FCS playoffs review: Semifinals

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(STATS) - The Road to Frisco has taken on new meaning this year.

Since the growing suburban city north of Dallas began hosting the FCS championship game in 2010, there have been six straight winners who never left home for a playoff game prior to the neutral-site final at Toyota Stadium.

Not this year. Fourth-seeded James Madison (13-1) and unseeded Youngstown State (12-3) both won road games in the national semifinals this weekend while advancing to the championship game Jan. 7.

YSU's win at Eastern Washington was its second road triumph.

The two finalists have weathered the strongest conferences in the FCS - YSU is from the Missouri Valley Football Conference and JMU is the CAA Football champ - in addition to their tough playoff games.

The championship game will mark their fifth meeting all-time, with Youngstown State holding a 3-1 series lead. They last met in the first round of the 2006 playoffs - a 35-31 YSU win at home.

James Madison, which slayed FCS dynasty North Dakota State, will be considered the favorite as it tries to add a second FCS title to the one it captured in 2004.

Youngstown State has claimed five championships: 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997 and 1999.

Here's a semifinal-round review:


Saturday, Dec. 17

Youngstown State 40, No. 2 seed Eastern Washington 38

Story Line: The Penguins trailed for over 39 minutes, but stunned Eastern Washington on junior tight end Kevin Rader's miraculous 5-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Hunter Wells with 1 second remaining. Rader wrapped his right arm under linebacker Ketner Kupp's arm and secured the football on the defender's back with his feet on the ground before he was pushed out of bounds.

Game Balls: Obviously, Wells is deserving for his heroics, but also running back Tevin McCaster, who had nearly half of his game-high 154 rushing yards in the fourth quarter and he finished with three touchdowns.

Key Stats: Youngstown State held the ball for 39 minutes, 20 seconds and ran 80 offensive plays to Eastern Washington's 56. It was huge to keep the No. 2-ranked offense in the FCS on the sideline so much.

Coach's Comment: "It was a heck of a football game. A real crazy way to end it. We had guys making plays all night, they had guys making plays in tough conditions." - Youngstown State's Bo Pelini.

The Takeaway: The Penguins' resiliency shined brightest. They played without four highly productive starters because of positive NCAA drug tests and overcame a 24-10 second-quarter deficit and one that was 31-20 through three quarters.

Up Next: In an opportunity to tie North Dakota State for the second-most FCS titles with five (Georgia Southern won six in the subdivision), Youngstown State will face James Madison for the national title.


Friday, Dec. 16

No. 4 seed James Madison 27 No. 1 seed North Dakota State 17

Story Line: James Madison ended North Dakota State's 22-game playoff win streak and bid for a record sixth straight FCS national title by reaching the championship game for the second time in program history. Dukes running back Khalid Abdullah rushed for 180 yards and caught one of quarterback Bryan Schor's three touchdown passes.

Game Balls: On offense, Abdullah used his speed, power and cut-back moves to total a career-high 231 all-purpose yards on 25 touches, scoring on a 10-yard reception in the second quarter. On defense, linebacker Dimitri Holloway was all over the field with a career-high 16 tackles.

Key Stats: JMU limited the Bison to a season-low 132 rushing yards (on 39 carries) after it averaged just over 300 yards in its two playoff wins.

The Takeaway: The Dukes' belief in a road win inside the Fargodome, where past CAA teams had failed, never wavered all week. JMU heads to the national championship game with the knowledge it's been the most complete team in the FCS this season. Against North Dakota State, the Dukes weren't going to maintain what was the nation's No. 1 scoring average, but their prolific offense still managed the second-highest points of the season against the Bison.

Coach's Comment: "It is a credit to our players and coaches for believing and trusting each other and believing in the philosophy that we came in here trying to establish. It has resulted in one of the biggest wins in school history." - James Madison's Mike Houston

Up Next: In their second appearance in the FCS championship game, the Dukes will try improve on their lack of success against Youngstown State.