FCS Playoffs Semifinal Game Breakdowns

North Dakota State Football Action

FCS Playoffs Semifinal Game Breakdowns


Was anyone hoping for a Montana State-Montana matchup in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals? Sorry, try again. Not going to happen this year. What will happen is the top four seeds in the FCS playoffs will all meet in the semifinals. So it is possible the top two seeds will see each other in Frisco, Texas, for all the marbles. It promises to be two entertaining contests.


MONTANA AT SAM HOUSTON STATE (8 p.m. Friday at Elliott Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas)

There will be a small problem during this game, but it is unrelated to football. Friday happens to be Sam Houston’s commencement for students graduating at mid-year, but there will be another sort of action taking place when the nation’s top team entertains Montana. This contest, nationally televised by ESPN, is a chance for Montana (11-2) to flex its growing muscles once again. The Grizzlies are on a nine-game winning streak since a 42-28 loss to Sacramento State, and things have just gotten progressively better for Montana ever since the postseason started. Montana defeated Central Arkansas 41-14 in the second round and topped Northern Iowa 48-10 in the quarterfinals, all this after a 36-10 win over Montana State in the regular-season finale.

This is Montana’s 21st appearance in the FCS/Division I-AA playoffs and the 18th time in the last 19 years the Grizzlies have reached postseason play. Montana is 32-18 in the playoffs but it has lost eight of 10 games away from home. Montana beat Sam Houston State 34-13 in the 2004 semifinals. Against Northern Iowa, Montana racked up 463 yards of total offense, including 267 rushing yards, on the way to victory. The Grizzly defense sacked Northern Iowa’s quarterbacks five times, meaning another strong performance from Montana could spell trouble for Sam Houston State. Senior linebacker Caleb McSurdy was the Big Sky’s Defensive Player of the Year and currently has 127 tackles heading into this game.

Prior to this game, Montana has met Sam Houston State four times and won three matches since 2001. Sam Houston State won in a 2004 regular-season meeting 41-29 but the Grizzlies got revenge in the semifinal round.

Sam Houston State (13-0) had 428 rushing yards against Montana State, led by sophomore Richard Sincere’s 160-yard effort, to offset a somewhat lackluster day by quarterback Brian Bell. The key word is somewhat; although Bell completed only five of his 12 passes and was picked off once, he threw for two touchdowns and 73 yards. The Bearkats have the FCS’s strongest rushing defense attack, holding opponents to approximately 67.4 yards per game. Sam Houston is ranked second in total defense (275.7 yards per game) and scoring defense (13.77 points per game).

Sam Houston State nearly lost in the second round to Stony Brook 34-27 before blowing out Montana State 49-13 in the quarterfinals.


GEORGIA SOUTHERN AT NORTH DAKOTA STATE (2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota)

While the Big Sky and Southland Conferences have representation on the other side of the semifinal bracket, this game pits the Southern Conference and Missouri Valley Conference against each other for the right to move on to the January 7 championship game in Texas. This is only the second time these two schools have met each other. In a meeting back in October 2006, North Dakota State pulled off a 34-14 victory. Georgia Southern carries an 11-2 record into this contest.

The Eagles are the all-time FCS playoff leaders with 43 victories and six national championships. Georgia Southern won the Southern Conference for the first time since 2004 when it topped Wofford 31-10 back in November. Georgia Southern followed with a loss, although no one will blame Georgia Southern for a 45-21 loss against Alabama, which will face LSU for the Football Bowl Subdivision championship in January. Georgia Southern nearly lost in the second round in a wild 55-48 thriller against Old Dominion, but the Eagles recovered for a 35-23 win over Maine in a game that saw them intercept the Black Bears three times. Georgia Southern reached the playoffs last year as well but lost 17-10 to Delaware in the 2010 national semifinals.

Georgia Southern could give North Dakota State’s running game fits. The Eagles held Maine to six rushing first downs all game in last week’s win. Meanwhile, J.J. Wilcox had eight carries, 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Maine win and quarterback Jaybo Shaw threw 7-for-8 for 116 yards and a touchdown.

North Dakota State (12-1) is making its first appearance in the FCS semifinals following 11 semifinal appearances as a Division II school. It is the first semifinal appearance for the Bison since a 34-16 loss to Delta State in the 2000 Division II semifinals. The Bison lost to Eastern Washington, which eventually went on to win the championship, in last year’s FCS quarterfinals. NDSU’s last national championship came as a Division II school, of course; it happened in 1990. The Bison have won seven of eight home games this year and are 92-22 since moving to the Fargodome.

The Bison beat James Madison 26-14 before shutting out Lehigh 24-0 in the quarterfinals. In that game, North Dakota State netted the shutout despite allowing 19 Lehigh first downs. In addition, Lehigh outgained NDSU 288-163 in passing but the Bison defense limited Lehigh to 68 rushing yards. Sam Ojuri gained 136 yards on 17 carries for the Bison, and quarterback Brock Jensen was intercepted once but still managed 17-for-28 for 163 yards and a touchdown.