HERO Sports Campus Correspondent Daniel Steenkamer has done a great job all year with his unique take on the FCS. He mainly has produced great work about Delaware and the CAA, but also did this nice piece to highlight individuals of the four quarterfinal games.
This weekend, he watched all four quarterfinal games and gave us his take on who had the big games, the big claims … in the big games. It's good stuff.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
Percy Agyei-Obese, RB, James Madison | 124 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season to form program-first duo of 1,000-yard players with wide receiver Brandon Polk, who now has 1,121 receiving yards on the year)
Dante Olson, LB, Montana | 14 total tackles (became Montana’s all-time leading tackler and set the Big Sky single-season record for tackles)
George Tarlas, DE, Weber State | 2 total tackles, 2 interceptions (helped Weber finish 8-0 at home for the first time in school history)
Griffin Crosa, K, North Dakota State | 3-3 on field goals with long of 38 yards (accounted for all of the Bison’s points)
Austin Peay’s playoff run is over, but the Governors should hold their heads high
…and rightfully so. With their first-round drubbing of Furman at home, the Govs made a statement to the FCS world that they were in the tournament to make some noise, not just to make a short-lived appearance. They made even more waves with a decisive road win over Big Sky co-champion and fourth-seeded Sacramento State in the second round. While traveling to back-to-back Big Sky programs may have taken its toll (as it did for Maine in 2018), APSU was a great representative of the Ohio Valley Conference in this year’s postseason and can be expected to be right back in the mix going forward, given its support and foundation of success.
The Big Sky has a chance to flex on the national stage on semifinal Saturday.
Half of the final four teams in the FCS playoffs hail from the Big Sky, and both Montana State and Weber State hit the road for their respective semifinal games. MSU is tasked with venturing into the Fargodome to face off with Missouri Valley champion North Dakota State, while WSU is set to return to CAA winner James Madison. These matchups allow the chance of an all-Big Sky National Championship, which would be an appropriate cap to a season in which the Big Sky dominated the playoff seeds. While both NDSU and JMU are likely to be favored at home, the Bobcats and Wildcats possess that mixture of decently balanced offense and hard-nosed defense necessary for “upsets.” Because of the challenges these squads pose…
James Madison and North Dakota State might elect to (or have to) open up the playbook on Saturday.
The Dukes and Bison played low-scoring games that mirrored each other over the quarterfinal weekend. Both of the top seeds kept it pretty close to the vest in terms of playcalling, which made sense given the black-and-blue nature of both games. Neither team got carried away with any fancy stuff; each instead controlled the ball and relied on its top-notch defense to limit the opposing offense. In the case of North Dakota State, it was able to zero in on James Robinson, who was the unquestioned focal point of Illinois State’s attack. However, Montana State visits Fargo as a much more multidimensional offense with its creative backfield formations, variety of ball carriers, and the development of quarterback Tucker Rovig. Weber State is versatile in its own right, finding new ways to score with Josh Davis on or off the field. In short, NDSU and Madison may get a little more creative, inventive, or aggressive to fend off their Big Sky challengers in the semifinals.
The common denominator of the final four FCS playoff teams vying for a coveted spot in Frisco? You guessed it: defense.
After the second round saw winning teams soar to point totals such as 73, 66, and 47, the quarterfinals brought the traditional defense associated with December football. Montana State set the high output for the weekend with 24 points; that number’s stark contrast with the heights that offenses reached in round 2 goes a long way in telling the story. Northern Iowa, Montana, and Illinois State played more than respectable defense in their defeats.
The teams that emerged from the quarterfinal round victorious, however, play especially strong defense. North Dakota State, James Madison, and Weber State are top-15 nationally in scoring defense (and the Bison and Dukes take two of the top three spots in the category). Montana State also falls in the top 25 in points allowed per game, sitting at 22nd. To say the least, it will be fascinating to see which defenses have the edge on semifinal Saturday and will set the table for a National Championship featuring two quality, if not flat-out elite, defenses.
Defense ruled the day in both Friday night’s tripleheader and Saturday’s matinee. The first of the slugfests came in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where James Madison smothered Northern Iowa’s offense in a 17-0 shutout. The Panthers, who had not had the benefit of a bye week in just under three months, were buoyed by their sturdy defense, but moving the ball against JMU’s own vaunted defense proved to be an insurmountable challenge. Case in point: UNI finished with 0 net rushing yards and was outgained 346-114 in yards of total offense. The Panthers entered Dukes territory for the first time late in the fourth quarter and were dominated in time of possession, as their offense was on the field for just 17:51 compared to James Madison’s 42:09 of game clock on offense.
In Ogden, Utah, 17 points were also enough for Weber State to come away with its elusive quarterfinal win and, in turn, punch its first-ever ticket to the FCS “final four.” The Wildcats downed Montana 17-10 behind five interceptions and a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown. That excellence on defense and special teams was exactly the boost that WSU needed on a night when its offense took some time to get its footing without the services of running back Josh Davis for the majority of the game. Davis exited with an injury in the early going, but returned to action in the knick of time, reeling in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jake Constantine with 9:46 to go in the third quarter to give Weber its first lead of the night, one that it would hold for good. The Wildcats’ triumph sets up an FCS playoff rematch of the classic 2017 quarterfinal in which they fell at James Madison on Ethan Ratke’s memorable game-winning field goal. This time around, the showdown between the Big Sky and CAA’s purple teams is for the right to advance to Frisco. Two of the premier defensive lines in the FCS will test their mettle in strength-on-strength battles.
Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Montana State continued to ride its momentum in front of the home crowd at Bobcat Stadium, which was delighted to see the Bobcats defeat Austin Peay 24-10 and march to the semifinals for the first time since 1984. MSU will need a formula of rushing attack and defense similar to the one employed against upstart APSU to derail top-seeded North Dakota State’s (seemingly annual) playoff run. The Bobcats may have gotten the blueprint for this courtesy of the Illinois State Redbirds, who more than held their own in a 9-3 loss at the Fargodome on Saturday. NDSU failed to record a touchdown in the Fargodome for the first time in over a decade and a half, but kept ISU tailback and projected fifth-round NFL draft pick James Robinson (94 yards on 24 carries) at bay, or at least out of the Fargodome’s gold end zones, which was enough to escape with the victory.
BRACKET CONTEST: The Fan Leaderboard After The Quarterfinal Round[divider]
THE QUARTERFINAL WRAP: The Titans Look Human
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