The Valley had a good week. Order has been restored. Things didn’t go so well for SIU, but they were faced with a tough task. NDSU won emphatically and SDSU was the only unseeded team to pull an upset on the road. There are now two teams remaining from each of the top three leagues, and one each from the AQ7 and SoCon. In all, that is about right. Here is a recap of what went down in the Championship Subdivision this weekend.
This one pretty much went exactly the way most everybody thought it would. SIU hung around for a hot second, but in the end the Bison had few issues closing out a 38-7 win. This game was dominated by NDSU both statistically and on the scoreboard. The Bison have made a living controlling games with a strong defense and overpowering run game, and that is exactly what happened here. NDSU set the tone with a 9-play, 83-yard TD drive to open the game. TaMerik Williams opened festivities with a 27-yard run, and the drive was capped by a 7-yard TD run by QB Cam Miller. After a Saluki punt, the Bison staged a 9-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a 20-yard field goal by Jake Reinholz to put North Dakota State up 10-0. Southern Illinois made it interesting (briefly) with a 5-play, 75-yard TD drive. On fourth down, Nic Baker hit Landon Lenoir for a 22-yard TD pass to make the score 10-7. North Dakota State answered right back, though, with a 13-play, 65-yard TD drive that culminated in a TaMerik Williams run from a yard out to increase the NDSU lead to 17-7. After another SIU punt, NDSU scored again, this time on an 11-play, 63-yard drive. Cam Miller ran it in from five yards out to increase the NDSU lead to 24-7 at the half. North Dakota State opened the second half with a back breaking 15-play, 75-yard TD drive that took over eight minutes and extended the lead to 31-7. The Bison cruised from there. SIU finally forced the Bison to punt for the first time late in the third quarter, but NDSU later added another TD on a 32-yard run by Quincey Patterson to increase the lead to 38-7. That would end up being the final. NDSU scored on six out of eight possessions in the game. They outgained the Salukis 477-281. They ran it for a total of 389 yards, continuing their absolute dominance at the line of scrimmage. Southern Illinois QB Nic Baker was 23-32 for 220 yards and a TD, a game manager type of performance for him. But unlike their game last week against South Dakota, SIU needed a more dynamic performance from their QB to hang in this one. Javon Williams Jr led the SIU rushing attack with 42 yards on 8 carries. For NDSU, Cam Miller was just 9-14 for 88 yards and a pick. However, he added 61 yards and two TDs on the ground. Tamerik Williams ran for 112 yards on 17 carries for NDSU, adding two TDs, to lead their rushing attack. The Bison had seven guys combine for 389 yards rushing. It is hard to see the 7th seeded ETSU Bucs coming into Fargo and slowing down this runaway train in the quarterfinals next week. But a possible semifinal against James Madison or Montana looks like it could be a thriller.
We knew that SDSU might have been handed a very good draw in the playoffs when the bracket was released, and that has come to pass. The Jackrabbits were the only unseeded team to pull off a victory in round two when they knocked off the 4th seeded Sacramento State Hornets on the road. South Dakota State got off to a good start and then held on late for the win. Sac State was arguably the better team statistically, but the Jackrabbits forced two turnovers and played a turnover free contest themselves to secure the win. Two of Sacramento State’s three losses this season were to Valley teams, as the Hornets also lost to UNI earlier in the year before running the table in the Big Sky Conference for an outright title. SDSU moved the ball 73 yards for a score on their first drive, capped by a 5-yard TD run by Pierre Strong to put the Jackrabbits ahead 7-0. After forcing a second Hornets punt, SDSU went 33 yards for another score. This time it was a 45-yard field goal by Cole Frahm that put SDSU up 10-0. The ‘Jacks intercepted Sac State QB Jake Dunniway on the Hornets’ next drive. In the second quarter, SDSU made the score 17-0 with an 88-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard run by Isaiah Davis. After SDSU picked off another Sacramento State pass, they went 73 yards for another score. Isaiah Davis finished the drive with a 7-yard TD run, and it was starting to look like this would turn into a rout as South Dakota State led 24-0. But then they just, like, stopped. Sac State was able to put a field goal on the board before halftime to make it 24-3, and that momentum carried into the second half. After forcing a Jackrabbit punt, Sac State took the ball 87 yards on a loooooooong drive that finally ended in a 3-yard TD pass from Jake Dunniway to Pierre Williams to make the score 24-10. After another SDSU punt, Sacramento drove the ball into ‘Rabbit territory but fell short on a fourth down try. A third consecutive SDSU punt resulted in Sacramento State kicking a field goal to make the score 24-13 with ten minutes to go. SDSU punted for a fourth consecutive time, and Sac State went 89 yards to paydirt on a TD pass from Asher O’Hara to Isaiah Gable. That made the score 24-19 with 2:32 left. SDSU was held to a fourth down, but were able to put the game away with a trick play. If you haven’t seen it, you ought to click on it. Sac State outgained SDSU 480-363 overall and had 28 first downs to the Jackrabbits’ 19. Jake Dunniway was 26/43 for 331 yards, a TD and two picks for Sacramento State and he was also their leading rusher with 41 yards on 10 carries. Chris Oladokun was 12-23 for 158 yards for SD State, while Isaiah Davis paced their rushing attack with 108 yards and two TDs on 19 carries (Pierre Strong had 73 yards and a TD on 14 carries as well). SDSU advances to the quarterfinals where they will have to travel to the other coast to take on fifth seeded Villanova.
AROUND THE FCS
That is all for MVFC action from last week, but here is a rundown of the other six playoff games around the FCS.
#6 (5-seeed) Villanova 21, #24 Holy Cross 16
I guess someone forgot to tell Holy Cross that they were supposed to get destroyed in this one. I said in my preview that there was a better version of the Crusaders than what we saw in their playoff opener against Sacred Heart. I also said that even if we got that version against Villanova, it might not matter. I think that played out here, but just barely. The Crusaders gave it the old college try, but they never led in this game. The first quarter produced a couple of long but fruitless drives, and the game remained scoreless into the second. Villanova then scored two second quarter TDs to pull out to a 14-0 lead they would not relinquish. It began with an interception that gave them the ball in Holy Cross territory and led to a 2-yard TD run by Justin Covington on 4th and goal. The Wildcats then drove 79 yards for another TD later in the quarter. The Crusaders got into the Villanova red zone twice in the first half only to come away with nothing. That would cost them in the end. The second half started with a bang for Holy Cross, as they drove down the field for a score on their opening drive, then got the ball back when Nova fumbled the ensuing kickoff. That turned into a field goal which cut the Wildcat lead to 14-10. Villanova quickly responded with a long kickoff return and a quick TD drive of three plays to increase the lead back to 21-10. The Crusaders then put together a 4th quarter TD drive that included two fourth down conversions to get the score back to 21-16. Later, Holy Cross got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, and they drove into Villanova territory. However, they were ultimately stopped short on fourth down, and the Wildcats escaped with a 21-16 win. Holy Cross outgained Villanova 347-281 overall, and ‘Nova QB Daniel Smith was just 8-22 for 133 yards. They’ll have to do better than that next week against South Dakota State if they want their season to continue.
#5 (4-seed) Montana 57, #4 Eastern Washington 41
I know this isn’t about us, but this blog is called “MVFC Beat” so I am going to go ahead and say this. This game made me really realize both how good UNI’s defense was, and how terrible and mismanaged the offense was. A week after being held to a season low 19 points against the Panthers, Eastern Washington’s offense broke out against a very good Montana defense for 41 points. However, after holding UNI to 9 points the week before (the first time they held an opponent to single digits all year), the Eagle defense returned to form and allowed 57 to the Griz. This was a fun, close, exciting shootout until it wasn’t. Eastern Washington jumped out to a 21-10 lead early in the second quarter but weren’t able to put anything else on the board for the remainder of the half as the Griz chipped away, cutting the Eagles lead to 21-20 by halftime. The second half was all Montana. They took a 30-21 lead after a field goal and TD to start the 3rd quarter. EWU got it to 30-28 midway through the third quarter, but Montana pulled away from that point on. They scored three plays into their ensuing drive, then forced and EWU fumble, then scored again. When the dust settled it was 44-28 Griz and the game was virtually done. Montana scored again to make it 50-28. A pick six later in the game made it 57-35, and a garbage Eagle score made the final 57-41. This was the type of game Eastern Washington wanted to play, but the Griz just beat them at their own game. The Eagles outgained the Griz 608-368, including a 530-160 advantage through the air. They had 32 first downs to Montana’s 13. But they just didn’t execute like Montana did, and it wasn’t enough. Montana will head to Virginia for a mouthwatering contest against James Madison in the quarterfinals.
#9 (7-seed) East Tennessee State 32, #10 Kennesaw State 31
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I love the Championship Subdivision. I love the FCS playoffs. There are few things better in sports. But imagine for a moment that instead of this game being played in Kingsport, Tennessee between ETSU and Kennesaw State, it was played in Columbus between Ohio State and Baylor. Or in South Bend between Notre Dame and Oklahoma. CAN YOU IMAGINE if the FBS playoffs were set up like our playoffs and we had a game like this in front of 80K screaming fans. If the bowl folks need any help understanding what they’re missing, they just need to watch a game like this and imagine all that crazy awesomeness on the big stage. This game got off to a very slow start, as neither team got on the board until midway through the second quarter. ETSU went into the locker room at halftime with a 10-7 advantage and extended their lead to 17-7 early in the third quarter. However, the Owls then scored three unanswered touchdowns and added a field gal to take a 31-17 lead with 5 minutes to go. That is when this game really got started. The Bucs embarked on a 13-play drive, converting on third down once and fourth down another time to score with 1:28 to go to cut the lead to 1:28. ETSU then successfully converted an onside kick to get the ball back and quickly moved into the Owls’ red zone. It took them four tries, but they found paydirt with 35 seconds to go. They decided to go for two and after an injury delay and multiple timeouts to build suspense, got the conversion on a throw from Tyler Riddell to Nate Adkins. KSU nearly converted a long pass that would have put them in field goal range on their next drive, but The Bucs held on for the win. It was an awesome win, and I suggest they enjoy it because their next game in Fargo is going to be tough sledding.
#2 (3-seed) James Madison 59, #18 Southeastern Louisiana 20
What is the best way to say this? I thought this game would be……….better? You had one of the most dynamic players in the FCS in Cole Kelley going up against one of the best FCS programs in the country in James Madison. I was intrigued by this one. But I shouldn’t have been because this ended up being a big old blowout. The Lions got off to a decent start with a 10-7 first quarter lead. But it was all Dukes from that point on. A 63-yard pass from Cole Johnson to Soloman Vanhorse gave the Dukes a 14-10 lead, and they never looked back. Three more TDs and a field goal in the second quarter gave James Madison a 38-13 lead at halftime. They cruised in the second half. They opened the third quarter with a pick six and two TD drives to extend the lead to 59-13. Southeastern did win the fourth quarter 7-0, so there’s that. James Madison made a statement with this one. A lot of folks, including myself, were not terribly impressed with the way they won games this year. But they’re still clearly one of the best teams in the country and a national championship contender. While Cole Kelley did complete 36 of 50 passes for two TDs, he also had two picks and was limited in what JMU allowed him to do with his legs. Cole Johnson was just 12-22 for 321 yards but he found the end zone five times and did not throw an interception. An exciting home matchup with Montana awaits the Dukes in the quarterfinals.
#1 (1-seed) Sam Houston State 49, #18 Incarnate Word 42
UIW nearly pulled off what would have been the biggest FCS playoff upset in quite some time, falling inches short of a touchdown in the final seconds and losing to top seeded Sam Houston 49-42. The Cardinals put up 600 yards of offense in this one, exposing the Sam Houston defense a bit. This game went back and forth for most of the contest, but it looked like the Bearkats were pulling away when they took a 31-14 lead late in the second quarter. Not so fast, my friend. UIW scored in the final minute of the half to pull within ten and cut it to three with another TD early in the third quarter. Sam was only able to manage three points in their first three second half possessions and took a 34-28 lead into the fourth quarter. The teams pretty much traded TDs the rest of the way. UIW took a brief lead at 35-34 on an early fourth quarter touchdown. Sam Houston responded with a TD and two-point conversion to take a 42-35 lead. UIW got it back with a long TD pass two plays later to tie it at 42. Sam then had another long TD drive to take a 49-42 lead with two minutes to go. UIW needed 75 yards in two minutes to tie and possibly win the game, and they got 74. They drove into the SHSU red zone and on fourth down QB Cam Ward stretched to get the ball over the plane but was just a yard short. The top seeded team avoided an upset by the skin of their teeth, and they’ll welcome Montana State to Texas in the quarterfinals next week.
#7 (8-seed) Montana State 26, #16 UT-Martin 7
The Skyhawks made it a game into the fourth quarter, but the eighth seeded Bobcats pulled away late for a win and a shot at the top seeded Sam Houston State Bearkats in the quarterfinals. I can’t help but wonder what Missouri State would have been able to do in this game. I would have loved to see the Bears geta shot at Sam Houston. As it is, it will be Montana State taking on the defending champs. It was a defensive battle as neither team was able to score until Montana State pounded it in on fourth and one to take a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Later, a good punt return set them up for a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. Martin got on the board with a 68-yard fumble return in the second quarter and the score was 10-7 at the break. Montana State increased the lead to 13-7 with a field goal early in the second half, but the Skyhawk defense gave its offense two chances down six with the ball. Unfortunately for the Skyhawks, their offense just couldn’t get anything going. Montana State finally broke it open with touchdowns on its final two possessions. The final score was 26-7 as the Bobcats held UTM to just 178 yards of total offense in outgaining the Skyhawks 438-178. Montana State will take their talents to Texas in what will be a classic matchup of an outstanding defense against a terrific offense when they play Sam Houston State next week.
And that is it. The Valley’s usual suspects will be in action in the quarterfinals with NDSU hosting ETSU, and SDSU at Villanova. I’ll see you later this week with a preview. Until then, GO VALLEY!