Welcome to the quarterfinals, as we are now only two steps away from the National Championship game in Florence, Alabama. Fans are excited, the coaches are prepped, and the players are jacked. So enough introduction, let’s talk football!
New Haven v. Winston Salem State
If I had come to you at the beginning of the football season and said that the Super Region 1 final would be decided in a NEC v. CIAA match-up you would have laughed at me, and in all honesty you probably would have had every right to. Nobody considers either conference to be a powerhouse nor are they feared by anybody. However last weekend both these teams went a long way to changing that.
When New Haven has the ball…
New Haven loves to the throw the football and they love to kill teams underneath with short passes that are designed to protect their QB and expose defenses that may not be athletic enough to stop those short passes from turning into long gains. Kutztown found that out the hard way as QB Ryan Osiecki went off for 433 yards and five TD’s. He found his big play WR Jason Thompson six times for 214 yards and four scores. These two have been in a great rhythm all season long exposing defenses in the NEC left and right. Coming into this game New Haven is averaging 288.75 yards per game through the air and they aren’t a slouch on the ground either, where they average 141.08 yards per game and rely on RB Mike DeCaro to keep those chains moving. DeCaro only had 41 yards last weekend against Kutztown but added 54 more though the air including a score and that’s what makes him so dangerous. On the season he has732 rushing yards and 10 TD’s to go along with 233 receiving yards and two more scores.
The Winston-Salem defense is going to need to find a way to bring its play up to the next level. Fans will point to their eigth ranked total defense which allows only 278.42 yards per game or their fifth ranked scoring defense allowing only 16.33 points per game, but last week when faced with a true top notch offense they gave up 438 yards and 28 points. Winston-Salem must get better at stopping teams on third down (Cal converted 50%) and getting off the field. That starts up front with their ability to get to the QB and apply pressure. Coming into this game they are averaging 2.58 sacks per game and New Haven is allowing 2.33 sacks per game. If Winston-Salem is going to slow down this attack it will be by getting to Osiecki.
When Winston-Salem has the ball…
New Haven, please allow me to introduce you to Nicholas Cooper; he’s 6’0 and 245 lbs. of pure terror. Good luck bringing him down. Cooper has nine 100-yard games on the season including last week’s effort where he ran for 118 yards and three TD’s. He set benchmarks in both rushing yards and TD’s against Cal as he eclipsed the 1,500 yard and 20 TD mark for the season. Winston-Salem will also rely on QB Kameron Smith to complete throws and keep the defense from overloading the box to stop Cooper. Smith was pretty good v. Cal going 20 of 33 for 267 yards, two TD’s and an INT. Smith likes to target his two main WR’s on the outside in Tehvyn Brantley and Dominique Fitzgerald. They combined for 67 catches for 783 yards, and 12 TD’s this season. The most dangerous receiver on the team though may be Jahuann Butler, who only had 14 catches on the year, but is averaging over 27 yards per catch and has scored three times. Winston-Salem will be determined to establish Cooper early but they will not be afraid to go to the air if New Haven can contain the number nine RB in the country.
Leading the way in stopping Cooper will be junior DL Tom Herd. Herd has been a menace in the backfield all season long picking up 13.5 TFL to go along with 52 tackles. His ability to get into the backfield and make plays could prove very difficult for the Rams to defense. Herd however is not the only DL to worry about with New Haven as line mates Robert Hill and Raheem Stanley are tied for the lead in TFL on the team with 14. Combined, this trio made five stops in the backfield last Saturday and made it nearly impossible for Kutztown’s RB Robbie Frey to get starter. Frey who came into the game with over 1,100 yards was held to only 46 yards on nine carries.
The smart money here will lean towards New Haven. They have been a dominant team all season and eventually the WSSU luck must run out, right?
Not this weekend, New Haven hasn’t seen a back like Cooper and people are under selling how much Smith does for this offense. Im taking the Rams into the semi-finals.
North Greenville v. Delta State
In what could be considered a battle of David v. Goliath, in comes Delta State, last year’s National Runner-Up riding high as one of the top teams in the nation from arguably the top conference in Division II. Against them comes David (North Greenville) as a Division II Independent who never should of made it that far. North Greenville has made a miraculous run through these playoffs and the Crusader faithful are asking if they can make it happen just one more time.
When North Greenville has the ball…
North Greenville has had made a mess of teams by just sticking to its game plan. They have averaged 302.5 rushing yards per game through their first two playoff games, and haven’t run around defenses so much as they’ve run through them. North Greenville’s trio of RB’s has been keeping defenses off balance while your favorite QB and mine Willy Korn, has been knocking them over. Korn’s stats aren’t going to blow you away this post-season (21 of 28, 316 yards, 3 TD’s, 18 carries, 117 yards, 3 TD’s) but he’s come up so big in key moments that you may as well call him clutch. It interesting to note that despite the Crusaders running for more than 300 yards per game they are yet to have any one ball carrier eclipse 100 yards in a game this post-season. Their ability to use a number of backs in different ways and in different parts of the field make them extremely difficult to defend. It’s the same story when Korn goes to the air as he has found five different WR’s 15 or more times this year, all of whom have caught at least one touchdown as well.
To beat a team that deep and that versatile you have to have a strong defense and that’s what the Statesmen have. They enter with the 40th ranked rushing defense in the country and will rely on strong LB play to try and stuff the Crusaders. Ixavier Triplett is going to lead the way in trying to stop the run. The sophomore LB is second on the team in total tackles with 66 and has added 10 TFL. LB Robert Hogan brings pressure and speed off the edge that should help to funnel the running game into the middle and closer to Triplett.
When Delta State has the ball…
Delta State brings a balanced attack to this game, they average 277.92 yards per game through the air and 193.33 on the ground. They rely on RB’s Brandon Lucas and Richard Freelon to get the offense going on the ground. Together the two backs have ran for 1,137 yards and nine TD’s. Lucas also adds the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield with 21 receptions on the year. The passing game relies on QB Micah Davis to make them go. Davis who has had his fair share of struggles this season destroyed North Alabama last weekend going 17 of 24 for 214 yards for three TD’s. Davis added another 18 yards and a TD on the ground. Davis’s favorite target both all season long and in this game was WR Chance Dennis, he dominated North Alabama grabbing four passes for 88 yards and a TD.
North Greenville relies mainly on its ball control offense to milk the clock and keep opposing offenses off the field. Its talented but limited defense gave up -11 yards rushing to Albany State but then allowed Jonas Randolph of Mars Hill to run for over 200 yards by himself last week. Comparatively Albany State threw for 320 yards two weeks ago in Round 1 while Mars Hill threw for only 250 yards last weekend. North Greenville will have to get LB Jonathan Sharpe to step his game up to a new level this weekend if they hope to stabilize a defense that has been a bit bi-polar. The junior LB leads the Crusaders in tackles, sacks, and TFL.
As I said in my weekly column, I’m not getting off the Willy Korn train again. I’ll take David and the most unexpected semi-final of this post-season.
Wayne State v. Minnesota-Duluth
Two teams who many people probably thought wouldn’t make it here are now here as the RMAC went bust in Round 2 as both Nebraska-Kearney and CSU-Pueblo lost in somewhat surprising fashion. Wayne State is the Cinderella story of these playoffs going from the No. 6 seed to a quarterfinalist, while Minnesota-Duluth is the defending National Champion but have had to fight the whole way into this position.
When Wayne State has the ball…
For the second consecutive week it was the rushing attack of Wayne State that led the way and controlled the action. Two weeks ago it was RB Toney Davis who rumbled for 326 yards, but this past week he was held to only 69. Instead it was RB Josh Renel who led the way with 121 yards and two scores. Wayne State controlled the clock with its running game and QB Mickey Mohner made the passes he needed to in order to extend drives and keep the chains moving.
Minnesota-Duluth has excelled at stopping the run this post-season they have allowed only 125 total rushing yards over two games and have been scored on only twice by rushing attacks. Minn-Duluth shut down one of the best RB’s in the country last weekend in Jesse Lewis. Lewis was averaging over 77 yards rushing per game and was held to nearly 20 yards under that total by Minn-Duluth. As a team, Minn-Duluth had seven TFL’s and five sacks against CSU-Pueblo and will look for a similar result against Wayne State.
When Minnesota-Duluth has the ball…
Similarly to Wayne State, Minn-Duluth is going to run the ball and run it with multiple backs. The Bulldogs have run for 464 yards thus far this post-season along with six scores and will look to build on those numbers this weekend. Dual threat QB Chase Vogler leads the attack which features two other backs as ball carriers. Vogler is not as adapt a passer as Mohner going only 8 of 14 for 83 yards with a TD and INT last week. This could be a big potential downfall for a team that may need to score quickly in order to come back from a deficit.
Throwing the ball against Wayne State though is not always the best idea, just ask Nebraska-Kearney QB Jake Spitzilberger who threw three INT’s all to Wayne State DB Jeremy Jones. Those three picks give Jones nine on the year and he also returned his first INT for a TD last weekend. Jones also added seven tackles to his team leading 76 and continued to state his case for All-American status. If the Bulldogs are to be successful in this game they will have to find a way to neutralize Jones playmaking ability.
I can’t tell you definitively why Im taking the Wayne State Warriors but I can tell you I’m picking them to make up one of the craziest semi-final fields anybody could of imagined. Wayne State gets up early and forces Minn-Duluth out of the game-plan which is why they win the game.
Pittsburg State v. Northwest Missouri State:
A re-match between two bitter rivals who always play games that are always epic. Northwest Missouri will make its second trip to “The Jungle” on Saturday looking to avenge its Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh St. Can the Bearcats continue their miracle season after so much off season controversy or will the Gorillas finally get the Northwest monkey off their back?
When Pittsburgh State has the ball…
Revenge was the name of the game last week for Pittsburgh State as they deposed of Washburn State in comeback fashion winning 31-22. QB Zac Dikey came up big on the ground running 19 times for 94 yards. He also found big time playmaking WR John Brown 6 times for 119 yards. These numbers should look scarily similar to Northwest fans as Dikey ran for 102 and threw for 223 yards against Northwest earlier this year. 182 of those 223 yards went to WR John Brown. Pittsburgh State will look to duplicate those results against Northwest again this weekend.
Northwest’s defense allowed Pittsburgh State to squander away a 22 point lead at the half in their first match-up. There is literally no excuse for that kind of let down and if Northwest is going to get better its going to have to start with LB Chad Kilgore. Yes Kilgore had 17 tackles in the first game but he registered only half a tackle behind the line and must be more effective at getting penetration and filling gaps. DL Ricky Bailey who has been nearly invisible this post-season also needs to step up and do his part to shut down Dikey and the Gorillas.
When Northwest Missouri has the ball…
Midwestern State continued its magical run through the post-season by upsetting an arguably more talented Midwestern State squad. They fought back hard and earned their quarterfinals birth. Unlike the first time around QB Blake Christopher is now longer the starter due to injury so they will have to rely on back-up QB Trevor Adams who has been very good in relief. Adams has gone 147 of 232 for 2,144 yards, 21 TD’s, and 11 INT’s since Christopher has been injured but everything is easier when you have a RB the caliber of James Franklin touting the rock. Franklin ran for 116 yards in the first meeting but did not score and look for Coach Dorrel to find ways to get Franklin the ball and opportunities to get into the end zone this time.
Gus Toca will be the man asked to shut down Adams when he drops back to pass. Toca’s 10 sacks lead the team this year but he failed to apply any pressure in their first meeting. Instead it was LB Nate Dreiling who led the way with 12 tackles, three TFL, and a sack. Dreiling will again be counted on to repeat that performance along with some hopeful help from his teammates in shutting down Franklin.
To complete my clean sweep of the Division II miracle bracket I have to take Northwest here. With what they have gone through as a team and as part of the central Missouri community makes them very much like a team of destiny.
Matt Elder is covering the FCS, Division II and Division III playoffs all fall long for Crystal Ball Run.
Follow him on Twitter @MatthewCElder.
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