MVC Week 11 Recap and Playoff Projections
The penultimate week of the Valley football season is behind us and normally I would say that there is still a lot to be decided and it is all going to come down to the final week. But that isn’t the case this year. This week pretty well clarified things, at least as far as Valley teams go. Five teams are probably in, and the rest are out. North Dakota State, South Dakota, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, and South Dakota State are very likely going to be repping the Valley in the playoffs no matter what happens next week. The rest of the Valley schools are no longer realistically in contention. A recap of how we got there is below.
There were no surprises at the Ice Castle as North Dakota State wrapped up (at least a share of) another MVFC Title with an easy blowout win over the Penguins. The Bison ran roughshod over the overmatched the men from Youngstown, putting up 454 rushing yards and averaging over ten yards a carry in this dominant performance. North Dakota State set the tone with a nice 69-yard drive to open the game, ending with a 49-yard Hunter Luepke TD run to go ahead 7-0. Two drives later, NDSU went on a 16-play, 80-yard TD drive that covered over eight minutes of game time to increase the lead to 14-0. TaMerik Williams scored from 1 yard out. Youngstown was able to put up a 44-yard Colten McFadden field goal to make it 14-3, but the Bison responded on the very next play with a 71-yard TD pass from Cam Miller to Christian Watson. That increased their lead to 21-3, which is where the score stood at the break. NDSU continued to dominate in the second half. They scored on a 50-yard TaMerik Williams run on their first play of the third quarter to make it 28-3. Later in the third, they increased the lead to 35-3 on a one-yard TD pass from Miller to Noah Gindorff. The Penguins then made it somewhat interesting with TDs on back-to-back drives to cut the NDSU lead to 35-17. Mitch Davidson capped an 8-play 77-yard drive with a two-yard TD pass to Bryce Oliver. On the next drive, Youngstown went 60 yards in eight plays to score a TD on another two-yard pass from Davidson to Oliver. However, the Bison would pull away, scoring the last two TDs of the game. Jalen Bussey scored on a 61-yard scamper, and TK Marshall added an 84-yard TD run on the next drive for the 49-17 final. North Dakota State scored a TD in every quarter and scored twice in each of the final three quarters. The Bison outgained YSU 623-288, including a 454-59 advantage on the ground. Cam Miller was 10-14 for 169 yards and two TDs for NDSU. Seven Bison combined for 454 rushing yards, led by TK Marshall’s 146 yards and a TD on just 3 carries. The Penguins used three QBs, but third stringer Mitch Davidson had the best outing of the group by completing 10 of 22 passes for 166 yards and two TDs. JaLeel McLaughlin had 52 yards on 11 carries for Youngstown. NDSU hosts USD next week and can probably get a very high seed with a win. Youngstown is at SIU.
The Salukis picked up their seventh victory and effectively sewed up a playoff spot with a blowout win at Indiana State. The Sycamores are now 4-6 and have been no closer than 18 points back in each of their six losses. The outcome of this game was still in doubt at halftime, but the Salukis put it away with a strong second half. SIU opened the scoring with a 23-yard field goal on their first possession to go up 3-0. They extended the lead to 10-0 after a quick, 64-yard drive that was capped by a 31-yard pass from Nic Baker to Avante Cox. SIU later increased the lead to 13-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Nico Gualdoni. Later in the quarter ISU was able to make a game out of it. They drove the ball 80 yards to paydirt, finished by a one-yard pass to Dante Hendrix from Anthony Thompson. Javon Williams Jr answered for SIU with a 6-yard TD on the final play of the half, and a two point conversion failed giving the Salukis a 19-7 lead at halftime. The third quarter was all SIU. On their first drive of the half, they took the ball 81-yards for a TD to take a 26-7 lead. Donnavan Spencer scored from two yards out. They then moved ahead 33-7 on a pick six by Anthony Knighton on the first play of the next drive. SIU increased their lead to 40-7 on a 49 second drive that found Avante Cox on the receiving end of a 9-yard TD pass from Baker. ISU finally got on the board again with a 23-yard TD pass from Anthony Thompson to Rontrez Morgan. Both teams scored garbage TDs in the fourth quarter. Javon Williams Jr scored on a 43-yard run for Southern Illinois to increase their lead 47-14. Indiana State finished the scoring with a TD pass from Kurtis Wilderman to Dante Hendrix, giving us our 47-21 final. SIU outgained ISU 467-291. Nic Baker was 17-27 for 233 yards and two TDs. The Salukis spread their 234 rushing yards across eight people. Anthony Thompson was 21-33 for 192 yards, a TD and two picks for Indiana State. On the ground, Peterson Kerlegrand amassed 56 yards for ISU on 18 carries. Southern Illinois is now likely in the playoffs and hosts Youngstown next week. Indy State finishes their season at Illinois State.
Wow. This might have been the game of the year in the Championship Subdivision. In my week 11 preview I predicted South Dakota would win 30-28 on a last second field goal, and what actually happened made that fantasy look tame. In the end, the Coyotes are likely going to the playoffs, while SDSU’s hopes for a seed were dashed in wild fashion at the Dakotadome. It is the second consecutive win for the Coyotes in the series after a nearly two-decade drought. It didn’t start out great for USD, though. Carson Camp threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage setting up a Jackrabbit field goal to make it 3-0 SDSU. The ‘Jacks returned the favor with their own interception later in the quarter, but South Dakota couldn’t convert after missing a 40-yard field goal. South Dakota State then marched 77 yards for a TD, capped by a 6-yard pass from Chris Oladokun to Zach Heins. That made it 10-0 Jackrabbits. South Dakota responded with a fifteen play, 59-yard drive only to come up short again with Mason Lorber missing a kick from 36 yards out. SDSU set up the Coyotes just before half with another Oladokun interception and this time they capitalized. USD went 51 yards on nine plays and scored on an 18-yard pass from Camp to Caleb Vander Esch on third and goal. The Coyotes also converted a fourth down on the drive. That made the score 10-7 at the break. SDSU opened the second half with a field goal, Cole Frahm scoring from 37 yards out to make the score 13-7. USD responded with an eight play, 75-yard TD drive to take their first lead of the game. Nate Thomas ran it in from fourteen yards out to give the Coyotes a 14-13 lead. South Dakota extended the lead to 17-13 after moving the ball 78 yards from their own three yard line, converting on a Mason Lorber 37 yard try. The Jackrabbits responded, as they usually do in this series, with a 13-play TD drive of 75 yards. The drive included a fourth down conversion and ended with a Pierre Strong TD from four yards out to make it 20-17. With six minutes to go, South Dakota moved the ball sixty yards on ten plays. On a third down play from the SDSU 31, the Coyotes got near a first down, but fell one chain link short. They were stopped dead on the next play, turning the ball over to SDSU with 2:05 to go. The Jackrabbits were nearly able to ice the clock on the next drive. On fourth down with eight seconds to go, Oladokun stalled for time before launching the ball down the field in an attempt to wind out the clock. Upon review, the referees determined there was one second left and gave the Coyotes the ball at their own 43-yard line. Then this happened. Look, I think this is one of the most underrated rivalries in college athletics. For this rivalry game to end that way, in Vermillion, in probably the most high stakes edition of the game played in the DI era…….all I can say is that I wish I was in Vermillion on Saturday night. That had to be a flipping PARTY. The aftermath of the game is this: South Dakota is probably in the playoffs for the second time as an FCS school, and South Dakota State is probably not going to be seeded. Overall, the Coyotes outgained SDSU 422-348. Carson Camp was 19-27 for 288 yards, 2 TDs and a pick under center for South Dakota. Nate Thomas led the Coyotes in rushing with 90 yards on 16 carries, and Caleb Vander Esch caught six passes for 116 yards and two TDs. For SDSU, Chris Oladokun was 22-30 for 220 yards a TD and two picks. Pierre Strong had 103 yards rushing on 28 carries with a TD. South Dakota State hosts North Dakota next week. South Dakota heads to NDSU with a shot to share the MVFC title.
Missouri State all-but locked up a playoff spot (and put themselves in position to possibly claim a share of the Valley title with some luck) with a clutch win over UNI. For the Panthers, their shot at a playoff spot is realistically gone. Theo Day threw a pick on the Panthers’ first possession and MSU capitalized with a 30-yard field goal by Jose Pizano to make it 3-0 Bears. The teams then spent the next 20 minutes exchanging field goals. UNI kicked a 27-yarder after their strategy of getting into the red zone, running it on first and second down and then trying a pass on third and long failed to get a touchdown for the one millionth time this season. A good kick return by Montrae Braswell set up MSU for a short field goal drive of 35 yards. Pizano connected from 38 yards out to make it 6-3. UNI tied it on their next drive. They drove to the MSU 30 and, surprisingly, their plan of running it on first and second down and trying to convert with a pass on third and long didn’t work. Matt Cook hit a 47 yarder to tie it at 6. The Bears finally broke through with a TD on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a one-yard run by Tobias Little to give themselves a 13-6 lead. On their next drive, the Panthers tried a strategy of running it on first and second down before attempting a pass on third and long. It didn’t work and they punted. Mo State took a 13-6 lead into the break. The Bears extended the lead to 20-6 four plays into the second half with a four play 75-yard drive that ended with Jason Shelley running it in from four yards out. On their next drive, UNI drove to the ten-yard line where they employed a strategy of running it on first and second down, before attempting a pass on third and long. It was stopped somehow, but a personal foul penalty gave them a second chance at the two where they finally punched it in on a two-yard Tyler Hoosman run to make it 20-13. After forcing the Bears to punt, UNI tried a new offensive scheme where they ran it on first and second down, then tried to pass on third and long. Somehow, the Bears were able to anticipate it and UNI was forced to punt. MSU extended the lead to 27-13 after an 80-yard TD drive that ended with an eight-yard TD run by Jason Shelley. Trailing now by two touchdowns with seven minutes to go, UNI employed an incredibly original (and I have to say, downright silly) strategy where they threw the ball on first and second down instead of running it. Somehow this worked as they moved the ball 77 yards on eight plays for a touchdown, Theo Day hitting Deion McShane for a TD from eight yards out. A quick three and out was forced by the defense, giving UNI the ball down 27-20 with four minutes to go. On fourth down, Theo Day hit Deion McShane again for an 18-yard TD to tie the game with two minutes left. It almost makes you wonder if the Panthers might have had more success offensively this year had they not followed the exact same script on seemingly every drive in every game this season. Of course, it didn’t matter, as Jason Shelley hit Naveon Mitchell for a 55-yard TD with a minute to go in the game. It was the second most clutch play of the day by a Valley team. That would provide the final margin and the Bears are likely going to the playoffs again, with an exciting 34-27 victory. Missouri State outgained Northern Iowa 379-360 overall. Jason Shelley was 22-33 for 320 yards and a TD, adding another two TDs with his legs. The Bears’ leading rusher was Tobias Little who ran for 34 yards on ten carries with a touchdown. Theo Day was 17-30 for UNI, for 238 yards, two TDs and two picks. Dom Williams carried the ball 16 times for 83 yards for the Panthers. UNI hosts Western Illinois this week, while Missouri State heads to Dixie State for a nonconference game.
If I didn’t know any better I’d say the Fighting Hawks still fancy themselves playoff contenders. And who knows, maybe they are. Probably not, but maybe? The win puts them at 5-5 with no bad losses and the chance to get a quality win at SDSU next week. Weirder things have happened (but not many). It should not be surprising that this was a defensive battle. ISU is probably the most unbalanced team in the league with one of the better defenses and possibly the worst offense. The teams picked up just 29 yards on 17 plays in their first four drives combined. Then Illinois State finally put together an 11-play, 46-yard drive but it ended in a blocked 42-yard field goal attempt. It took a turnover to get someone on the board. The Redbirds’ Bryce Jefferson fumbled on a sack which set North Dakota up at the ISU 34-yard line. The Fighting Hawks turned it into a touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Tommy Schuster to Jake Richter to take a 7-0 lead. North Dakota drove into ISU territory on their next drive as well, but a fumble in the red zone kept them off the board. The score was 7-0 North Dakota at halftime. Neither team scored in the third quarter as both teams had long drives that ended in punts. In the fourth, Illinois State finally put together a TD drive, although it only went 43 yards on 4 plays. Jackson Waring hit Brett Spaulding from 28 yards out to tie it at 7. Another red zone fumble cost the Hawks more points on their next possession, but after forcing an ISU punt they finally put together another TD drive, and this one proved to be the game winner. They went 41 yards on six plays, the big one coming when Tommy Schuster hit Brock Boltmann for a 37-yard gain. On third and goal, UND punched it in on a three-yard pass from Quincey Vaughn to Gaven Ziebarth giving them a 14-7 lead with five minutes to go. That lead would hold and be the final margin. North Dakota had 348 total yards to Illinois State’s 164. Tommy Schuster was 19-25 for 233 yards and a TD, and Otis Weah had 80 yards on 17 carries for UND. Jackson Waring was 7-13 for 77 yards and a TD, while Cole Mueller carried 25 times for 90 yards for ISU. The Fighting Hawks are at South Dakota State next weekend, while the Redbirds host Indiana State.
AROUND THE FCS
That is all for Valley play. Let’s take a look at some of the other key results from around the FCS this week.
-Florida (5-5) 70, Samford (4-6) 52: The Bulldogs led 42-35 and were legitimately close to claiming another big-time FBS W.
-Maine (5-5) 35, UMass (1-9) 10: Yet another FBS win for the FCS. Feels like UMass has provided, like, half of them. They really suck.
-Sacred Heart (7-3) 27, Wagner (0-10) 0: The Pioneers are a win away from the NEC title.
-Dayton (6-4) 38, Davidson (7-2) 29: The Wildcats make it interesting. The Pioneer League title will go down to the final week after they failed to beat Dayton to clinch.
-#1 Sam Houston (9-0) 42, Eastern Kentucky (6-4) 28: EKU is probably out of the playoff hunt and Sam is a win away from a good shot at home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
-Rhode Island (7-3) 28, New Hampshire (3-7) 3: The Rams get a W to keep themselves RIGHT ON the bubble.
-Holy Cross (8-2) 52, Fordham (6-4) 24: Holy Cross decisively wins for the Patriot League crown and automatic bid.
-Furman (5-5) 37, #21 VMI (6-4) 31: VMI’s playoff odds take a possibly lethal hit after this loss.
-#9 East Tennessee St (9-1), 56, Western Carolina (3-7) 35: The Bucs win more-or-less locks them into a playoff spot and sets up a showdown for the SoCon crown next week (more on that later).
-#3 Montana State (9-1) 20, Idaho (2-7) 13: The Vandals gave MSU a scare, but the Bobcats are still looking good for a top seed if they win the Brawl next week.
-#9 Montana (8-2) 30, Northern Arizona (4-6) 3: Speaking of the Brawl, the Griz navigated this potentially tricky one easily to set up a massive UM-MSU game next week with all sorts of playoff implications.
-Mercer (7-2) 10, #22 Chattanooga (6-4) 6: This surprise win by the Bears vaults them into the thick of the bubble, and sets up next week’s ETSU-Mercer game as the defacto SoCon title game. Chattanooga is now squarely on the bubble.
-Florida A&M (8-2) 37, Arkansas Pine Bluff (2-8) 7: FAMU’s AD is advocating for a playoff invite and they’re backing it up with their play. With the way things are panning out I think they just might get it.
-#2 James Madison (9-1) 32, #25 William and Mary (6-4) 22: This wasn’t as close as the score makes it look (Tribe scored 15 unanswered 4th quarter points) but the respectable score is important for a squad that is right there in the middle of the bubble.
-#17 Incarnate Word (8-2) 27, Nicholls (5-5) 23: The Colonels gave them a run, but UIW escapes and now needs only to beat winless Houston Baptist for a Southland co-title and an automatic bid.
-Stephen F. Austin (7-3) 27, Central Arkansas (5-5) 14: The Lumberjacks win to stay in the playoff conversation.
-#14 Southeastern Louisiana (8-2) 56, Northwestern State (2-8) 28: Southeastern can probably count on a playoff bid at this point, even if they lose to Nicholls next week.
-#7 Eastern Washington (8-2) 38, #6 UC-Davis (8-2) 20: EWU can now rest assured that they are in the playoffs and are looking like a possible seeded team. UCD will probably have to settle for a game in the opening round.
-#12 Sacramento State (8-2) 49, Portland State (5-5) 20: The Hornets remain undefeated in the Big Sky, lock up a playoff spot, and have a shot for a league title with this win.
-#10 Kennesaw State (9-1) 28, North Alabama (2-8) 24: KSU can feel good about being included in the playoffs no matter what happens against Monmouth next week, although you know they want that league title.
This is who I would have in the field if the playoffs started today. I have 21 places locked down. They are below.
-AQ7 (1): #3 Sam Houston State (9-0)
-Big Sky (5): #1 Montana State (9-1), #8 Sacramento State (8-2), #5 Eastern Washington (8-2), #6 Montana (8-2), UC Davis (8-2)
-Big South (1): Kennesaw State (9-1)
-CAA (2): #7 Villanova (8-2), #4 James Madison (9-1)
-MVFC (5): #2 North Dakota State (9-1), Missouri State (7-3), South Dakota (7-3), Southern Illinois (7-3), South Dakota State (7-3)
-NEC (1): Sacred Heart (7-3) OR Bryant (6-4)/Duquesne (6-3)/St. Francis (5-5)
-OVC (1): UT-Martin (9-1)
-Patriot (1): Holy Cross (8-2)
-Pioneer (1): Davidson (7-2) OR San Diego (6-4)
-Southern (1): East Tennessee State (9-1)
-Southland (2): Incarnate Word (8-2), Southeastern Louisiana (8-2)
I have those 21 as more-or-less locks. Here are the bubble teams, in order of their chance to make it, IMO. The first two have a chance to steal automatic bids.
-Monmouth (7-3), with win: The Hawks don’t have a solid at-large profile but are in with the Big South automatic bid if they beat Kennesaw State. Fans of bubble teams should root for the Owls this week.
-Mercer (7-2), with win: Mercer has a complicated relationship with the bubble, but if they win at ETSU next week it wont matter as they’ll be in automatically as champions of the SoCon. If they lose, they’re in the murky water.
-William and Mary (6-4): The Tribe are perhaps the bubbliest of teams, but I think they have a great chance to make it with a win. Assuming they get past Richmond at home, William and Mary would be 7-3 against the FCS with OK losses at Maine and Delaware and a fully excusable loss to James Madison. They also have a signature win at Villanova which separates them from the rest of the field.
-Florida A&M (8-2): Hard to peg what the committee is thinking about this squad. The SWAC doesn’t send an automatic team to the playoffs, but they’ve never had an at-large options with such a compelling case. Their computer numbers are lousy because they have beaten no one of note whatsoever, but they would be 9-1 against the FCS with a win, with only a one-point loss to Deion Sanders’ Jackson State as a blemish. Their AD is campaigning for it, and I think they’d get a strong look from the committee at 9-2.
-Rhode Island (7-3): My “last team in” if Mercer and Monmouth don’t steal any bids is Rhode Island. It just seems very unlikely the committee would leave out an 8-3 CAA team with an FBS win, even if that win came over UMass. Their best win is probably over 5-5 Delaware, and they have mediocre losses to Townson and Maine (as well as a blowout loss to ‘Nova) so they are a very vulnerable 8-3. But it is hard to argue with 8 DI wins out of the CAA.
-Stephen F. Austin (7-3): SFA is another possible 8-win team, although they have a D2 win that leaves them at just 6-2 against the FCS (7-2 with a win next week). They don’t have an FBS win, and their best W probably comes against EKU. They have no bad losses (although Jacksonville State is meh) and they gave both Texas Tech (28-22) and SHSU (21-20) a very competitive game. They’d also be the #2 team in their league which is a plus. They’re right in the conversation.
-Mercer (7-2), with loss: The Bears would still be in the convo if they lose to ETSU and fail to get the autobid. They only scheduled 10 games and would only have 6 DI wins (a 6-3 FCS record). They’d have no bad losses (VMI, ETSU, Alabama) but their only good win would be against Chattanooga. I put them on the outside when competing with teams with more DI wins, but they’d be in the convo.
-Chattanooga (6-4): The Mocs are in the convo due to a signature win over East Tennessee. However, at 6-3 against the FCS with a bad loss to Austin Peay (and losses to Mercer and VMI putting them in the back of the SoCon line) I’d say they need a lot of help to get back into the convo.
For what its worth, as it is, my last three in would be: William and Mary (6-4), Florida A&M (9-2), and Rhode Island (7-3).
That is all for this week. See you on Thursday.