MVFC Week 12 Recap
So the Valley got six teams into the field. That ties a record set by the CAA when they got six in 2018. Hopefully things will go better for the Valley this year than they did for the CAA that season. That year, the CAA went just 1-4 in round one with their only win coming in an intra-conference matchup. They also lost to the NEC and OVC in the first round. In round two, Colgate beat James Madison. Seventh seeded Maine did get to the semifinals before losing to Eastern Washington, but that was the only highlight. They were the only team of the six to win a playoff game against a team from a different league. As I said, hopefully the Valley fares better than that. The four first round games involving Valley teams can be put into four categories. You have the obligatory intra-conference game between USD and SIU. You have the game that the league simply needs to win to save face (Mo State-UT Martin). You have the game that might define whether the league was successful or not (SDSU-UC Davis). And finally, you have the game that if the Valley wins, it’s a flat out home run for the league (UNI-EWU). But before we look forward, lets take a moment to look back. Here is a rundown of the week that was.
Well, they did it. Indiana State managed to carve out a decent 5-6 season despite being, statistically, very very bad. They also managed a 5-6 season in a league with six playoff teams without beating any of them. Throw in their last second win over Eastern Kentucky (a game that might have been the difference between UNI making the playoffs and not, as EKU was the second-to-last team out), and I think it is fair to say that the Sycamores got every ounce out of this season that they possibly could have. The Sycamores were 5-0 in games decided by 11 points or less and lost by no less than 18 points in each of their six losses. They had a -155 point differential overall. In league play they were 3-5 despite a -144 differential and an average score of 15-33. They had the fewest points scored in league play and allowed the third most points against. So, kudos to the Trees for managing five wins and making something of the season. It wasn’t looking too great at halftime of this one. The Redbirds led 10-0 at the break. ISU Red scored on their first play from scrimmage (as you might expect of their high-powered offense) when Jackson Waring hit Austin Nagel for a 40-yard TD. Illinois State would then go the final 58:54 of the game scoring just three points. Both teams punted three times, then Indiana State missed 33-yard field goal. Then they punted some more, and the Trees missed a 22-yard field goal. Illinois State put together a field goal scoring drive to end the half (34 yards from JT Bohlken) to take a 10-0 lead at the midpoint. After a couple punts to start the second half, ISU Blue turned a Jackson Waring interception into points. They went 37 yards on 5 plays for a TD, a six-yard run by QB Kurtis Wilderman finishing off the scoring drive. After a successful two-point conversion, the Illinois State lead was cut to 10-8. That is where the score remained until midway through the fourth quarter. The Redbirds had the ball in Blue territory but were stopped on a fourth down try. The Trees then moved the ball 68 yards on 12 plays, taking 4:17, for a TD drive that their seniors will likely remember forever. They converted on third down twice and on fourth down once, finishing with another TD run by Wilderman from one yard out to take a 15-10 lead. ISU Red then drove into Sycamore territory on the next drive but were ultimately stopped on fourth down giving Indiana State a 15-10 victory. ISU Blue outgained Illinois State 342-280 overall. QB Kurtis Wilderman was 21-38 for 243 yards through the air and added two TDs on the ground for Indiana State. The Trees’ leading rusher was Peterson Kerlegrand with 61 yards on 19 carries. Jackson Waring was 17-31 for 194 yards, a TD and a pick for the Redbirds. Cole Muller had 99 yards on 20 carries for ISU Red.
Well, I can honestly say I didn’t see this one coming. Southern Illinois will limp into the playoffs with losses in three out of their last four games after taking it on the chin at home to 3-7 Youngstown State. The Salukis may well be lucky that the bubble seemingly imploded last week as they may have missed out on the playoffs entirely had some of the teams on the bubble finished with wins. Four weeks ago, SIU was the #3 team in the nation. Now they are the second-to-last team in the playoffs. There are not many teams in the postseason with wins over three playoff teams. UNI is one, Missouri State is another, and NDSU is a third. As far as I can tell, that is it. But there is at least one team that did not make the field that has three wins over playoff teams. That would be Youngstown State whose three wins came against Incarnate Word, Missouri State and Southern Illinois. Unfortunately for the Penguins, they were not able to secure any wins against teams who did not make the playoffs and finished 3-7. But perhaps it is a positive sign for the future in Youngstown. At their best, they seemingly can play with anyone. YSU set the town early and never looked back, scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions (not including their kneel at the end of the first half). After forcing an SIU punt to start the game, YSU scored on a 12-play 76-yard drive that took 6:24 off the clock and ended with a 6-yard TD run by Jaleel McLaughlin. Two plays later a Javon Williams fumble gave Youngstown the ball right back, and two plays after that they were in the end zone again. This time it was a 2-play, 30-yard drive that only took 35 seconds (but counted for the same number of points as the six-minute drive) and ended with a 5-yard TD pass from Demeatric Crenshaw to Bryce Oliver. That gave the Penguins a 14-0 advantage. Southern Illinois was able to answer with a 30-yard field goal by Nico Gualdoni to make it 14-3, but Youngstown answered right back with another long TD drive. This time they went 16 plays, covering 75 yards and taking a whopping 7:11. Youngstown converted on four third downs in the drive, including the 5-yard TD pass from Crenshaw to Bryce Oliver that gave them a 21-3 advantage. SIU finally got into the end zone on their next drive. Justin Strong started the drive with a 67-yard run, but it took SIU four more plays to get it over the line. Javon Williams finally scored from a yard out on fourth down to make it 21-10. The Salukis simply could not stop the Penguins in the first half, though, as they responded by going 79 yards in eight plays for another TD. Jaleel McLaughlin scored on a 38-yard run on third and long to make it 28-10. SIU responded with a successful two-minute drill, going 70 yards in 10 plays for a TD and a two-point conversion. It was capped by a four-yard pass from Nic Baker to Justin Strong to make it 28-18 at the half. The Penguins came out of the gates in the second half with yet another TD drive, this time going 75 yards on 7 plays. McLaughlin finished it with a 35-yard TD run. With that, Youngstown had a 35-18 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter….and no one scored again. The teams exchanged punts, SIU was stopped on fourth down in the YSU red zone, then Nic Baker threw a pick in Youngstown territory. The Salukis were stopped on downs twice more and threw another pick to end the game. For the YSU, Demeatric Crenshaw was 11-15 for 91 yards and two TDs, but the star was Jaleel McLaughlin who ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Nic Baker was a paltry 11-34 for 126 yards, a TD and two picks for SIU. Justin Strong was solid with 107 yards on 9 carries. SIU outgained Youngstown 430-359. The Salukis had to sweat it out on selection Sunday, but they did get into the playoffs and will play at South Dakota on Saturday in the first round.
The Panthers are in the playoffs and all it took was a loss by William and Mary, Rhode Island, Mercer, Monmouth, Chattanooga, and VMI to get it done. Actually, it took even more than that. SEVERAL things went UNI’s way, the seas parted, and the Panthers got the very last spot in the field. If Mercer, who was the first team out, had scheduled and 11th game against a DI team (or just played a DI instead of a D2) they are probably in. If EKU, the second-to-last team out, hadn’t lost to Indiana State on a last second TD early in the season they are probably in. If any one of the several 6-5 CAA teams win just one more game, they are probably in. If Weber hadn’t stubbed its toe against Portland State three weeks ago, they are probably in. If SEMO hadn’t lost to Murray State last week, they would’ve stolen a bid over UT-Martin. So, so, so many stars (or as Mark Farley often says “moons”) aligned just right to get the Panthers into the playoffs. But here we are. I was looking at the AGS message board the other night, and there was a discussion comparing eight bubble teams for four spots (four of which ultimately got in). UNI was the #1 team in most of the metrics, but the consensus in the post was that they didn’t deserve it at 6-5 no matter what their schedule looked like and that at some point “you just have to win”. While I agree to that to some extent, and I make the same argument every March when it comes time to pick the NCAA Tournament field, I also pointed out this. Seven of UNI’s 11 games were against playoff teams or Iowa State. UNI was 3-3 against teams in the playoff field. The other seven teams that were being considered on that thread were a combined 0-8 against teams in the field. That is a powerful stat. As for this game specifically the final score looked dominant, and the stats looked dominant but the game itself wasn’t dominant until the second half. The Panthers turned it over on two of their first three possessions and the score stood at 3-3 until well into the second quarter. UNI made several very strange errors including a delay of game on the first play after a media timeout, calling a timeout because they had too few players in the huddle, multiple sideline infractions, and a fourth down play in which none of the players moved and Theo Day just stood there and got sacked (that might sound like I am being sarcastic, but that is literally what happened). The Panthers’ first five drives ended in a field goal, a punt, downs and two turnovers. Then on a second down play in which the Panthers were backed up to their own one-yard line, Dom Williams changed the game with a 99-yard touchdown run to put Northern up 10-3 at the half. Northern Iowa outscored WIU 21-0 in the third quarter. They went 37 yards on seven plays on their first possession of the 3rd frame, capped by a 14-yard run by Terrance Kamara to go up 17-3. After a Leatherneck punt, UNI went 90 yards on six plays, aided by a 38-yard pass that was really a fumble that happened to land in Terrance Kamara’s hands. Theo Day hit Sam Schnee for a 30-yard TD on the next play to make it 24-3. A pick six on the next WIU drive made it 31-3. UNI scored in the fourth quarter on a field goal by Nate Murphy and a 32-yard run by Vance McShane for the 41-3 final. While UNI’s offense broke out in the second half, it was the Panthers’ defense that was the story. UNI held WIU to one field goal, six punts, five turnovers, and three turnovers on downs. They set a school record with 12 sacks and held a normally potent Leatherneck offense to 117 yards. WIU had minus 46 yards on the ground due to the sacks, but even the running backs were only able to get 31 yards on 8 carries total. UNI outgained WIU 478-117. Theo Day was 14-23 for 241 yards and a TD for UNI, while Dom Williams led the Panthers on the ground with 166 yards on 15 carries and a TD (a 99-yard run will always help pad the stats). The Panthers produced a total of 237 yards on the ground (260 without Day, who was sacked several times) and 3 TDs. Connor Sampson was 29-39 for 163 yards and 3 picks for Western. UNI, who has perhaps the most brutal draw in FCS playoffs history (can’t complain when you’re 6-5 though), will be on the road against a team that should be seeded in EWU in week one. If the seeds hold, UNI would need to singlehandedly eliminate each of the teams currently ranked in the top five of the FCS poll to win the national championship.
SDSU officially booked their spot in the playoffs with a hard-fought win over North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks put a bow on what must be one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory. The Hawks finished 5-5 against FCS teams. They were 5-0 against non-playoff teams with a +93 point differential, winning those games by an average of 18+ points. They lost to five playoff teams by a combined total of 23 points, or an average of 4.6 points per game. Each loss was by seven points or fewer, again, all against teams who ended up in the playoffs. Its possible the Hawks could have been considered for a playoff spot with a win. Possibly at the expense of SDSU who would have had fewer FCS wins than the Hawks, or UNI who also finished 6-5. We’ll never know because they fell just short (again). South Dakota State would have been just 5-4 against FCS squads had they lost. They probably would have still gotten in due to their FBS and NDSU wins, and because the bubble exploded, but we’ll never know. Neither team scored in the first quarter, but SDSU got on the board early in the second with a 7-play, 87-yard drive. Chris Oladokun completed the drive with a 17-yard TD pass to Jadon Janke. North Dakota responded on their next possession with a 14-pay, 79-yard drive that took over seven minutes. UND converted on third down four times before Tommy Schuster hit Garrett Maag for a 16-yard score. Two punts later, SDSU scored again. This time they went 61 yards on six plays. The backbreaker was a 23-yard TD pass from Oladokun to Tucker Kraft from 23 yards out on 3rd and 17 with 17 seconds to go. That gave South Dakota State a 14-7 halftime advantage. North Dakota opened the second half with a game-tying TD drive. This was a 12-play drive that went 73 yards in over 5 minutes. Quincy Vaughn scored from one yard out to tie it at 14. SDSU then drove to the Fighting Hawks one yard line but were stopped on fourth down. However, after forcing a North Dakota punt, they responded with a 6-play, 55-yard scoring drive. Oladokun hit the other Janke (Jaxon) for a TD from 21 yards away, and it gave SDSU a 21-14 lead. Yet again North Dakota responded with a long drive, going 14 plays and 75 yards over 5:51 to tie the game at 21. After converting on a 4th down and two third downs, Otis Weah scored from 7 yards out and the game was tied with just under ten minutes to go. On their next drive SDSU reclaimed the lead for good with a 38-yard field goal. North Dakota drove 48 yards down to the SDSU 31-yard line in response, but Tommy Schuster threw a pick and that sealed the deal. The final was 24-21 to the Jackrabbits. SDSU outgained North Dakota 368-329. Oladokun was 19-26 for 239 yards and 3 TDs for South Dakota State. Pierre Strong added 72 yards on 12 carries. Tommy Schuster was 22-37 for UND, for 218 yards and a pick. Otis Weah carried 16 times for 63 yards. SDSU got an interesting draw with UC-Davis at home in the first round. Should the Jackrabbits advance, they’ll go to Sac State where UNI won in blowout fashion earlier in the year. It is not a bad draw as far as unseeded draws go.
I am not a fan of the NDSU-USD-SIU playoff triumvirate. I hate regionalization in the FCS playoffs. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate it. Look at it from the perspective of one of these teams. Take South Dakota. You get a big win at the UNI-Dome. You beat your rivals on a Hail Mary. You win your seven games and get into the playoffs for the second time in FCS program history! Huzzah! Your reward? You host a team in your own league, and if you win you must go back to the place you just got torched (also in your own league). What a fun and unique playoff experience! SIU can’t complain too much, because they are lucky to just get in, but a playoff bracket that sends you on the road to play two teams in your conference isn’t exactly how you imagine it. And for NDSU, you fight for the #2 seed only to be set up with a possible repeat of the exact same game you most recently played. Its just really lame. I get the travel stuff and the bus vs. plane…..but it’s still lame. Its not just the MVFC teams with complaints. Top seeded Sam Houston might face a conference foe they’ve already played in their first game as well. Fourth seeded Sacramento State may play a team (UC-Davis) they literally just played too. EWU, who should be seeded, would have to go on the road and play a team they’ve already beaten in round two. Lameness all around. As for this game, well, it was not close. NDSU jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead and never looked back. They ran the ball straight up the gut of South Dakota almost as effectively as they did to Youngstown the week before, and also ran away with the outright MVC title. South Dakota went for it on fourth down at midfield on their first drive but came up short. NDSU then drove 62 yards on 12 plays for their first TD on the ensuing drive, TaMerik Williams scoring from a yard out. After a USD punt, the Bison scored again with Cam Miller hitting Phoenix Sproles on a 75-yard TD on the drive’s first play. The Coyotes fumbled on their next possession, setting up NDSU for another TD drive. This time they went 49 yards on six plays and scored on an 8-yard run by QB Cam Miller. A USD punt set up yet another NDSU score, again on the first play of the drive, and this time on a 43-yard run by Christian Watson. That made the score 28-0 NDSU just three minutes into the second quarter. The game was already over. USD got a field goal (25 yards from Mason Loerber) and forced and NDSU fumble, but the score was 28-3 at the break. South Dakota opened the second half with a punt return TD by Carter Bell to make it 28-10, but that was as close as they would get. NDSU kicked a field goal on their next possession, then scored on an 8-yard Temerik Williams run to make it 38-10. USD got one back on a 40-yard TD from Carson Camp to Michael Mansaray to make it 38-17, but NDSU responded with a 20-yard Jalen Bussey TD run to make it 45-17. Both teams had one more TD to finish the game. NDSU scored on a 52-yard run by Kobe Johnson and South Dakota scored an 8-yard pass from Camp to Galbreath for the 52-24 final. The Bison outgained the Coyotes 522-293, with a 303-97 advantage on the ground. North Dakota State QB Cam Miller was 19-23 for 219 yards and a touchdown, while nine Bison combined for 303 yards and six touchdowns on 47 carries. They were led by Jalen Bussey with 62 yards on 5 carries. Carson Camp was 21-27 for South Dakota with 196 yards, two TDs and a pick. Nate Thomas ran for 60 yards on 12 carries. South Dakota will host Southern Illinois in the first round of the playoffs next week. NDSU will get a bye before facing the winner of that game. So dumb.
The only thing surprising about this game was when Dixie State’s coach did this. For those who don’t want to click the link, the Dixie State head coach took off his shirt and twirled it around in the air after his Trailblazers got a pick six late in a game they were trailing badly. The whole thing was just weird. It felt like it was planned (because it was), and methodical, and it took place in a blowout that wasn’t going their way. He had promised his team he would do it if they pulled off a defensive score, and he is nothing if not a man of his word…..I guess. The result put Mo State firmly in the playoffs. I thought they might get a seed (and so did Coach Petrino apparently) as they have three wins against the field, have won five straight, and finished 2nd place outright in the best conference in the land. Their loss to Youngstown probably cost them a bye (and a league title), but Missouri State has emerged (to me) as the second-best team in the Valley this year. Their spot in the bracket is an interesting one. They have a winnable home game in week one against the OVC’s UT-Martin, followed by what would be perhaps the most interesting possible matchup of round two at Montana State. I wouldn’t call the Bears favorites in that game, but I’d say they have a fighting chance. That would send them to Sam Houston for a quarterfinal game against the nation’s top seed. I am hopeful for big things out of MSU repping the Valley in the playoffs this year. This game was somewhat close early on but became a blowout quite quickly. The Bears and Trailblazers traded field goals in the first quarter, and it was 3-3 at the first break. Missouri State opened it up, though, in a big way with a 24-0 second quarter. They scored on a 13-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by a 7-yard TD run by Tobias Little to make it 10-3. After a DSU turnover, they drove 63-yards in five plays for a field goal, the key play coming on the drive’s first play in which Jason Shelley hit Tyrone Scott for a 60-yard gain. That made it 13-3. The Bears scored again on a 68-yard run by Kevon Latulas on the first play after a DSU punt to make it 20-3. After another Dixie punt, the Bears added yet another touchdown on a seven-yard run by Kevon Latulas. When the dust finally settled, MSU had opened up a 27-3 halftime advantage. They cruised from there. They went 68 yards on 9 plays to open the second half, capping it with a 12-yard TD run by Jason Shelley to go up 34-3. Two plays later, a Lemondre Joe pick six made it 41-3. Both teams followed with 75-yard TD drives to make it 48-10, with Mo State scoring on a 6-yard pass from Jason Shelley to Naveon Mitchell. The Trailblazers got two TDs back on a 12-play 92-yard fourth quarter drive, followed by the shirt-removal-inducing pick six to make it 48-24. But the Bears returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD for the 55-24 final. Missouri State outgained Dixie 574-382, with a nearly even 277/297 run/pass split in yardage. Jason Shelley was 13-24 for 251 yards and a TD, while Kevon Latulas had eight carries for 162 yards and two TDs. Tyrone Scott caught 8 passes for 174 yards for the Bears as well. They’ll host UT-Martin in the first round of the playoffs next week.
AROUND THE FCS
That is it for Valley games from last week. Below you’ll see some of the key games from around the FCS including all the bubbles that popped and allowed UNI to sneak into the field.
Nicholls 45, #15 Southeastern Louisiana 42: The Lions lose out on a conference championship with the loss but were still safely included in the field. It may have been a different story had Nicholls not lost narrowly to UIW in week 11, as the Colonels would have gotten the SLC autobid (and probably knocked UNI out of the playoffs).
Sacred Heart 38, Long Island 14: Pioneers win an outright NEC title and clinched a spot in the playoffs with this victory.
Western Carolina 52, VMI 24: Things broke perfectly for the Keydets to get a playoff spot as all the other teams on the bubble were losing left and right. However, they could not take advantage in this blowout loss.
#9 Kennesaw State 49, Monmouth 17: KSU won the Big South and finished off a perfect FCS season with this win that also kept the Hawks from stealing a bid.
#8 East Tennessee State 38, #21 Mercer 35: ETSU won the outright SoCon title and earned seed with this victory. Mercer played a heck of a game, but the potential game tying kick went just wide leaving the Bears just outside the playoff field as the first team out. Had they scheduled an FCS nonconference game, this story might have ended differently for Mercer.
Davidson 45, Drake 14: The Wildcats win the Pioneer League for the second time in a calendar year and will be going back to the playoffs.
The Citadel 24, Chattanooga 21: The Mocs may have been in line for one of the final at-large spots had they won, but they blew a 4th quarter lead and fell off the bubble.
Eastern Kentucky 39, Jacksonville State 31 (2OT): The Colonels were one of the few bubble teams that actually won, but it wasn’t enough to get them over the hump and they were the second-to-last team out.
#1 Sam Houston 35, Abilene Christian 9: The Bearkats have now won 21 in a row and will go into the playoffs as the #1 seed looking to defend their title.
#7 Montana 29, #3 Montana State 10: The Griz win the Brawl, and both teams ended up seeded. I had MSU as a possible 1-seed with a victory. We’ll never know now, but they ended up at #8.
Elon 43, #25 Rhode Island 28: Despite a lack of impressive wins, some mediocre losses and a weak schedule, URI would have almost certainly gotten into the playoffs with a win. Instead, they got beat rather soundly and ended up as the third team out.
Southeast Missouri 31, #13 UT-Martin 14: This upset cost UTM a perfect FCS record. It could have gotten SEMO into the playoffs with a 5-6 record (likely at the expense of UNI) had they won last week.
St. Thomas 54, Presbyterian 15: I just have to say kudos to St. Thomas for finishing their first FCS season up from D3 with a 7-3 record. They were just a game back of Pioneer League co-champs Davidson and San Diego. Their only losses were to Davidson, San Diego and Northern Iowa. Impressive. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this school become the dominant program of the PFL, and maybe looking to level up to scholarship football, in a not-too-distant future.
#18 Incarnate Word 55, Houston Baptist 14: Congrats to the Cardinals on an outright Southland title.
Richmond 20, William and Mary 17: Yet another school that likely would have gotten in over UNI with a victory, William and Mary had a big win over Villanova but knocked themselves out with a season ending three game losing streak.
#11 Sacramento State 27, #10 UC-Davis 7: The Hornets quietly ran the table in the Big Sky, winning the outright league title and claiming the #4 seed in the playoffs. Another random thing that probably was a requirement to get UNI into the playoffs (UNI was the only FCS team to beat Sac State).
#22 Stephen F. Austin 42, Lamar 6: SFA was one of the only bubble teams to win last week, and they were rewarded with a playoff spot.
#5 Eastern Washington 42, Portland State 28: A top-five national ranking, a 9-2 record, an FBS win, two wins over teams in the field (including a seeded team), and no bad losses apparently weren’t enough get EWU a seed. Instead, they’re looking at a road game with Montana, a team they beat in the regular season, in round two. They’d have to beat each of the teams in the FCS top five (other than themselves) to win the national title if the seeds hold.
#23 Florida A&M 46, Bethune-Cookman 21: FAMU’s poor strength of schedule was not an issue for the committee as they had them safely into the field without much trouble after amassing an 8-1 FCS record. They are the first SWAC team in the playoffs since 1997.
That is all for this week. Check back on Thursday for my preview of the first round of the playoffs, including close looks at the four games involving Valley teams and a glance at the other four games.