Malik Pierre was conspicuous by his presence last Saturday, particularly in an aspect of the game coaches often refer to as “hidden yardage.”
The former Sachem North star from Holbrook returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown that jump-started a huge second half for the Pioneers in their 43-23 victory over Assumption in the NE-10 championship game.
The victory advanced LIU Post (11-0) into the 28-team NCAA Division II playoffs. The Pioneers are the No. 2 seed in Super Region I and host No. 7 Winston-Salem State (9-2) at noon Saturday at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium in Brookville.
It is the first time that LIU Post will host an NCAA Tournament game since 2005. The winner advances to a second-round game on Nov. 26 against the winner of Saturday’s No. 3 Shepherd University vs. No. 6 Assumption College game at the highest remaining seed.
“The difference can be special teams and that’s been big for us. All year they’ve done well on that hidden yardage,” LIU Post coach Bryan Collins said. “Malik really helped us open up the second half in a big way with that kickoff return. That put us up 23-9. He’s been doing great things all year as a redshirt-sophomore.”
And not just on special teams. Pierre is the team’s second-leading rusher with 516 yards (David White has 893 yards), has caught 41 passes for 341 yards and leads the team with 15 touchdowns, 12 on the ground.
“He’s an all-around great player,” Collins said. “He has a real nose for the end zone. We can get him the ball as a running back or as a slot receiver to work the matchups. He’s a weapon for us.”
Collins is concerned about Winston-Salem State’s weapons, particularly running backs Te’Vaughn Hurse (917 yards, five TDs) and Kerrion Moore (911 yards, seven TDs).
“We just got the film on them Sunday night,” Collins said. “They run the ball extremely well — more than 2,000 yards as a team. They’ll try to establish the running game and work the play-action pass off that.”
Post also has a balanced attack with quarterback Jeff Kidd now fully healthy. He has passed for 2,217 yards and 23 touchdowns despite missing two games with an injury. Shane Hubbard is the favorite target with 76 catches for 812 yards and seven TDs.
“They’re big up front so we’ll have to use our speed and be balanced offensively,” Collins said. “We’ll need to be successful running the ball to open up the passing lanes.”
And if all that fails, there’s always special teams.