A 60-minute ball game is expected Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS national championship game between James Madison and North Dakota State. Here are five players on both teams that didn't fill out the stat sheet in the regular season, but could make a huge difference on Saturday.
5. TE Jonathan Kloosterman – The big tight end has been slowed down by injuries and illness this season. He caught just seven passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season with zero catches in the playoffs. Last year, five of his seven touchdown catches came in the playoffs. If he gets healthier with the break, Kloosterman could see his postseason magic return.
[credit]Jonathan Kloosterman catches a touchdown pass early in last year's national championship game. Jim Oxley/HERO Sports[/credit]
4. LB Brandon Hereford – Hereford didn’t play last season against the Bison and can make his presence felt this year as a versatile guy. Along with his 61 total tackles, he has four tackles for loss, four sacks, four quarterback hurries and a defensive touchdown. He’ll be tasked with stopping the Bison run and covering the NDSU tight ends who have had a big postseason.
3. K Ethan Ratke – In what may turn out to be a tight game down to the final minute, it helps to have a kicker who’s made clutch field goals before. For the Bison, Cam Pedersen hit the game-winner last season against Iowa in one of the biggest FCS over FBS upsets. Ratke potentially saved JMU’s season with a game-winning kick against Weber State in the quarterfinals.
— CAA Football (@CAAFootball) December 9, 2017
2. WR Riley Stapleton – He will no longer come out of nowhere after a standout postseason campaign. But Stapleton is going to have to continue providing the Dukes with an outside target to loosen up the box for the running backs. In the last two playoff games, he’s had 259 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
1. C Mac Patrick – With an offensive line that’s been banged up all season, Patrick has been steady in the middle. He’s just a sophomore on the o-line that’s gotten younger as the season has progressed, but he did play the entire second half against NDSU last season. He’ll be key in getting the run game going like the Dukes want it to.
North Dakota State
5. LB Chris Board – A lot of people talk about Nick DeLuca and Jabril Cox when it comes to the Bison linebackers. Plus Levi Jordheim looks like he may be ready to return to his starting role. The senior Board has had a solid season in the starting lineup, though, and shouldn't be forgotten. He adds a lot of speed on the outside as a former safety. He’s fourth on the team in tackles and will play important snaps.
4. RB Seth Wilson – The true freshman never expected to see the field this season. But after a rash of injuries, he got his redshirt pulled for the Oct. 28 game against Northern Iowa. He’s come up big in the three playoff games, rushing 52 times for 315 yards while adding two receiving scores. With Ty Brooks doubtful, Wilson will shoulder the load with Bruce Anderson.
Seth Wilson. Not your typical freshman. pic.twitter.com/1IAjPnjfAQ
— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) December 9, 2017
3. CB Josh Hayes – Another true freshman is set to see significant reps in the national title game. NDSU starting cornerbacks Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush have an outside chance of playing after suffering knee injuries in the semifinals. Hayes was able to play the entire second half against Sam Houston State and has a bigger stage to perform on in Frisco.
2. TE Jeff Illies – Easton Stick has thrown 10 touchdown passes during this postseason run. Only one has gone to a wide receiver. Illies has caught two of the nine scores to the tight ends or running backs. JMU likely will play a lot of 1-on-1 against the receivers, making the tight ends for NDSU crucial in the passing game.
Easton Stick hits Jeff Illies for the 32-yard scoring strike. 7-0, Good Guys. pic.twitter.com/Bjv4IJS0J6
— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) September 30, 2017
1. DL Aaron Steidl – A fun fact for the title game is the starting front seven for the Bison will be completely different than the front seven that played in the second half against JMU last season. Board and DeLuca and defensive tackle Nate Tanguay were hurt and Cox was a redshirt. Defensive end Greg Menard was a junior, but got hurt in fall camp this year. Steidl started the game against JMU but left early with an injury. Three of the starters were seniors and two are now backups. A healthier and more talented front seven this season could make a huge difference, and it starts with Steidl getting penetration while Tanguay takes on double teams.