FCS playoffs review: Quarterfinals
(STATS) - There's an intruder in the FCS national semifinals, but unseeded Youngstown State has proven it belongs.
Top-seeded North Dakota State, second-seeded Eastern Washington and fourth-seeded James Madison - all 12-1 conference champs - have done their part to keep the 24-team bracket to form.
The exception is the No. 3 seed, Jacksonville State, fell to Youngstown State last week, and the surging Penguins (11-3) kept the momentum going in the national quarterfinals this weekend.
All four semifinalists have won an FCS title previously. North Dakota State will host James Madison Friday night and Youngstown State will go to Eastern Washington next Saturday.
The two winners will meet in the national championship game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
Here's a quarterfinal-round review:
Saturday, Dec. 10
No. 1 seed North Dakota State 36, No. 8 seed South Dakota State 10
Story Line: The five-time defending FCS champion Bison scored the final 36 points after falling into their first double-digit deficit of the season. In rallying to their 22nd straight win in the FCS playoffs, they avenged their only defeat of the season.
Game Ball: Bison quarterback Easton Stick usually limits the mistakes. Although he threw an interception near the South Dakota State goal line and had poor clock management near the end of the first half, the redshirt sophomore still produced for an offense that dominated the game clock. He had 271 yards of total offense, rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one.
Key Stats: The Bison's ability to convert third downs (10 of 13) led to a decisive edge in time of possession (40 minutes, 55 seconds) and kept SDSU's triple threat of quarterback Taryn Christion, wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert from beating them. Christion managed only 155 passing yards and no touchdowns.
The Takeaway: Coach Chris Klieman talked afterward about the resolve of his Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champion, which survived SDSU's early 10-0 lead and then dictated the game in a way the Bison so often do. They won't win the run game against semifinal-round foe James Madison in the same way they did against SDSU (302 yards to 37), but they are big enough up front to impose their will.
Up Next: North Dakota State will host No. 4 seed James Madison in the semifinals. Their run of five straight national titles began with a 26-14 win over the Dukes in the 2011 second round.
Youngstown State (11-3) 30, Wofford (10-4) 23, 2 OTs
Story Line: The upstart from the Missouri Valley made it three straight wins in its first playoff appearance in 10 years, overcoming three missed field goals and various mistakes to win in the second overtime on Tevin McCaster's 2-yard touchdown run.
Game Ball: While McCaster scored the game-winner, Youngstown State's running attack featured Jody Webb's 213 yards on 34 carries - both career highs. The senior also had 118 yards on four kickoff returns, giving him 331 all-purpose yards.
Key Stat: Wofford's triple-option offense was one-dimensional, which gave the Penguins a big advantage in the passing game. Quarterback Hunter Wells threw for 173 yards and three touchdowns, while the Terriers' two signal callers didn't have a completion in three attempts.
The Takeaway: Coach Bo Pelini's squad had been on such a dominating roll that it was a positive to see it could survive and advance despite not playing one of its better games. The Penguins will need to run the ball to beat Eastern Washington in the semifinals, so it will be beneficial if Martin Ruiz can heal up over the next week.
Up Next: Red will be the optimum color when Youngstown State travels to No. 2 seed Eastern Washington for the FCS semifinals. The Penguins won four FCS national titles in the 1990s and EWU captured its lone title in 2010.
No. 2 seed Eastern Washington 38, Richmond 0
Story Line: Gage Gubrud threw for three touchdowns in the first half, and the Eagles' often-maligned defense posted its first shutout since the 2009 regular season by forcing five turnovers and getting six sacks.
Game Ball: Senior defensive end Samson Ebukam, in his 36th career start, tied for Eastern Washington's team high with eight tackles and added two sacks, two other tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception.
Key Stat: Richmond had hoped to control the game against an Eagles defense that was allowing 200 rushing yards per game. But add in the sacks and the Spiders managed only 48 net rushing yards on 37 carries. Meanwhile, the Eagles carried the ball 33 times for 154 yards.
The Takeaway: This year's improvement of the Eagles' defense reached a new level with their first shutout in 102 games. They were aggressive against Richmond's young offensive backfield. Coach Beau Baldwin's Eagles, who won a share of their fourth Big Sky Conference title in five years, have surrendered only 113 points in their last seven games.
Up Next: Eastern Washington will host Youngstown State in the FCS semifinals. The only previous meeting occurred in the same round of the 1997 playoffs, with YSU winning 25-14 in Cheney, Washington, on the way to its fourth national title of the decade.
Friday, Dec. 9
No. 4 seed James Madison 65, No. 5 seed Sam Houston State 7
Story Line: The CAA Football champ reached the semifinals for the third time, dominating in all three phases of the game and silencing Sam Houston State record-setting quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe. Running backs Khalid Abdullah and Trai Sharp combined for 285 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Game Balls: The Dukes' secondary was exceptional while keeping Briscoe (13 of 44, 143 yards) without a touchdown pass just six days after he set the FCS single-season record with his 57th scoring toss. Curtis Oliver and Raven Greene both had interceptions, and Oliver joined fellow cornerback Jimmy Moreland with three pass breakups.
Key Stat: The Bearkats failed to convert on their first 12 third-down attempts, finishing 2 of 19 overall, which led to nine punts. The punts weren't such a good option as the Bearkats had one returned for a touchdown, blocked for a touchdown and one poorly snapped, resulting in punter Joseph Figenshaw being tackled in the backfield.
The Takeaway: The second-largest margin in FCS playoff history - only Montana's 70-7 win over Troy in the 1996 semifinals was larger - did not bode well for Southland Conference teams closing the gap on the best conferences, namely the CAA and Missouri Valley, especially on a physical level. James Madison emerged as the most impressive winner of the national quarterfinals.
Up Next: James Madison will play at top-seeded North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals. The Dukes, under first-year coach Mike Houston, may be up to the task.