This year’s quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs has a familiar feel to it, at least for the fans and some of the longer tenured coaches. That’s because we’ve seen these games before.
Maybe we haven’t seen these exact teams meet up on the field before...but these programs? That’s a different story. In fact, three games this weekend will feature teams wanting to get revenge for something that happened well before most of these guys were even thinking about playing college football. History is repeating itself and there’s no telling how it will play out this go round.
South Dakota State & Villanova
This is the one game that some of the current players may actually have some personal history with. In the second round of the 2016 playoffs, the Wildcats and the Jacks met up in Brookings in what turned out to be a tightly contested showdown. South Dakota State squeaked by with a 10-7 win, and you can imagine that Villanova fans haven’t forgotten. That was just five years ago after all and this year’s edition will take place in Pennsylvania. Some now-famous pros even took part in that 2016 contest. Current NFL tight end Dallas Goedert was playing for the Jackrabbits back then and now resides in Villanova territory as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles (you can see his highlights from that game below).
That year’s Wildcats team was coming off a 10-point home win over St. Francis in the opening round and had a 9-3 overall record up to that point. SDSU was the #8 seed and was fresh off a first round bye. Despite what many expected going in, Villanova kept the game uncomfortably close throughout. South Dakota State freshman kicker Chase Vinatieri (nephew of Adam Vinatieri) hit a 40-yard field goal in the closing minutes to seal the win and avoid the upset.
It’s safe to say that at the very least the coaches will remember each other come Saturday. Jacks head coach John Stiegelmeier was coaching in that game as well and current ‘Nova head man Mark Ferrante was an assistant on the Wildcats at the time.
Montana State & Sam Houston
The Bobcats and the Bearkats have a beef that goes back at least a decade. In 2011 MSU fielded one of the best teams it had in a long time and that year’s squad, under the direction of Rob Ash, went 10-2 in the regular season. That mark was good enough to claim the Big Sky title, a feat the Bobcats have not accomplished since. That same season, Sam Houston went undefeated under current Tulane head coach Willie Fritz and earned themselves a #1 seed in the postseason (much like they did this year). Montana State escaped with a heart-stopping 26-25 victory over New Hampshire in that year’s playoffs to set up a quarterfinals date with the Bearkats in Huntsville. Sam Houston though, ended MSU’s season as they rolled 49-13.
These two weren’t done with each other just yet, though. Just a year later the programs found themselves squaring off in another quarterfinals bout, but this time it was in chilly Bozeman and the #2 overall seeded Bobcats were favored to win. Current Houston Texans assistant Denarius McGhee was quarterback for MSU at the time and had rallied the team just a week prior against Stony Brook to earn a rematch with the Bearkats. Sam Houston, however, was coming off a narrow victory of their own over Cal Poly and proved that 2011 was no fluke. They promptly dismantled the Bobcats again, this time in front of their home crowd.
Some alum who played in those games are excited for this year’s rematch. Former MSU receiver Elvis Akpla, who made one of the most incredible catches you’ll ever see against the Bearkats in 2011, chimed in on a social media post about this weekend’s game saying simply, “#revengetour.” Neither current head coaches Brent Vigen or K.C. Keeler had anything to do with their respective teams back in 2011 and 2012 but you can bet that fans haven’t forgotten.
This will be the third time that the two schools have met in the playoffs and all three times have come in the quarterfinals.
Montana & James Madison
Friday night’s game in Harrisonburg will feature a grudge match of epic proportions for those that want to look all the way back to 2004. Current Montana head coach Bobby Hauck was just in his second season with the Grizzlies back then and had put together an impressive 9-2 regular season campaign. The Griz won that year’s Big Sky conference title and bullied their way through the postseason. Their three playoff wins en route to the national championship were all blowouts. Waiting for them in the title game was none other than JMU. The Dukes put an end to Montana’s incredible season as they won the championship 31-21.
The Griz actually got their revenge, at least partially, a few years later in the 2008 playoffs. Montana and James Madison met up in the semifinals and played for the right at another championship berth. That time it was the Grizzlies who came out on top. The 35-27 victory for UM sent them to their second national title game appearance under Hauck. With each team claiming a playoff victory over the other in this one, it’s safe to assume the Griz would like another win over the program that kept them from a title. James Madison, though, was thwarted the opportunity to play for one of their own by these very Grizzlies.
Friday night will serve as the all-important rubber match.