FCS playoffs review - Second round
(STATS) - It's been a balanced year among the FCS conferences, but it's not surprising which two have the most teams alive for the national quarterfinals.
Three from the Missouri Valley Football Conference (North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Youngstown State) and two from CAA Football (James Madison and Richmond) are among the final eight. Their conferences have combined for nine of the last 13 national champions.
Like the Missouri Valley and CAA, the Big Sky and Southern conferences both had four playoff qualifiers, but they're down to one each - Eastern Washington and Wofford, respectively.
Also advancing is Sam Houston State from the Southland.
While only one road team won in the eight first-round games last weekend, three of the eight claimed wins in the second round.
Here's a second-round review:
No. 4 seed James Madison 55, New Hampshire 22
Story Line: Quarterback Bryan Schor returned from an injury to his non-throwing shoulder to complete 30 of 37 passes for 371 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. After falling behind 7-0, the CAA Football champion Dukes (11-1) asserted control by scoring the final 31 points of the first half.
Game Balls: Schor, for sure. But Brandon Ravenel caught two touchdowns in the second quarter, then answered a UNH touchdown early in the second half with an 86-yard kickoff return for a score, totaling 263 all-purpose yards.
Key Stat: A mere 3 of 13 on third down conversions, New Hampshire punted nine times compared to JMU's two punts.
The Takeaway: James Madison (11-1), a winner of nine straight games, has picked a great time to raise its play against the pass. UNH was a mere 16 of 35 for 143 yards and one interception, marking the third straight JMU opponent to be held under a 50 percent completion percentage. That's huge with Sam Houston State gunslinger Jeremiah Briscoe, the new FCS single-season record-holder with 57 TD passes, coming to town next.
Up Next: James Madison will host No. 5 seed Sam Houston State (12-0) in the quarterfinals Friday night.
Youngstown State 40, No. 3 seed Jacksonville State 24
Story Line: Youngstown State continued its spectacular return to the FCS playoffs after a 10-year absence. The Penguins never trailed in the game, Jody Webb rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Hunter Wells threw for 290 yards and a touchdown and Zak Kennedy kicked four field goals.
Game Ball: The YSU secondary helped limit Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins to 6 of 26 passing. Free safety LeRoy Alexander and nickel back D.J. Thomas had interceptions and cornerback David Rivers III collected three pass breakups. Defensive backs had six of the defense's eight pass breakups.
Key Stat: While YSU's secondary excelled, JSU's defensive backs didn't against the pass as the Penguins averaged 28.6 yards on 11 completions. Included were a 70-yard touchdown pass to Damoun Patterson to open the scoring and an 85-yard completion to Darien Townsend.
The Takeaway: That Missouri Valley teams are much stronger than Ohio Valley Conference teams is obvious. What's coming into focus is the Penguins have one of the more talented teams in the nation (bookend defensive ends Derek Rivers and Avery Moss are scary good).
Up Next: Youngstown State (10-3) has an unexpected home game in the quarterfinals, hosting Wofford (10-3) next Saturday. The Penguins beat another Southern Conference team, Samford, in the first round.
No. 8 seed South Dakota State 10, Villanova 7
Story Line: Freshman Chase Vinatieri, nephew of NFL great Adam Vinatieri, kicked a 40-yard field goal with 1:21 left to break a 7-7 tie and end the career of retiring Villanova coach Andy Talley.
Game Ball: Defensive tackle Kelly Soulek was in on five tackles, including half a sack of Villanova's Zach Bednarczyk, and had five quarterback hurries as the SDSU defense helped bail out the offense on a cold, snowy afternoon.
Key Stat: The Jackrabbits (9-3) tightened enough at just the right times, limiting Villanova to 6 of 16 on third-down conversions and 1 of 4 on fourth-down attempts.
The Takeaway: Talley's career ended with a 230-137-1 record, 12 playoff appearances and the 2009 national title in 32 seasons at Villanova, and a 258-155-2 mark in 37 overall seasons. It was a great matchup of highly respected coaches with 20th-year coach John Stiegelmeier manning the SDSU sideline.
Up Next: South Dakota State will head back to No. 1 seed North Dakota State (11-1) for the quarterfinals next Saturday. The Jackrabbits earned the Missouri Valley's automatic bid because of its 19-17 win at the Fargodome on Oct. 15
No. 5 seed Sam Houston State 41, Chattanooga 36
Story Line: Redshirt junior Jeremiah Briscoe faced a heavy pass rush, but he continued his magical season by passing for five touchdowns to set the FCS single-season record with 57.
Game Ball: Wide receiver Yedidiah Louis followed up a four-touchdown game against Central Arkansas to end the regular season with another three TD receptions. He caught eight balls for 156 yards and became the team's all-time receptions leader. He also had a 53-yard run to set up Briscoe's fifth TD pass - the record-setter.
Key Stat: Chattanooga came away 0-for-3. The loss marked the third straight year the Southern Conference power was eliminated by the top-ranked team in the nation.
The Takeaway: For once, the only unbeaten team in the FCS didn't have a win in its pocket by halftime. The game seemed to be heading that way when the Bearkats (12-0) led 21-0 in the second quarter, but Chattanooga scored three straight touchdowns of its own to make the second half difficult on coach K.C. Keeler's club. The Bearkats have trailed against only one opponent for a mere 3 minutes, 14 seconds of the first quarter (ironically against Northwestern State, the Southland Conference's last-place team).
Up Next: Sam Houston State travels to No. 4 seed James Madison (11-1) in the quarterfinals Friday night.
No. 1 seed North Dakota State 45, San Diego 7
Story Line: Quarterback Easton Stick accounted for 307 yards of total offense and passed for three touchdowns and the Bison (11-1) outclassed the champs from the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.
Game Balls: Stick was in control on offense (208 passing yards, 99 rushing yards), while MJ Stumpf raised his game for a linebackers corps that has battled injuries this season. He finished with a game-high nine tackles, including eight solo stops, and opened the scoring with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Key Stat: Although San Diego possessed the ball over 11 minutes longer than the Bison, the five-time defending FCS champions had a 507-296 advantage in total yards.
The Takeaway: If the Bison are going to keep the dynasty going, it will look similar to the other postseasons. Coach Chris Klieman's squad wants to win with defense, field position, a lack of turnovers (none versus USD) and the power run game behind the big boys up front.
Up Next: Yup, they're coming back. The No. 8-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits (9-3) will try to win at the Fargodome for a second time this season when the two Missouri Valley co-champs square off in the quarterfinals next Saturday. This decade, the Bison are 18-0 at home in the FCS playoffs.
No. 2 seed Eastern Washington 31, Central Arkansas 14
Story Line: Quarterback Gage Gubrud accounted for 517 yards of total offense and three touchdowns and Eastern Washington's defense surrendered a season-low in points and yards.
Game Ball: Gubrud had a hand in all but 14 of the Eagles' offensive yards. He had a school-record 47 completions in 64 attempts for 449 yards and two touchdowns to Cooper Kupp, and carried the ball 15 times for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Key Stat: Linebacker Ketner Kupp had more tackles (11) than his older brother Cooper, he of basically all the FCS receiving records, had receptions (10).
The Takeaway: It may not be one of the best in the FCS, but the Eastern Washington defense is one of the best of coach Beau Baldwin's nine seasons. The Eagles (11-1) played without starting linebackers Miquiyah Zamora and Alek Kacmarcik because of injuries, but they limited Central Arkansas to 246 yards. Over the last six games, the Eagles have allowed an average of only 18.8 points.
Up Next: Eastern Washington will host a potentially road-weary Richmond squad in the quarterfinals next Saturday. The Spiders (10-3) traveled to North Dakota for its second-round win, went home and have to go back across the country to the red turf in Cheney.
Wofford 17, No. 6 seed The Citadel 3
Story Line: The Terriers have been riddled by injuries at the quarterback position this year and unheralded freshman Joe Newman was forced to play much of the second half after starter Brandon Goodson was injured. Newman rushed for a 36-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to break a 3-3 tie.
Game Balls: Wofford's Lincoln Stewart had a game-high 16 tackles, including a half-sack, and intercepted a pass, while fellow linebacker Datavious Wilson totaled 14 tackles to help hand The Citadel its first loss against a non-FBS opponent.
Key Stat: The Citadel place-kicker Cody Clark had made 12 of 16 field-goal attempts in the regular season, including the overtime winner to beat Wofford, but missed three of his four attempts.
The Takeaway: While the surging Terriers (10-3, winners of six straight games) are known for their triple option offense, they are getting it done defensively. Defensive coordinator Nathan Fuqua's unit has won three games by shutout and two others when they've allowed seven or fewer points.
Up Next: Wofford will visit Youngstown State (10-3) for the quarterfinals next Saturday.
Richmond 27, No. 7 seed North Dakota 24
Story Line: Richmond trailed 24-7 in the last minute of the third quarter, but rallied to win the game on Griffin Trau's 18-yard field goal as time expired. Spiders sophomore quarterback Kevin Johnson accounted for 311 yards of total offense and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing).
Game Ball: Senior wide receiver Brian Brown is the veteran presence to help ease in Johnson, whose first two career starts have been in the playoffs. Brown had a 79-yard touchdown reception among his seven catches for 187 yards. He surpassed 4,000 receiving yards in his career.
Key Stat: While North Dakota was trying to protect the lead in the fourth quarter, it gained only 20 yards and two first downs.
The Takeaway: The rally was exhilarating to Richmond (10-3), but North Dakota's first appearance in the FCS playoffs was a bitter disappointment. The Fighting Hawks perhaps got ahead of themselves when they held their 17-point lead.
Up Next: Richmond will face a second straight Big Sky Conference co-champion, No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (11-1), in the quarterfinals next Saturday.