For only the second time in program history, the University of the Incarnate Word football team will host Furman University in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at 1 p.m. Saturday at Benson Stadium.

Led by Southland Conference Player of the Year and a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., the team has had two weeks to rest, recover and reignite their record-breaking season.

“This place is special to us, we don’t lose very often here at home,” Scott said. “Any time there’s a team coming trying to beat us in our home spot, especially in the playoffs, we protect that mission to protect our nest and our championship.”

The game comes against the backdrop of breaking news that head coach G.J. Kinne is leaving UIW at the end of the season to be Texas State’s next head football coach, both schools announced Friday.

“We would like to take this time to thank Coach Kinne for leading one of the most successful seasons in Cardinal football history … a season that is far from over for Coach Kinne and our UIW student-athletes,” a UIW statement said Friday. “Kinne will continue to lead the team as the UIW Cardinals look to advance in the FCS playoffs and chase a National Championship.”

If they win Saturday’s matchup, it will be the furthest the program has ever gone in the postseason.

Heading into Saturday’s game, the Cardinals’ quarterback leads the nation in passing efficiency at 218.1 for the year and 11.56 yards per attempt. Scott is on pace to set new FCS records and needs only four more touchdowns to shatter the current FCS combined mark.

“Obviously with the year that Lindy has had and all that, I am just gonna put it out there, if he doesn’t win the Walter Payton, come on now, it will be ridiculous,” Kinne said.

Despite that early vote of confidence in his award chances, Scott is staying keyed in on Saturday’s game.

“It’d be cool (to win), you know, touchdowns are fun, but if you’re able to get to that point it means that we’re still winning and still doing well,” Scott said. “I could not throw another touchdown pass the rest of this year, but if the running backs are running touchdowns and we’re scoring points, then I don’t really care. It’s an honor to be in this position, but at the end of the day, I just want us to succeed.”

The Cardinals have won seven straight, and the Furman Paladins beat Elon in the first round of the FCS, 31-6. The seventh-seed Cardinals won a bye last week.

“It’s been a great balance, you know, you get those two bye weeks and the one game,” Scott said. “A lot of people think on the bye weeks, you sit at home on your butt — but far from that. We came out here and we practiced. It was a good balance between pushing us pretty hard and letting us rest when we needed to.”

Kinne and the rest of the coaching staff simulated game-time situations and intensity during the last two weeks of practice to prepare.

“I love our game plan. It’s a good team we’re about to face, and we play our best when we play at a high level,” defensive tackle Cameron Preston said. “They like to run the ball, and I feel like one of our strengths is stopping the run. It’s going to be two high-powered teams with the two things we do best, and we’re about to see who does it better.”

The Cardinals defense leads the nation in tackles for loss, with 9.8 per game. Their line boasts linebacker Kelechi Anyalebechi who was named Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year last week. He is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented to the national defensive player of the year in the Division I subdivision.

Anyalebechi ranks fifth in the conference with 88 total tackles this season, which leads the team. He has two interceptions this year for 22 yards, including one touchdown.

“They (Furman) have a bunch of tricky formations and all that just to set up and run,” Anyalebechi said. “We need to pay attention to detail but no one is perfect, we will make mistakes, but it’s about our coaches believing in us and allowing us to play ball even through our mistakes and righting our wrongs.”

Correcting and excelling have brought a slew of Southland Conference awards to this team. Anyalebechi, Scott, Taylor Grimes, Darion Chafin, Caleb Johnson, Reid Francis, Chris Whittaker, Steven Parker, and Donte Thompson all received first-team honors. 

Kaleb Culp, Marcus Cooper, Jimeto Obigbo and Nash Jones were named to the second team. 

Their 10-1 record bests all first-year head coaches, and currently Kinne is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, which is presented to the national coach of the year in the Division I subdivision.

The Cardinals have been preparing for Saturday’s game as rumors have swirled about their coach leaving.

“Coach Kinne showed nothing but upright respect and maturity with handling this and talking to us telling us, ‘Don’t let that be a distraction,'” Anyalebechi said. “At a certain time, you got to realize, everybody’s got a job to fill, everybody has a life to live, you know, obviously, he’s a coach to us players. But at the same time, he has a wife and kid that he has to feed and provide for too.”

University of the Incarnate Word head coach G.J. Kinne has been with the organization since December 2021.
University of the Incarnate Word head coach GJ Kinne has been with the organization since December 2021. Credit: Courtesy / University of the Incarnate Word – Vashaun Newman

Coaching rumors surrounded the Cardinals’ playoff run last year also, and then head coach Eric Morris eventually left to be the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech.

In a Friday statement., Texas State director of athletics Don Coryell said, “We are beyond excited to have G.J. lead the next era of Texas State football. We had a tremendous pool of candidates and interest in this role, and Coach Kinne stood out from them all as he is a proven mastermind behind a new-wave offense, a champion with an NFL background, and has a pedigree rooted in Texas.”

Despite the timing, his team seems to understand the move.

“He’s an amazing coach, but at the same time, he knows the deal, what he has to get done, we know what we have to get done, too,” Anyalebechi said.

And winning is it. 

The Cardinal offensive has hung 70 points or more on an opponent twice this year at home. They shut out Faulkner 70-0 on Oct. 20, and Houston Christian on Nov. 5, 73-20. 

The Cardinals haven’t played a close game since their Sept. 24 loss at Southeastern Louisiana.

“It’s all outside crowd noise, oh you know, people are doubting us, saying we ‘haven’t played anybody,’ but we’re the best team in the country,” Preston said. “We are just ready to show that to everybody so everybody gonna come out ready to play.”

The team hasn’t played since their 66-7 win at Northwestern State on Nov. 19, but they’re not letting that throw them off.

“This week has been a regular game week for us,” Kinne said. “There has been a little different feel in the air; it’s playoff football, home game, a really good opponent coming here to try to take our championship. So we’ve got to go there and be the more physical team — that’s going to be the key to this game.”

Erin Gallegos Reid

Erin Gallegos Reid graduated from Southern Methodist University, then a graduate program at Georgetown University. She has worked at the network level (NBC, CBS, ESPN/ABC Sports, Turner Sports), local...