FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Game Breakdowns

North Dakota State Football Action



And so we are down to eight. The top four seeds are still alive, but a potential matchup between Southern Conference rivals Georgia Southern and Appalachian State didn’t materialize. The Colonial Athletic Association, perhaps the toughest FCS conference, only has one team still alive in the quarterfinal round. The big winners are the Big Sky Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference, with two teams still alive in the title hunt. Let’s take a look at third-round action and see who could move on to the national semifinals.


NORTHERN IOWA AT MONTANA (8 p.m. Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana)

A matchup of Missouri Valley and Big Sky teams with identical 10-2 records, Northern Iowa makes the trip to Missoula to take on the Grizzlies. A possible omen for Northern Iowa is the team’s record against Montana. In the past four meetings, the Panthers haven’t won. Not once. It started with a 42-21 loss in 1981 and followed up with subsequent losses in 1987 (33-16), 1994 (23-20) and 2001 (38-0), the latter game an NCAA semifinal contest. The teams haven’t met in 10 years, but the rivalry is still there. Of special note to Northern Iowa is a potential milestone for Coach Mark Farley, who could pick up his 100th victory Friday night with a quarterfinal win. Northern Iowa hopes for its eighth trip to the FCS semifinals. Northern Iowa had a tough road with Wofford before winning 28-21. Northern Iowa scored 21 second-half points to pull out the win. Quarterback Tirrell Rennie is an all-purpose threat with 834 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, 1,709 yards and 13 passing touchdowns to go with just two interceptions. His completion rate may not be the best (59.6 percent), but who needs a high completion rate when you are that fleet with feet? Montana had a much easier time against Central Arkansas, winning 41-14 despite Jordan Johnson’s two interceptions and 135 passing yards. Johnson has 1,927 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions for the year. It could be a potential all-Big Sky semifinal as the winner faces either Montana State or Sam Houston State.


MONTANA STATE AT SAM HOUSTON STATE (12 p.m. Saturday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas)

It has been 20 years since these teams last met, but the history will melt away when these schools get together in the round of eight. Sam Houston State is the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs but Montana State will put up a big fight for the Bearkats to move on. Sam Houston overcame a 20-0 deficit to beat Montana State 26-23 in the last meeting between these teams, in the fall of 1991. Montana State (10-2) has come from behind seven times this season, including a 26-25 win against New Hampshire last week. The game marked the first time Montana State has been held under 30 points and 400 yards this season yet still emerged victorious. Montana State has outscored its opponents 402-269 this year, and running back Cody Kirk leads the ground game with 1,329 yards and 14 touchdowns. A potential weak spot comes at quarterback, where DeNarius McGhee has a 61.4 percent completion rate (181-for-295), 2,527 yards and 23 touchdowns but also has 13 interceptions to his credit. Sam Houston State (12-0) is coming off a 34-27 win over a pesky Stony Brook squad. In that game Tim Flanders ran for 102 yards and a touchdown, giving him 21 touchdowns for the season. Brian Bell threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard bomb to Trey Diller.


MAINE AT GEORGIA SOUTHERN (2 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia)

Continuing the theme of teams not having met for a long time, it will be the first time since 2002 these schools have linked up on the gridiron. Georgia Southern has scored 31 points both times, and both were victories. The Eagles topped Maine 31-28 in November 1987 and then had a much easier time in a 31-7 victory in December 2002. Georgia Southern (10-2) has a 42-11 playoff record , but the Eagles nearly picked up their 12th loss last week as Old Dominion endured a wild thriller before Georgia Southern survived 55-48 and moved on to the quarterfinals. Freshman Dominique Swope has picked up nearly two-thirds of his 846 rushing yards in the last three games, giving the Eagles a potent weapon to go with Robert Brown’s 926 yards and five touchdowns. Quarterback Jaybo Shaw has a low completion rate (52.8, on 57-for-108 passing), but he does have 1,226 yards and nine touchdowns to go with three interceptions. Maine (9-3) beat Appalachian State 34-12 in a convincing second-round victory and moved on to the quarterfinals. Pushaun Brown has 11 of the Black Bears’ 24 touchdowns to go with 1,055 rushing yards. Look out for a danger area with quarterback Warren Smith. Although he has a high completion rate (255-for-396, 64.4 percent) and 20 touchdowns in those 2,893 yards, Smith has been picked off 11 times. If Georgia Southern’s defense is on fire Saturday, it could be a long day for Smith. The winner faces either Lehigh or North Dakota State.


LEHIGH AT NORTH DAKOTA STATE (4 p.m. Saturday at The Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota)

Where the other three games feature teams that have met each other, this is the lone quarterfinal that involves teams meeting for the first time. North Dakota State does have some history in the playoffs, but Lehigh hasn’t been so lucky. Should the Mountain Hawks (11-1) win this game, they will go to the semifinals for the first time since 1980. Lehigh nearly saw its season end in the second round as it survived an up-and-down contest with Towson to win 40-38. It took 482 yards of total offense for Lehigh to win this game. Meanwhile, North Dakota State (11-1) had a closer game with James Madison but still won 26-14. Lehigh ranks in the top five nationally in total offense and passing offense, but that potent offense may hit a brick wall as North Dakota State has the second-best defense in the country (14.8 points per game allowed). Lehigh has outscored its opponents 422-238, mostly behind the arm of quarterback Chris Lum (333-for-491 for 4,090 yards, 32 touchdowns and 15 interceptions). The running game is tame by comparison although Zach Barket has rushed for four touchdowns and 706 yards. NDSU rushers Sam Ojuri and D.J. McNorton have combined for 1,677 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground, giving the Bison a 1-2 rushing attack to go with quarterback Brock Jensen (2,104 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions)