Losing a first-string quarterback to injury is a serious setback for any team. That, plus losing the second stringer sounds like a full-fledged crisis. Not for the LIU Post dynamo.
The 11th-ranked Pioneers needed to put their unbeaten season in the hands of third-stringer Mike Campbell on Saturday and the sophomore responded with great poise in a 35-17 Northeast-10 victory over Pace before a crowd of 2,176 at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium. The win gives LIU Post (9-0, 8-0) the conference’s regular-season title.
The Pioneers went heavily to their running game — which rolled up 218 yards and four touchdowns — but Campbell always had a steady hand on the tiller. He executed a ball-control game plan, completing 24 of 30 mostly short passes for 136 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 62 more yards. Not bad for his first college start.
The Pioneers lost all-conference first stringer Jeff Kidd to a knee injury two weeks ago, then saw second-stringer Matt Brennan felled by a knee injury during last week’s win against AIC. Campbell played a little more than a half of that game and shepherded the Pioneers through.
“He’s so poised. He’s great, the way he takes charge,” running back David White said. “This is only his first start and it’s shocking how good he was.
“When he came into the game last week, you have the jitters until that first hit, but then I saw the fire light in his eyes. From there you knew you didn’t have to worry about Campbell. I knew he was good. He proved it in this game by doing exactly what we needed him to do and then some.”
White was the engine of the running game with 20 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns. The first was a 13-yarder at the end of the first quarter that capped a six-play drive that included three carries for 31 yards and three Campbell completions for 15 yards. It put Post up 7-3. Campbell connected with James Higgins late in the first half for a 6-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
In the third quarter, Ramel Joseph laid out Pace’s Amari Lawrence to free Kyle Ward on a 42-yard punt return that set up back Malik Pierre for the first of his two touchdowns, a 2-yarder. White added an 8-yard TD for a 28-3 lead.
Pioneers coach Bryan Collins is optimistic Kidd could return for next weekend’s regular-season finale at Merrimack, but that he’s “very confident” with Campbell if that doesn’t happen.
“Campbell did a very good job for us. I thought he was poised. He managed the game plan we put in,” Collins said. “He took care of the ball . . . And he made some big plays when he had to.”
“It’s been really different, the preparations from going from No. 3 to No. 1 increases heavily,” Campbell said. “But we always say ‘our separation is in our preparation.’ ”
Post will get to host the Northeast-10 title game Nov. 12 but the Pioneers aren’t bashful about aspiring to more, like making a run in the NCAA Division II Tournament. When Collins was asked what winning the regular-season crown does for him, he replied “Nothing!”
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I feel like as a team, we have our minds set on a national championship. It’s something we’ve been focused on,” White said. “A conference championship? That would be good and we’re glad we’re hosting. We’re happy for our record. But that’s not the angle. We have big things in store. We have big plans.”