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Post needs strong finish, and hope for a postseason bid

LIU Post Pioneers quarterback Yianni Gavalas during

LIU Post Pioneers quarterback Yianni Gavalas during the Stonehill Skyhawks at the LIU Post Pioneers. Sept. 16, 2017. Credit: Lee S Weissman

With two games remaining, LIU Post’s ultimate concern lies in qualifying for the upcoming NCAA Division II playoffs.

But when Merrimack visits Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium on Saturday, a number of Pioneers will struggle with a set of emotions they’ve never encountered in a Post uniform.

The kind only Senior Day can invoke.

“It’ll definitely be emotional for a bunch of seniors, as well as me,” said graduate quarterback Yianni Gavalas. “This might be the last time we’re playing at home, ever.”

Coach Bryan Collins emphasized overcoming the emotional hurdles of the event in order to prevail.

“We’ve also talked about treasuring the moment,” Collins said. “Sometimes we always think about the end result and we fail to look at the journey itself.”

For this season’s journey to end in a tournament berth, the Pioneers will likely need to win-out for an opportunity to qualify with a top-seven finish in Super Region One. Post is currently ranked No. 9.

Collins said Post (6-2) will need to contain Merrimack (3-5) quarterback C.J. Scarpa, who has 16 touchdowns and 2,225 yards passing, along with 16 interceptions this season. The Pioneers also expect Merrimack to play with last season’s 64-7 Post victory as added motivation.

After Post limited Northeast-10 leading rusher Jhalen Bien-Aime to 85 yards in last week’s 41-14 victory over Pace, Merrimack running back Derrick Villard will present a similar challenge. He currently averages 5.8 yards per carry, and has 842 yards and eight touchdowns.

Overall, the Pioneers have made significant strides on defense, allowing an average of just 17.5 points over the last two weeks. Collins credited the development of three true freshmen — end Joe Valenti, and cornerbacks Jahmel Johnson and Nazir Streater — to the unit’s progress.

“They’re not really rookies anymore,” Collins said. “They’ve kind of grown up and been through some battles. They feel more comfortable, and other players that we’ve expected a lot from have really stepped up the last few weeks and been more physical.”

The Post offense, meanwhile, has been firing on all cylinders recently. Gavalas and running back/kick returner Malik Pierre have racked up a staggering 11 touchdowns apiece over the last three games.

“It’s a great feeling to get back on track,” Pierre said.

Several Pioneers know they could be donning the home green for the final time on Saturday (they will finish the regulat season at St. Anselm College), but nevertheless must focus on keeping their postseason hopes alive.

“We know these seniors have put a lot into this program and we can’t let them go out with a loss,” Pierre said. “We also understand that we have to win in very, very convincing fashion at this point.”

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