We are now guaranteed a new national champion in Division II this year as we head into the semifinals. Our first semifinal offers a battle between two Cinderellas who were never supposed to get this far. The second brings two of the top teams all year long together in what should be an epic showdown. Both games will be aired nationally on CBS College Sports so be sure to turn in for some college football postseason the way its supposed to be done.
Winston-Salem State v. Wayne State
It's a shame that the two Cinderella stories of these playoffs have to play in the semifinals, as opposed to meeting in the finals to conclude their story the way it should be. No matter what happens on Saturday, nobody can take away what these two teams have accomplished thus far.
When Winston-Salem has the ball...
The Rams come into this game 13-0 and feature one of the most unstoppable backs in all of Division II in Nicholas Cooper. Cooper has run for 1,712 yards and 21 TDs so far this season and has scored seven TDs in the playoffs. He has yet to be held to under 100 yards and will have to be the focus of the Wayne State defense.
The Warriors, however, cannot simply forget about QB Kameron Smith. The senior is adept at throwing the ball and has the ability to beat teams that cheat up in their efforts to stop Cooper. On the year Smith has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 32 TDs and over 2,500 yards. However, its important to note that three of the 10 INTs Smith has thrown this year have come in the playoffs. He has thrown one pick in every game so far, and if the Rams are to continue on, they must cut down on the mistakes. Especially considering they are going against DB Jeremy Jones who is ninth in the nation in INTs with nine, including three in one game just two weeks ago versus Nebraska-Kearney.
When Wayne State has the ball...
Much like Winston-Salem State, Wayne State is going to come out and run the football. Wayne State features two 1,200-yard rushers in Toney Davis and Josh Renel and will rely on them in this game to pick up first downs and keep opposing defenses off balance. Renel and Davis work well in a two-back system where Davis provides the power needed to pick up tough yards and Renel has the speed to get to the outside and turn the corner. So far through the playoffs they have carried the ball 125 times for 682 yards and 10 TDs. A large majority of that production came the first round when RB Toney Davis went off for 326 yards and five scores on his own.
Winston-Salem will need to be cautious about the running game of Wayne State but also be aware of QB Mickey Mohner and WR Troy Burrell. Burrell and Mohner have developed a special chemistry this year that is hard to put into words. Let's just say that Burrell has 82 receptions on the year, and that's 60 more than any other player on the team. Burrell has accounted for 49 percent of Mohner's completions (82 of 166), 60 percent of his passing yards (1,545 of 2,584) and 63 percent of his touchdowns (15 of 24). It's going to be up to LB Cameron Fields, Jr. and FS Malcolm Rowe to stop this attack. Both players will need to be active in all facets of the game if they hope to slow the Warriors down.
Give me the Warriors to come out of this and continue their Cinderella story. They came into these brackets as a six seed and were considered by many to be the red-headed step child of the GLIAC, but they have shown that perception doesn't mean anything as long as you bring it on that field on Saturdays.
Delta State v. Pittsburgh State
If ever there was a match-up of two top level teams in Division II, here we have it. For many fans of Division II football this is the exact semifinal they wanted as both of the top-seeded teams from Super Region 2 and Super Region 4 made it into the semifinals with a trip to Florence on the line.
When Delta State has the ball...
The defending national runner-up finds itself in familiar territory – a win away from Florence and a win away from a shot at redemption. So few teams get this opportunity that you know the Statesmen won't hesitate to take advantage.
Look for Delta State to come out early and establish the running game. Its not as strong as it once was in years past when guys like Trevar Deed were leading the way, but the game plan is still the same. In both of Delta State's playoff wins, it ran the ball over 40 times as a team. DSU uses a trio of backs to try to inflict damage, but the most successful this postseason has been Richard Freelon, who just last week ran for 138 yards and three scores against North Greenville. Look for him to once again the majority of carries for Delta State.
The leader of this DSU offense, though, is senior QB and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Micah Davis. Davis is a dual-threat QB who has scored 13 TDs this year on the ground and had thrown for another 22. However, Davis has struggled this season with throwing costly INTs. Davis has cleaned up his throws in the postseason, throwing only one INT through two games, but in the two games preceding the postseason Davis threw six.
Davis will have to be sure he accounts for LB Nate Dreiling, who has been an INT machine this season, leading all LBs with seven, including one in each playoff game that he has played in thus far. Dreiling is able to sit back in coverage comfortably because of the pressure DL Gus Toca brings off the edge. If Toca can get after Davis and force him into mistakes, this DSU squad will face an uphill battle to get back to Florence.
When Pittsburgh State has the ball..
Its pretty safe to say that this DSU defense hasn't seen a QB like Zac Dickey yet this season. Dickey takes Micah Davis's dual-threat ability and puts it to shame. Dickey has already gone over 1,000 yards rushing and is only 68 yards shy of eclipsing 2,000 passing yards on the season. That kind of production is not common in the GSC from a QB. Last week against Northwest, Dickey was exceptional, going for 413 total yards and throwing three touchdowns. If he is allowed to continually make plays with his feet and his arm then there is no stopping the Gorillas.
Dickey, however, is not the only playmaker to worry about on this offense, because WR John Brown has been near uncoverable all season long. Brown has 52 receptions for 1,037 yards and 11 TDs. Brown is peaking at exactly the right time this year as a the sophomore has gone over the 100-yard mark in four consecutive games and has scored seven TDs in that same time frame. Trying to get a handle on Brown will be DSU CB Dominique Davenport, who leads the Statesmen in INTs with four and is considered their top cover corner. Trying to spy Dickey will be sophomore LB Ixavier Triplett. Triplett will be asked to spy Dickey like he did with Chase Vogler of Minn-Duluth in last year's national title game. Triplett was pretty effective in that role, showing off good range and pursuit. He finished the day with 10 tackles, a TFL, and a sack. If he can have a similar result on Saturday, it will go a long way towards getting DSU back to Florence.
I think DSU is exceptionally talented. I think the team has a great mix of veterans and young players who know what to expect after last year's run. DSU is probably considered the favorite in this game.
That all being said, I think the Gorilla's have more explosive playmaking ability. I think Dickey is going to give DSU issues all game long and I think the Gorilla's are going to bring the jungle to Florence.
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