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FCS Playoffs: Second Round Recap

Seven of the eight seeded teams moved on this weekend in a wild second round.

Syndication: Worcester Telegram Rick Cinclair/Telegram & Gazette / USA TODAY NETWORK

Villanova survives Holy Cross

The Wildcats are advancing to their first quarterfinals appearance since 2014 thanks to a closer-than-expected victory over Holy Cross on Friday evening.

Both defenses came to play to start the game but after a scoreless first quarter, Villanova finally got a spark when freshman DB Ethan Potter intercepted Crusaders quarterback Matt Sluka. Justin Covington got the Wildcats into the end zone on a 2-yard run shortly after.

Covington would extend the lead later when he capped a lengthy drive with his second touchdown, this one a 7-yard run.

Holy Cross, who trailed the majority of its first-round game last week, would not go quietly, however, and got right back in it coming out of halftime. Going 68 yards in 12 plays, the Crusaders got their first touchdown of the game courtesy of a 7-yard pass from Jordan Fuller to Sean Morris. On the ensuing Villanova drive, Holy Cross’ Frankie Monte forced a fumble and set up Derek Ng for a 22-yard field goal.

TD Ayo-Durojaiye, who had just fumbled the ball, made up for it with a 55-yard kick return on the next drive and set the Wildcats offense up beautifully. Jalen Jackson ran it in from 14 yards out to extend the Villanova lead to 21-10.

Again the Crusaders refused to fold. With 6:22 remaining, Sluka ran in for a 3-yard score to draw Holy Cross within five but he threw an interception on the two-point try afterward. From there the Wildcats would close it out.

In spite of picking up only 14 first downs compared to Holy Cross' 23 and being outgained 347 to 281, Villanova (10-2) escapes and will stay home to take on South Dakota State next weekend. The Crusaders (10-3) held the ball for nearly 38 minutes on Friday night but will ultimately see their season come to an end.

Grizzlies get Revenge on EWU in Shootout

Despite giving up some big plays early on, Montana outpaced Eastern Washington's prolific offense on Friday night before a raucous crowd in Missoula.

The #6 seed Griz fell behind to their conference rivals when Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Eric Barriere hit receiver Jakobie James in stride for a 54-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. The already anxious home fans were rendered even more worried when EWU running back Dennis Merrit broke free on another big play score, this one a 57-yard run.

Montana kicker Kevin Macias' two field goals and a blocked punt kept the Grizzlies within striking distance of the Eagles. When halftime rolled around, Eastern Washington clung on to a narrow 21-20 lead.

The Grizzlies have been excellent in the third quarter all season long and that pattern would ring true again. Just over a minute out of the break, Macias hit his third field goal of the game to give Montana the lead they would not surrender. The Griz defense buckled down and forced EWU to punt three times in the third frame. They also recovered a fumble on an errant pitch play by Barriere. Aided by tremendous field position thanks to the return game, Cam Humphrey and Montana's offense capitalized and put up 24 points in the third while Eastern was held to only seven.

In the fourth quarter, the Eagles did all they could to hang around. After Humphrey hit star receiver Samuel Akim for a 30-yard strike that put the Griz up 50-28, Barriere and company responded with a score of their own. Talolo Limu-Jones hauled in his second touchdown reception of the night but shortly after Barriere tossed an interception to Justin Ford who returned it for a touchdown and all but iced the game.

Ford now has an astonishing nine picks this season. Despite another stellar performance from Barriere (530 passing yards and five touchdowns) and outgaining Montana 608 yards to 368, Eastern (10-3) fell 57-41. Humphrey tossed three touchdowns of his own and three different ball carriers scored for the Grizzlies. UM’s defense forced two turnovers. Montana (10-2) avenged the loss to EWU back in October and will now move on to face James Madison in the quarterfinals.

ETSU completes Miraculous Comeback over KSU

It looked as though Kennesaw State was well on its way to the program's third appearance in the quarterfinals in its young history. ETSU, however, completed a series of incredible plays in the closing minutes including a recovered onside kick and a two-point conversion to steal a 32-31 win at home and survive.

Things didn't look good for the visiting Owls at the beginning of the game. Quarterback Xavier Shepherd went down with an injury and backup Jonathan Murphy had to come in. After a scoreless opening quarter, ETSU drew first blood when quarterback Tyler Riddell hit Quay Holmes for a 34-yard touchdown early in the second.

KSU answered right back with a long touchdown of their own thanks to a 50-yard reception by Iaan Cousin from Murphy. A 47-yard field goal by Buccaneers kicker Tyler Keltner gave ETSU a 10-7 halftime lead.

After trading touchdowns to start the second half, KSU finally got the upper hand. The defense forced three consecutive ETSU punts and the Owls offense responded with scores each time. That resulted in a 31-17 lead in the waning minutes.

With just 1:28 to play, Riddell connected with Will Huzzie to pull the Bucs to within a score. ETSU then got newfound life when Tim Stayskal recovered the ensuing onside kick at the KSU 48-yard line. Four plays later Riddell found Holmes for a touchdown with under a minute to play. Instead of opting for the tie, however, ETSU went for the win on a two-point try. Riddell hit Nate Adkins for the conversion and the Buccaneers snagged the shocking win.

Kennesaw State (11-2) had won 11 straight before falling in heartbreaking fashion. Meanwhile ETSU, who was actually an underdog at home, comes away with an emotional and improbable victory to keep their season alive. They will travel to Fargo to take on NDSU.

James Madison blows by Southeastern Louisiana

The Dukes left no doubt about their status as a top three seed as they demolished Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday afternoon. Cole Johnson threw five touchdowns and Antwane Wells Jr. caught three of them as JMU rolled to a 59-20 win.

The Lions scored first with a Mateo Rengifo field goal but from there it was all James Madison. Two Johnson touchdown passes put the Dukes on top 14-10 at the end of the first.

They would find the end zone three more times before the break and kicker Ethan Ratke tacked on three more insurance points to make the score a lopsided 38-13 at the half. From there it was in cruise control for JMU.

James Madison threw for 321 yards and ran for another 163 while the defense forced five turnovers including three interceptions from SLU quarterback Cole Kelly. The Lions (9-4) went 5-of-14 on third downs. JMU (11-1) will now prepare to host #6 seed Montana next weekend.

Sam Houston squeaks past Incarnate Word

The #1 seed survived a scare against in-state foe Incarnate Word to remain undefeated at home all-time in the playoffs. The Bearkats withstood a Cardinals team that went blow for blow with them and... by a yard... earned their way to the quarterfinals.

UIW opened the game with a long, 13-play touchdown drive that was capped with the first of Cam Ward's five scoring passes. Taylor Grimes hauled in a 3-yard pass to put the Cardinals up 7-0. Sam Houston running back Noah Smith would tie back up it later in the first with a 3-yard touchdown run.

That's the kind of day it would be. Every time one team did something, the other responded. Despite holding a 10-point advantage at halftime, the Bearkats found themselves trailing the Cardinals 35-34 early in the fourth quarter.

Down by one with 8:13 to go, Ramon Jefferson pushed in from a yard out to reclaim the lead for Sam Houston. Eric Schmid hit Smith on the two-point conversion. The Bearkats defense, which gave up 600 total yards on the day, would be the unit that closed out the win.

With UIW's offense down at the Sam Houston 4-yard line threatening to tie the game on 4th down, Joe Wallace bodied up Ward at the 1 and kept him out of the end zone.

Incarnate Word (10-3) was penalized 13 times for 105 yards while the Bearkats were flagged 11 times for 101 yards. Neither team turned the ball over. The Bearkats remain undefeated and will host Montana State next weekend.

NDSU rumbles past Southern Illinois

The FargoDome is a house of horrors for visiting teams in the playoffs and NDSU made that apparent again this weekend as they rolled by MVC rival Southern Illinois 38-7.

Four of the Bison's five first-half drives were at least nine plays long and all four of them ended in points. The Salukis only broke the chalk once in the opening half and found themselves trailing 24-7 at halftime.

NDSU all but put the game away on their first series in the third quarter. They drove 75 in 15 plays, chewing over eight minutes off the clock and scored their fourth touchdown. TeMerik Williams scored his second touchdown of the day to make it 31-7. Quarterback Quincy Patterson put on the exclamation point with a 32-yard touchdown run late in the fourth.

Once again the Bison are moving on and doing so in a big way. They had more rushing yards (389) than SIU did in total yards (281). Williams ran for 112 yards while the defense held the Salukis (8-5) to just 61 rush yards. The Bison (11-1) will host East Tennessee State in the quarterfinals.

Montana State Defense, Ground Game topple UT-Martin

On Thursday night Montana State found out that starting quarterback Matthew McKay was entering the transfer portal. That, however, did not slow down the Bobcats in their playoff opener against the UT-Martin on Saturday afternoon. MSU rode an excellent rushing performance to a 26-7 victory over the Skyhawks.

Freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott got the nod for his first career start but it took him and the Bobcats offense a little while to get rolling. On a 4th and goal early in the second quarter, though, Mellott pushed his way in to give the Bobcats a 7-0 lead. With winds swirling in Bozeman, nothing was guaranteed through the air, be it pass or kick. MSU kicker Blake Glessner, who had missed a field goal in the first quarter, barely hooked a kick off the upright and in to extend the lead to 10-0 midway through the second.

Right before halftime, UT-Martin's defense got the Skyhawks on the board when Mellott fumbled and Jay Woods rumbled 68 yards down the sideline for the score to cut the deficit to 10-7.

In the second half, Montana State poured it on with a heavy dose of Mellott and running back Isaiah Ifanse. Both Mellott and Ifanse racked up over 170 yards each on the ground all the while MSU's stellar defense kept the Skyhawks off the board. Ifanse scampered in for a 17-yard score late in the fourth and MSU cornerback Simeon Woodard picked off UT-Martin quarterback Stewart Howell to seal the win.

Montana State (10-2) allowed zero defensive points while the rushing attack put up 387 total yards. Mellott only threw for 51 yards but rushed for two scores. MSU's offense held the ball for nearly 37 minutes. The Bobcats will travel to Texas next weekend to play #1 seed Sam Houston. UT-Martin (10-3) was again without quarterback Keon Howard for the contest.

Sac State's Rally comes up Short

The Big Sky champion Sacramento State Hornets came up just short against the visiting South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday night. After scoring 19 unanswered, the Hornets were unable to close it out and the Jacks came away with a 24-19 victory.

SDSU picked up right where they left off a week ago and stormed out to a 24-0 lead with 1:43 left in the second quarter. Sac State finally got their first points off a Kyle Sentkowski field goal as time expired before halftime but still, the Jacks led 24-3.

The second half was all Hornets, though, as Jake Dunniway connected with Pierre Williams for a 3-yard touchdown that would be the only scoring in the third.

Later on, after another Sentkowski field goal, Isaiah Gable caught a one-yard score from Asher O'Hara but the two-point try failed and Sac State trailed by five with just 2:33 to play.

Needing a stop, the Hornets defense forced South Dakota State into a 4th and inches situation. Jacks quarterback Chris Oladokun stood up from under center and angrily walked toward the sidelines, apparently frustrated with a play call. It was all a ruse, however, as the ball was snapped directly to Isaiah Davis who rumbled ahead for the first down and the victory.

Sac State (9-3) again loses in the second round after being a seeded team with a bye as they did in 2019 and are still looking for their first playoff win. The Jacks (10-3) had to pull out all the stops to withstand the Hornets' furious rally but ultimately they will be moving on to face Villanova.