomore wideout Juston Christian tops the league with 795 receiving yards and 113.6 yards per game through the air, and he's tied with Dwelley for the lead with seven TD catches. On defense, redshirt sophomore safety Wesley Beans is tied for fourth in all of college football with five interceptions.
"Things are just starting to click, we're starting to do more of the right things as opposed to the wrong things," White said. "We've just got to keep this thing going. We have a lot of confidence right now. We just have to keep this momentum going into the next few weeks. Got to keep grinding and keep rolling."
San Diego has won all 11 matchups in this series, but it needed to rally from 13 points down in the second quarter last season to beat visiting Marist 30-27. The last three meetings have been decided by a total of nine points, and six of the Toreros' seven wins since the Red Foxes joined the PFL have come by a touchdown or less.
"We've had some tremendously tough and hard games with Marist," San Diego coach Dale Lindsey said. "I've said to their head coach every year for four years, 'I hate playing you guys' because they know how to play us. They're tough, they're physical and it's always a fight to the bitter end."