FCS Second Round: Richmond-North Dakota
FCS Playoffs Second Round
The Matchup - Richmond (9-3) at No. 7 seed North Dakota (9-2)
Kickoff - 6 p.m. ET at the Alerus Center (11,075) in Grand Forks, North Dakota
Coverage - ESPN3
Series - First meeting
Players to Watch - Richmond: Deontez Thompson (146 carries, 859 yards, 9 TDs; 22 receptions, 205 yards, 2 TDs), WR Brian Brown (70 receptions, 1,254 yards, 10 TDs), LB Omar Howard (88 TT, 8 TFL); North Dakota: RB John Santiago (165 carries, 924 yards; 137.9 all-purpose ypg, 9 total TDs), S Cole Reyes (58 TT, 3 INTs, 8 PBU), CB Deon Harris (5 INTs, 9 PBU, 3 defensive TDs)
The Skinny - Richmond rolled past North Carolina A&T 39-10 in the first round last weekend, unveiling new quarterback Craig Johnson (315 passing yards, two total touchdowns) after two-year starter Kyle Lauletta suffered a torn ACL in the prior game. Despite Johnson's quick success, the CAA Football team's game plan will focus on limiting mistakes, so that means getting the ball in the hands of Thompson (98 rushing yards or more in six of last seven games) and Brown (touchdowns in nine different games). The defense surrenders only 306.9 yards per game, ranking ninth in the FCS. Winston Craig is one of the better defensive tackles in the nation and Howard excels in the playoffs. Griffin Trau moves indoors with his 21 field goals, including four last week. North Dakota is making its first appearance in the FCS playoffs, but it has a long history of Division II postseason experience, including a national championship season in 2001 and a runner-up finish two years later. The Fighting Hawks ended the regular season with a ninth straight win on Nov. 12, but with the first-round bye, they will go 21 days between games. Reyes leads their defense as the Big Sky Conference's defensive player of the year. The Fighting Hawks are the best in the Big Sky Conference against the run for the third straight season. Their 20 interceptions in the regular season tied for the national high. On offense, Santiago and Brady Oliveira (837 yards) provide a 1-2 rushing punch, and junior Keaton Studsrud has gone from a game manager to a winning QB. UND has its own reliable kicker in Reid Taubenheim, who has 15 field goals this season and 44 in his career,
Up Next - The winner will play either Central Arkansas (10-2) or No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (10-1) in the quarterfinals Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction - North Dakota will have to shake off the rust, but its defense - good against the run and the pass - will trouble Richmond's young quarterback. North Dakota, 27-20.