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FCS Playoffs: Quarterfinals Recap

The four semifinalists have been decided in what was another intense round of the FCS playoffs.

Montana v James Madison Photo by Tommy Martino/University of Montana via Getty Images

JMU rides Big Plays to Victory over Montana

On his first catch of the game, Grizzlies star receiver Samuel Akem was hurt and had to leave the game with an upper body injury. It was a sign of what kind of night it would be for Montana. The Dukes offense soon made bad news worse for the Griz. JMU jumped out to an emphatic 7-0 lead when receiver Devin Ravenel outran the UM defense for an 82-yard touchdown off a catch from Cole Johnson. Montana kicker Kevin Macias hit a season-long 51-yard field goal later in the first to cut the deficit to 7-3.

Montana’s injury woes continued in the second quarter. Quarterback Cam Humphrey was hit hard on a run and freshman Kris Brown had to take over. Brown, who has had seen some playing time this season, struggled against an aggressive JMU defense while the Griz’s own defense was having trouble limiting big plays from the Dukes offense. Running back Latrele Palmer went right up the gut for 50 yards for James Madison’s second touchdown. At halftime the Dukes led 14-3.

Coming out of the second half the Grizzlies opted to try out Robbie Patterson at quarterback but the result was the same. JMU forced a three and out but it was a pass interference call against CB Justin Ford that cost Montana even more. The Dukes held onto the ball despite apparently losing a fumble and capitalized with Johnson’s second touchdown pass of the night.

Now leading 21-3, the James Madison defense pinned its ears and went all out. They sacked Patterson on the ensuing drive and forced a sixth punt. The Griz defense, however, did its best to keep UM in the game. Robby Hauck forced a fumble that gave his team the ball back late in the third quarter.

Macias began the fourth quarter with another field goal and the Montana D forced a punt. Once again, however, the Dukes buckled down and kept Montana’s time on the field short. Johnson completed a 43-yard pass to Kris Thornton and Lorenzo Bryant Jr. ran in from eight yards out. JMU, now on top by 22, put the game away with an interception late and will advance to the semifinals for the third year in a row.

Montana (10-3) failed to score a touchdown for the first time all season. The Griz put up a defensive effort that registered four sacks and forced two turnovers. JMU (12-1) extends its playoff win streak in Bridgeforth Stadium to 13 games. Curt Cignetti picked up his 100th career win as a head coach as the Dukes accrued a total of 487 offensive yards and went 6 for 11 (54.5%) on third down. Johnson completed 17 of his 24 pass attempts for 295 yards and two scores while the ground game racked up 192 yards and two more touchdowns. JMU has played its final home playoff game as it begins its transition to FBS next season. The Dukes will face North Dakota State in Fargo next Friday.

North Dakota State wears down ETSU

The Fargodome is a scary place in December but ETSU’s defense didn’t flinch and held the Bison scoreless in the first quarter. NDSU, while having relative success on the ground, struggled early on the pass game. Playing without standout receiver Christian Watson made a difference in the early stages. Quarterback Cam Miller started the game completing just one of his six passes for eight yards. Even after giving the Bison an extended drive off an untimely offsides penalty, the Buccaneers had the score at 0-0 when the second quarter began.

In the second quarter ETSU beautifully executed a fake punt and picked up a first down near midfield and further silenced the Fargo crowd. Tyler Keltner, though, missed a 55-yard field goal attempt on the drive and the Bison got the ball at their own 38. TaMerik Williams finally got the first points for NDSU with a two-yard touchdown run moments later. The Bison went for two and failed to convert.

Williams tacked on his second touchdown in the final minute before halftime and extended the Bison lead to 13-0. All things considered, however, things could have been much worse for ETSU heading into the break.

The Bucs defense began the third quarter with another couple of impressive stops. After forcing a punt they held on 4th and short midway through the frame. Quarterback Tyler Riddell, however, threw an interception to Michael Tutsie and NDSU capitalized with a touchdown. Suddenly it was 20-0 and the makings of a blowout were brewing.

The Buccaneers found new life when Bison return man Jayden Price fumbled a punt and ETSU’s offense was able to muster a field goal out of it. Now trailing 20-3, the Bucs defense registered a huge sack and forced North Dakota State into a third and long to begin the fourth quarter.

Once again Riddell and the offense struggled with NDSU’s defense and again nothing came of the opportunity. Down the stretch the Bison offense kept the ball out of the hands of Riddell and company to prevent any hope of another Bucs comeback. They scored another rushing touchdown and that was that.

North Dakota State (12-1) will again advance to the semifinals where they will welcome James Madison next weekend. The Bison rand the ball 49 times for 278 yards and four touchdowns while holding ETSU to a season-low three points. The Bucs (11-2) struggled on third down, going just 3-for-14 (21.4%) and only managed 66 rush yards.

Strong Second Half propels SDSU past ‘Nova

Isaiah Davis got things rolling early for the Jackrabbits. Midway through the first quarter, Davis sprinted up the middle and in for a 24-yard touchdown that gave visiting South Dakota State a 7-0 lead. Villanova, who isn’t used to being ran on this season, suddenly had to look themselves in the mirror.

Rayjoun Pringle helped the Wildcats get back on track by running and catching passes on the ensuing series. He capped the drive by getting behind the Jacks secondary and hauling in a 37-yard touchdown from quarterback Daniel Smith. The eight-play, 75-yard scoring possession tied the game back up at 7-7.

With 8:09 to go in the second quarter, SDSU quarterback Chris Oladokun tossed a touchdown pass to Jaxon Janke to reclaim the lead. Once more, though, it was Pringle who made a big play to answer for the Wildcats. He brought in a long 37-yard pass before drawing a pass interference flag in the end zone. Smith scored on a quarterback keeper shortly after and knotted things at 14.

‘Nova took their first lead with 44 seconds left before the break when Smith completed another deep ball, this one a 55-yard bomb to Jaaron Hayken. Despite the crazy winds, Smith had thrown for 157 yards and two scores at halftime. Pringle had caught five passes for 101 yards.

Coming into the third quarter, the Jacks offense was without star running back Pierre Strong Jr. who had left the game in the opening half with an injury. Oladokun refused to let his team slip too far behind. He connected with Janke for a 39-yard catch to set up the Jacks offense in Wildcats territory. Davis took it from there and pushed for a touchdown to tie it back up.

At the end of the third SDSU reclaimed the lead with another Oladokun-to-Janke touchdown pass. Davis then extended that lead to 14 early in the fourth with his third touchdown to make it 35-21. Villanova, who once held a touchdown advantage, had surrendered 21 unanswered points.

Smith’s best efforts in the closing stages were not enough as a late fumble sealed it. The Jacks (11-3) won their second straight road game in the playoffs to earn a date with Montana State in the semifinals. Davis rushed for 174 yards on 25 touches while Oladokun accumulated 152 yards through the air and had two touchdowns of his own. Villanova (10-3) turned the ball over twice and was penalized seven times.

Mellott, Montana State shock Sam Houston 42-19

The visiting Bobcats were determined to show that they weren’t intimidated by the #1 seed Bearkats and their 22-game win streak in Huntsville on Saturday night. Freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott, making his second ever career start, marched Montana State’s offense right down the field. From deep in the Sam Houston red zone, though, MSU ran their own version of the “Philly Special” when receiver Willie Patterson took a pitch from running back Isaiah Ifanse and threw a touchdown to Mellott.

Up 7-0, the Bobcats defense forced an interception from Bearkats quarterback Eric Schmid and it only took Mellott and company one play to go up by 14. Patterson hauled in a 31-yard teardrop pass from Mellott. Sam Houston was reeling and a forced punt by MSU’s defense on the ensuing drive only made it worse. As the first quarter came to a close, the Montana State offense was set up with 1st and goal.

Mellott bullied his way in from a yard to start the second quarter and Montana State jumped out to a 21-0 lead. The Bearkats were stunned. Standout linebacker Markel Perry was ejected for targeting shortly after to make a bad night worse for Sam Houston. Still trailing by three scores, the Bearkats were desperate for any sort of answer. Instead, Schmid threw his second interception, this one to Jeffrey Manning Jr. and Mellott scored again. The Bearkats did finally score late in the half but Schmid was unable to connect on the two-point try. MSU led 28-6 at halftime.

Sam Houston got a spark coming out of the locker room when Ide Adeyi outran the Bobcats defense on a 61-yard touchdown catch and run touchdown. Again, though, the Bearkats were unable to convert their two-point try. Mellott, however, unloaded a deep 68-touchdown pass to receiver Lance McCutcheon to get the lead back up to 35-12.

When they absolutely couldn’t afford to do it, Sam Houston came up empty late in the third when kicker Seth Morgan missed a 34-yard field goal. In the fourth quarter MSU all but put it away with their third pick of the night. Simeon Woodard stepped in front of a Schmid pass and took it away. Shortly after, Ifanse burst through the middle for a 42-yard touchdown to put a bow on it for MSU.

The Bobcats (11-2) win their first ever road playoff game while Sam Houston (11-1) loses their first ever postseason contest at home in Bowers Stadium. Mellott did it all with five total touchdowns, one receiving, two rushing and two passing. Adeyi did score two long touchdowns for the Bearkats but the MSU defense rendered Schmid relatively ineffective. Sam Houston has played its last FCS postseason game as the program begins its transition to the FBS next year. Montana State becomes the first ever #8 seed to host a semifinal as they will welcome South Dakota State next Saturday.