For several years, the Missouri Valley Football Conference has held the position of the nation's top FCS conference. North Dakota State's five straight national titles obviously helps that case be made, but other schools have been nearly as strong. Saturday, it was Youngstown State that joined the semifinal party with the semis veterans Bison.
Some people call the Valley the SEC of the FCS. Valley fans prefer to call the SEC the Valley of the FBS.
For the second time in three years, two MVFC schools have made the FCS Semifinal round of the postseason — two years ago it was Illinois State.
That's quite the feat considering many times they have to face off against each other earlier in the playoffs — only to cancel each other out before even reaching the semifinal round. Youngstown State will now travel to Eastern Washington, while NDSU will play host to James Madison.
Today, North Dakota State won convincingly in Bison style, knocking off MVFC rival South Dakota State 36-10. Unlike the last time the Bison met the Jackrabbits in the Fargodome — back in October during its lone loss of the year — NDSU was ready for SDSU star quarterback Taryn Christion.
The sophomore had torched them in October, accounting for nearly 450 yards — 300 via the air, 150 on the ground. This time around it was negative-16 yards on the ground and only 155 through the air. On the flip side, NDSU did that boa constrictor thing again, squeezing the clock for every drop of time on long, physical drives.
And third-down plays were NDSU's finest ally on offense, as it converted time after time at critical junctures — 10 out of 13 times, to be exact. It was an airtight victory.
It is such an interesting pattern over the past six seasons, that when it counts most, this program truly does have a gear that other FCS programs don't appear to consistently have.
"Year in and year out, this football team continues to get better, and that's the thing I'm most excited about as a coach," North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman said after the game. "We do continue to improve. We don't really plateau in the season. We continue to gain momentum."
North Dakota State's Grant Morgan (90) and his teammates made things tough on the South Dakota State run game (NDSU Athletics)
Youngstown State will be playing in the FCS semis for the first time since Dec. 9, 2006 at Appalachian State. Yes, it's been that long. Its game with Wofford was hardly a cakewalk, as the 30-23 double-overtime win was nail biting even with the Terriers not completing a pass. Wofford was forced, due to injury, to rely mostly on true freshman Joe Newman after starting Brandon Goodson.
Newman had only played sparingly in the regular season in four games, but was forced into The Citadel game last week and was a true spark in the win. He had a 75-yard touchdown run in the overtime loss, and finished with 125 on the ground–a good chunk of the nearly 300 yards rushing the team produced.
But YSU's Jody Webb was the biggest offensive star of the game, finishing with 213 rushing yards. Actually, make it the most effective runner of the year when it comes to playing Wofford. In 13 games, the Terriers had stymied opposing running backs. Ole Miss' Judd Akeem? Only 64 yards. Chattanooga's Derrick Craine?
How about 57 yards. The Citadel's Tyler Renew, one of the most physical backs in the FCS? In two games- 84 yards and 76 yards on 50 combined carries for a combined average of 3.2 per carry. The best this year had been Charleston Southern's Darius Hammond's 94 yards in the first round of the playoffs.
Webb bested Hammond by 119 rushing yards. He and the YSU offensive line solved one of the most brutal defenses of the entire level.
It's hard to see anybody having a rockier road to the FCS semifinals than Youngstown State has endured. In the first round, while all three of the other FCS semifinalists were working off their turkey and stuffing and resting up thanks to a bye, the Penguins were dueling it out with Samford — a team that had beaten two playoff teams (Central Arkansas and Wofford), played four total FCS playoff opponents this year and also hung 41 points on Mississippi State in late October. That was no slouch first-round draw and yet YSU slapped the Bulldogs around.
Then there was Jacksonville State, the No. 3 FCS seed coming off a two-week restful break. How'd that go? No problem — the Penguins went on the road and knocked the Gamecocks around like they did Samford. Now Wofford wasn't quite as easy this weekend, but then again the Terriers had disposed of a Citadel team that hadn't lost to an FCS team all year, and they did it convincingly on the road with a true freshman — Newman — being the spark.
Nobody — and I repeat, nobody — has had a tougher path to the FCS's version of the final four during December madness than the Penguins. They are proving they will be a force to be reckoned with next week and in the years to come.
But would we expect anything less?