#5 Illinois State at #1 New Hampshire FCS Football 2014 Playoffs Semifinals Game Breakdown

New Hampshire FCS Football
George Hammond


#5 Illinois State at #1 New Hampshire, Saturday, 2:00

It’s the Missouri Valley Football Conference vs. the Colonial Athletic Association when No. 5 seed Illinois State visits No. 1 seed New Hampshire Saturday in Durham, New Hampshire. Not only will the contest be for conference bragging rights, it will be for a berth in the FCS national championship set for January 10th in Frisco, Texas.

The Wildcats (12-1) are in the semifinals for the second consecutive year after beating Chattanooga 35-30 on Friday night. Last year, they ran up against three-time defending champion North Dakota State in Fargo, North Dakota, in the semifinals where the Bison beat them handily. It’s safe to say this is the biggest game in school history and New Hampshire is glad it’s at Cowell Stadium, affectionately known as “The Dungeon,” where the Wildcats have won 14 straight home games.

Meanwhile, the Redbirds (12-1) are coming off a huge 59-46 second-round victory over No. 4 Eastern Washington. Illinois State, which didn’t play North Dakota State this season, shared the MVFC crown with the Bison. The Redbirds opened the playoffs with a 41-21 victory over Northern Iowa in Normal, Illinois, after Northern Iowa had beaten the Redbirds during the regular season.


The story lines for Saturday’s semifinal are these:

* Will Illinois State have any legs left? They travel to the state of Washington on the West Coast, then turn around this week and head to the East Coast. The Redbirds did catch a little break with this semifinal scheduled for Saturday as opposed to Friday night (Sam Houston State at North Dakota State).

* Can New Hampshire get over the hump? The Wildcats are making their 11th straight playoff appearance and, as mentioned, made the semis last year after a big win at Southeastern Louisiana in the quarterfinals. But there are skeptics – at least nationally – that wonder whether the Wildcats should have gotten the No. 1 seed ahead of the MVFC’s North Dakota State. A victory here will quiet those doubters who point to Chattanooga’s statistical dominance last week over New Hampshire as evidence that maybe the Wildcats are seeded a little higher than they should be.

One thing seems certain…points will be scored. All eight teams in last weekend’s quarterfinals scored at least 30 points and there doesn’t appear to be any reason (other than inclement weather) a lot of points won’t be scored this weekend too. Both teams have plenty of firepower. The Wildcats’ R.J. Harris, the No. 1 receiver in the nation, showed why with seven receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns against Chattanooga, while the Redbirds can counter with quarterback Tre Roberson, who holds the school record for total offense in a season, and running back Marshaun Coprich. All Coprich (No. 1 rusher in the nation) did against EWUI was rush for 258 yards and four touchdowns.


So how does this play out?

It should be somewhat similar to the New Hampshire-Chattanooga contest. But there were concerns with the Wildcats’ defense last week. Chattanooga had 27 first downs to New Hampshire’s 13 and had 566 total yards to New Hampshire’s 328. Illinois State will likely have a decided edge in yardage, too, as New Hampshire doesn’t concern itself with time of possession nor yardage allowed. And if New Hampshire had trouble stopping Chattanooga’s offense, it likely will have trouble stopping Illinois State’s. Before Chattanooga, New Hampshire had held seven of its previous opponents to under 20 points. Of course, New Hampshire put up 35 points against a Chattanooga defense that was considered one of the tops in the nation so there is a trade-off. It’s interesting to note that Illinois State is third nationally in third-down conversions while New Hampshire is fourth in the same category. Whichever team fares better in that category might gain a big edge.

This is New Hampshire’s shot at making the final. It’s an experienced, talented team, but I don’t think the Wildcats can slow the Redbirds enough to win.

Projected Score: Illinois State 37, New Hampshire 31


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