MVFC Week 1 Playoffs Recap
Saturday kinda sucked for the Valley. So let’s relive it, shall we? Two of three MVFC games against other leagues went the wrong way, including a shocking loss by Missouri State who wet the bed against Tennessee-Martin. Not much else to say, so let’s get to the games.
It was a promising start for the Valley as SDSU steamrolled the Aggies in Brookings, setting up a contest with another Big Sky team in fourth-seeded Sacramento State next week. Things started off a bit slowly for the Jacks as Davis scored first on a 32-yard field goal to take a 3-0 first quarter lead. It took the Jackrabbits a couple drives to respond, but they were able to go 70 yards for a TD to take a 7-3 lead later in the quarter. The drive was keyed by a 53-yard run by Isaiah Davis and capped by a two-yard run on 3rd down by Pierre Strong. UCD got to midfield on the ensuing drive but were stopped on a fourth and one try. The Jacks were unable to turn that into points, though, and the score was 7-3 after one period. The Aggies punted again, but SDSU’s Tyler Feldkamp muffed the catch, setting UCD up with great field position. South Dakota State nearly held, but UCD converted from four yards out on fourth down (Miles Hastings to CJ Hutton) for a 10-7 Aggie lead. SDSU responded with a 75-yard TD drive that ended with an 18-yard Isaiah Davis TD run to reclaim the lead at 14-10. They added to their lead on their next drive when they went 79 yards for another score. Pierre Strong threw back to QB Oladokun for a TD from 10 yards out for the 21-10 lead. The Jackrabbits then broke the game open with an interception by Cade Terveer, followed by a 33-yard TD pass from Oladokun to Jadon Janke on the very next play. Just like that, SDSU had a 28-10 lead. The yellow and blue picked off another Davis pass on the first play of the following drive, although they were unable to convert it to points. The Aggies scratched closer with a 79-yard TD drive of their own, finished by a 2-yard run by Ulonzo Gilliam to make it 28-17. That would be the halftime score. Early in the third quarter, Davis forced a Jackrabbit punt and had the ball with a chance to cut the deficit to one score. Instead, SDSU effectively put the game away with a pick six by Adam Bock to extend the Jackrabbit lead to 35-17. Yet another interception set up the next Jackrabbit score, a three-yard pass from Oladokun to Zach Heins after a 63-yard drive. That made it 42-17. UC Davis threw another pick on their next drive, and the Jackrabbits scored again on a weird play that included a fumble by Pierre Strong but still resulted in a Jackrabbit TD. That made it 49-17. On the next UCD drive, the Jackrabbits got yet another pick six (this time by Dalys Beanum) to make it 56-17. The Aggies added a garbage time TD to make the final score 56-24. SDSU outgained UC Davis 532-402 overall. The Aggies threw SIX (6!) interceptions. Their two QBs, Rodrigues and Hastings, combined to go 27-45 with 218 yards, a TD and the six picks. Ulonzo Gilliam led the Aggie rushing attack with 73 yards and a score on 10 carries. Chris Oladokun was 8-17 for 89 yards and two TDs. Isaiah Davis ran for 217 yards and a TD on 15 carries, while Pierre Strong added 172 yards and a TD on 19 carries. SDSU will face fourth seeded Sacramento State next week.
In one of the more embarrassing playoff performances by an MVFC team in recent memory, Missouri State crapped the bed in a 32-31 loss to the Ohio Valley Conference’s UT-Martin. Missouri State had a staggering six turnovers and a minus five turnover margin. Martin was locked in and had an intensity and stick-to-it-iveness to them that I was very impressed with. They came to win the dang thing and they did. Missouri State showed shades of a squad that may have felt they would cruise through this one, especially early on. Instead, it will be the Skyhawks representing the OVC in the next round in Bozeman. Neither team had much going early, as MSU punted twice and Martin turned it over on downs. The Skyhawks got the game’s first points with a 58-yard drive for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. The Bears responded immediately, Jason Shelley running for 54 yards on the next play and scoring two plays later on a 4-yard pass to Ron Tiavaasue to take a 7-3 lead. After holding UTM to a punt, the Bears committed their first turnover when they muffed said punt. Taking over at the Bear 5-yard line, the Skyhawks converted on third down with a 6-yard TD pass to make it 9-7. After exchanging punts, Missouri State scored on a 10-play, 40-yard drive that included a fourth down conversion and ended with a two-yard Tobias Little TD run. After another Davis punt, MSU committed turnover #2 when Jason Shelly fumbled at midfield. That set up a 61-yard Martin TD drive that was capped by a 14-yard run by Peyton Logan. Missouri State committed its third turnover when they fumbled the ensuing kickoff return. That set up another UTM field goal and gave the Skyhawks a 19-14 lead. Desperate to get some momentum going into halftime, Missouri State committed its fourth turnover with a Jason Shelley interception. Fortunately for Mo State, they got an interception of their own two plays later and were able to convert on a Jose Pizano 47-yard field goal as time expired on the first half to cut the UTM lead to 19-17. After an early exchange of punts, the Bears were finally able to find the end zone on a six-play 75-yard drive midway through the third quarter. A four-yard pass from Shelley to Kevon Latulas gave MSU a 24-19 lead. Martin responded immediately, moving the ball 88 yards on six plays and taking the lead back on a 14-yard TD run by Zak Wallace to make it 26-24. Missouri State, seemingly locked into the game now, got the lead back again with a seven play, 67-yard drive capped by a 29-yard pass from Shelley to Xavier Lane to take a 31-26 lead. The defenses settled in after that with five straight punts. But the turnover bug returned for the Bears. With four minutes to go, Jason Shelley threw the pick in his own territory, setting up UTM for a 37-yard TD pass on the very next play. That gave the Skyhawks a 32-31 lead. On their next drive the Bears couldn’t convert on fourth and one, turning over on downs. After the defense valiantly held to give the Bears one more shot, the game ended when Shelley threw another interception at midfield for the 32-31 final. The Bears only outgained Martin 392-361, which is surprising seeing as they only lost by 1 with a -5 turnover margin. Martin’s QB, Dresser Winn (and indeed he did) was 23-43 for 272 yards, a TD and a pick. Peyton Logan ran for 68 yards on 12 carries for UTM. Jason Shelley was 22-42 for 279 yards, 3 TDs and 3 picks. He was also the Bears’ leading rusher with 93 yards on 13 carries. Missouri State’s season ends at 8-4. UT-Martin will play at 8th seeded Montana State next week.
UNI football died as it lived, with elite defense and a frustrating inability to execute on offense. If you had told me the Panthers would hold Eastern Washington to a season low 19 points, I would have thought the ‘Cats had pulled the upset. The Eagles are a great team and a national championship contender with an elite offense. They have a QB who threw forty touchdown passes this year. UNI held that squad to 19 points. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get it done against the mediocre Eastern Washington defense, twice failing to score after getting the ball inside the three-yard line with four chances to punch it in. The tone was set early on. UNI forced EWU to punt on their first drive and then took the ball 93 yards to the Eastern Washington one yard line. A thirty-yard pass from Theo Day to Sam Schnee appeared to cross the goal line. But the Panthers chose not to challenge and proceeded to fail to move the ball one yard on four consecutive tries, turning it over on downs. EWU then moved the ball all the way across the field but also failed to get a payoff as they missed a short field goal. However, they found paydirt on their next drive to take a 6-0 lead, scoring on a 26-yard pass from Eric Barriere to Nolan Ulm. EWU later extended the lead to 9-0 as UNI’s offense sputtered. However, after a key stop on 4th and 2, Northern Iowa made its one solid offensive drive of the game going 85 yards on nine plays for a score. The Panthers moved the ball almost exclusively through the air, a novel concept for Panther fans, and ended the possession with a 14-yard TD from Day to Schnee to cut the Eagle lead to 9-7 at the break. UNI opened the second half with a long field goal try that missed, but again stopped the Eagles on downs in UNI territory. A Theo Day interception set up the Eagles for their second TD, on an 18-yard run by Eric Barriere on third and one, to give them a 16-7 lead. UNI’s defense still gave the offense a chance to win the game, giving them seven more possessions. Unfortunately, they would finish the game with an interception, punt, punt, punt, interception, downs, downs, interception. Which is really the appropriate way for this team to go. An EWU early fourth quarter field goal made it 19-7. Theo Day was forced to leave the game with an injury, and Matt Morrissey was not up to the task. Midway through the 4th quarter UNI got to the EWU 27, only for Morrissey to be picked off. On the next drive, UNI drove to the EWU three, only for Morrissey to throw four straight incomplete passes. EWU took an intentional safety for the 19-9 final. Comically, the Panthers outgained EWU in overall yardage, 423-412. Theo Day was 12-22 for 189 yards, a TD, and a pick, while Morrissey was 10-28 for 126 yards and two picks. Bradrick Shaw and Dom Williams combined for 96 yards on 26 carries. The Panthers held the dynamic Eric Barriere to 20-34 passing, 283 yards, a TD and a pick. Quite frankly, UNI’s defense deserved better. The Panthers’ season ends at 6-6. Eastern Washington will play 6th seeded Montana next week.
We knew the Valley would go 1-1 in this game, so fortunately there was no disappointment to be had overall. However, the fans at the Dakotadome’s first playoff game since 1985 (and first FCS playoff game ever) had to be quite disappointed with the home team’s performance in this one. For Southern Illinois, once an FCS football power, this is the second consecutive season with a playoff victory after a long hiatus. They now face the daunting task of trying to win a playoff game in the Fargodome. The Coyotes set the tone for the day on their first drive when Carson Camp threw an interception on their fourth play of the game. SIU turned the gift around and into a three pointer on a 14-play, 30-yard drive that included two third down conversions and a fourth down conversion and ended in a 50-yard field goal by Nico Gualdoni. The teams combined for five punts and a total of 43 yards of offense on their next five drives before SIU put together a good one. They went 85-yards in 15 plays culminating in a 4-yard TD pass from Nic Baker to Avante Cox. After a quick Coyote punt, SIU finished the half with an 83-yard drive that ended in another field goal to give the Salukis a 13-0 lead at the break. South Dakota looked like they might climb back into it after forcing the Salukis to punt on their first drive of the second half, then moving the ball 88 yards on 11 plays. However, the drive stalled at the SIU 4-yard line and the Coyotes had to settle for a field goal to cut the lead to 13-3. After the Salukis went 51 yards for their own field goal to make it 16-3, the Coyotes were driving once again. They went 64 yards on eight plays down to the Saluki six-yard line, but Camp’s second interception kept them off the board. They cut it to 16-10 with an 87-yard 4th quarter drive to make it interesting. Travis Theis got the score from two yards out. But SIU’s offense put the game away by going 75 yards on six plays, capped by a 5-yard run by Romeir Elliott to make it 22-10. Camp was picked off for a third time on the Yotes next possession, and the following drive ended when Camp fumbled after a long run. That was a grand total of four turnovers for Coyote QB, giving USD a -4 turnover margin as the Salukis played a clean game. The Salukis also outgained South Dakota (who had 66 total yards in the first half) 407-347. Camp was 19-31 with the three picks for South Dakota while Nate Thomas led the Coyotes on the ground with 62 yards on 12 carries. Nic Baker was 21-30 for 210 yards and a TD for Southern Illinois, and Romier Elliott ran for 68 yards and a TD on 17 carries. SIU will head to second-seeded NDSU next week, South Dakota’s season ends at 7-5.
AROUND THE FCS
That’s it for playoff games involving Valley teams, but there were four other playoff games on the day including a couple thrillers. Here’s how those games panned out.
#24 Holy Cross 13, Sacred Heart 10
The FCS playoff started with a bang in the early game. The NEC’s Pioneers scored on their first possession and almost made it hold up for the upset. Sacred Heart QB Marquez McCray was just 6-12 passing for 78 yards while three Pioneer running backs combined for 176 yards on 38 carries. After Sacred Heart scored early, very little happened for pretty much the rest of the game. Holy Cross had a 22-yard field goal in the second quarter and had a chance early in the third after a muffed punt by the Pioneers but threw an interception on the very next play. Sacred Heart extended the lead to 10-3 early in the fourth and it looked like it would be lights out for a Crusaders team who hadn’t done anything all day. However, they were able to kick a 38-yard field goal with 6 minutes to go, get a stop, and get the ball back with 3:14 left. They slowly moved the ball down the field, going 80 yards on 11 plays. They converted on a fourth down, two third downs (including a 3rd and 17) and capped it with a 35-yard TD pass from Matthew Sluka to Jalen Coker with 14 seconds left to win the game. It was an incredible drive for a game in which the two teams barely eclipsed 500 yards of offense combined. Between his arms and his legs, Matt Sluka was responsible for 261 of the Crusaders’ 288 yards. They’ll play 5th seeded Villanova next week.
#10 Kennesaw State 48, Davidson 21
In a day with several surprises, this game was not one. The tenth ranked Owls ran all over the nonscholarship Wildcats 48-21. That isn’t to say Davidson completely embarrassed themselves. Far from it, actually. They put up 276 yards of offense and scored three times, while holding the Owls to just seven second half points. Kennesaw’s triple option offense only averaged 5.4 yards a carry, and Davidson was able to put up a respectable 5.2 yards per carry themselves. Some might think Kennesaw took their foot off the gas after building a 41-14 halftime lead, and maybe they did. But the Pioneer League outfit hung in there. While they put up 48 points and ripped off several long runs, the Owls were only able to complete 5 of 18 passes. There are going to be situations moving forward in the playoffs where KSU is going to need to make a play through the air. Today’s performance did not give me a lot of confidence they’ll be able to do that. Kennesaw will play 7th seeded East Tennessee State next week.
#13 Incarnate Word 35, #20 Stephen F Austin 28 (OT)
With all due respect to the folks in Worcester and Martin, this was probably the game of the week. It looked like a candidate to be a wild one on paper when the bracket was first announced, and it was. The teams played a standard first half, and the score was tied 14-14 at the break. In the 3rd quarter, UIW scored after an SFA interception. SFA responded with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a drive in which they converted two third downs and a fourth, to tie the game at 21. UIW returned the ensuing kickoff to the SFA 19 yard line but squandered their chance after missing a 32 yard field goal. After an SFA punt, the Lumberjacks’ Rayshad Nichols made perhaps the defensive play of the year in the FCS. He simply ripped the ball out of Kevin Brown’s hands and ran it back for a defensive score that gave SFA a 28-21 lead. If you haven’t seen this play, you have to see it. After getting the ball back with 5 minutes to go, UIW had an outstanding drive. They went 75 yards for a TD, converting on two third downs and two fourth downs. That includes the final TD pass from QB Ward to Taylor Grimes on fourth down with 38 seconds to go that tied the game at 28. SFA drove the ball into Incarnate Word territory on their final drive but were intercepted to send the game to OT. UIW scored in overtime to take a 35-28 lead, and the defense held in the other half as SFA’s final try on fourth down was broken up. UIW will play at top seeded and top ranked Sam Houston State next week.
#18 Southeastern Louisiana 38, #22 Florida A&M 14
Perhaps the only conference to have a worse day than the Valley was the SWAC. Their first playoff participants since 1997, coming in with a 9-2 record, got smacked. SWAC smacked. And perhaps no league had a better day than the Southland as both its participants (UIW and SELA) advanced (although I might still go with UTM and the OVC). I think a lot of FCS folks thought this was a possibility. I was afraid to call a blowout here because it was just so hard to tell how good FAMU was or was not. The SWAC is somewhat insular, as its’ members mostly play themselves and the MEAC. Without a lot of games between SWAC teams and other leagues it is hard to tell just how good the league is. You can’t judge a league based on one game, but if you did, it would seem like there is still a ways to go for this conference. Southeastern jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and increased it to 31-0 in the third quarter before FAMU finally scored two late TDs. Walter Peyton nominee Cole Kelley was 31-45 with 345 yards and 4 TDs (and a pick). Southeastern outgained A&M 503-291 overall. The Lions will play one of the more interesting games of round two against third-seeded James Madison next week.
And that is it. Rough day for the MVFC, but those have been few and far between overall in the last decade. This is still easily the best conference in the land. I’ll see you in a few days for a preview of round two. It’ll come a day later than usual, on Friday, as I’ll do a quick hitter for Valley basketball tomorrow in advance of the first round of league games. Until then, GO VALLEY!