#NECatNite made its triumphant debut two weeks ago when St. Francis hosted Wagner on the CBS Sports Network. However, the game disappointed some casual fans who expected a more competitive game as the Red Flash clipped the Seahawks' wings, 31-7.
This week is the second and final installment of the Northeast Conference's Thursday night showcase. The 1-6 LIU Sharks travel to play the 3-4 Central Connecticut State Blue Devils tomorrow night. While both teams are out of contention for an FCS playoff bid, the game has a competitive outlook, and there is star power on both sides.
The long-suffering Long Island Sharks have had a rough start to its FCS tenure, failing to notch more than four wins in any season since making the jump in 2019. This year is no different, but there have been bright spots, such as competitive showings against Ohio and Baylor, as well as a three-point loss to current NEC first-place holder Duquesne.
Long Island received national attention due to the unorthodox throwing motion of Chris Howell. While Howell's throwing motion will lure the eyes of many, the real draw of the Sharks is defensive lineman Eric O'Neill.
O'Neill's 21 tackles for loss (TFL) and 10 sacks last year earned him fifth-place honors in the Jerry Rice Award voting for best Freshman in FCS. This year, O'Neill picked up where he left off, with 15.5 TFLs and three sacks. The Buck Buchanan candidate will have his work cut out for him against a Central Connecticut State offensive line that has only allowed six sacks so far this season.
Central Connecticut State
Central Connecticut State has not appeared in the FCS playoffs since 2019, and this year looks like a continuation of the drought as the Blue Devils are 1-2 in the NEC, two games behind the conference leader, Duquesne, whom they lost to earlier this year.
The CBS Sports Network audience will have the pleasure of watching one of the more underrated backs in FCS. Elijah Howard is one of the country's most explosive backs, with 552 yards and an average of over six yards per carry.
Howard had an unreal two-game run against Brown and Delaware State from September 30 to October 7. Against the Bears, Howard ran for 146 yards on 16 carries. He outdid those totals the following week against Delaware State, running for 257 yards on 23 carries. With four games remaining, 1,000 yards is a realistic plateau for Howard.
The Blue Devils' backfield has depth as Malik Thomas is efficient with 310 yards and a 5.7 yards per carry average. Thomas ran for 113 yards against Delaware State in addition to Howard's performance.
Even though this game will likely not have playoff implications, the stars will be out and shining for LIU and CCSU. Strong performances by Howard and O'Neill will do much to increase the profile of the league before a weeknight audience.