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FCS Playoffs: Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions

Just eight teams remain in the playoffs now and tickets to the semifinals are up for grabs this weekend.

Syndication: Knoxville Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle, Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Outside of the Celebration Bowl, there are only seven games left on the FCS calendar and four of them go down this weekend. All eight teams still alive in the playoffs are the eight teams that received seeds in this year’s tournament and after looking at these quarterfinal matchups coming up, it certainly seems like the committee got it on the nose with their picks. Come Saturday night eight will be trimmed down to four. Who stays alive and who goes home this weekend?

North Dakota State Hosts Samford

History tends to repeat itself, especially in football, and the Bison (10-2) are again writing the book they have so many times in the past. After blowing through Montana last weekend, NDSU seems as poised as ever to make another run at Frisco. Standing in their way this weekend is SoCon champion Samford (11-1). On Friday night, the Bulldogs will be the next to try and dethrone the juggernaut on the field that’s damn near impossible for visitors to win on.

The biggest question for Samford right now is how healthy quarterback Micheal Hiers is and whether or not he can play. After aggravating a wrist injury last week against SLU, Hiers was removed from the game and backup Quincy Crittendon came in and got it done in overtime. Make no mistake, though, the Bulldogs need Hiers and need him at his best if they are to keep pace with North Dakota State. Hiers threw for 3,307 yards and 35 touchdowns this year. Crittendon did toss four scores last week in a gutsy effort from the bench but can he do it again if called on? Hiers is currently a game-time decision.

The Bison are also getting bit by the injury bug. It was announced earlier this week that All American fullback Hunter Luepke is done for the season with a shoulder issue. Losing Luepke is a big blow but NDSU has other ways it can hurt opponents on the ground. Running back Tamerik Williams has eight touchdowns this season and ran for 101 yards last week against Montana. He has scored in four straight games and averaged over nine yards per carry last weekend.

Quarterback Cam Miller can also tuck it and run if need be. Miller ran for 81 yards and two scores against the Grizzlies last Saturday after running for five in the regular season finale against UND a few weeks back. Miller is an effective passer as well with 1,516 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Samford’s defense will need to be ready for a variety of things that NDSU can throw at them.

The only team that’s ever beaten NDSU in the Fargodome during the playoffs is no longer in the FCS (James Madison) and that alone makes it difficult to see Samford escaping with a win here. The Bulldogs, however, will not be intimidated by playing a team with the prestige of North Dakota State because earlier this fall they squared off with a team that’s in the College Football Playoff right now in Georgia. That was the only game the Bulldogs have lost this year and that says something for the resolve of this squad.

PREDICTION: Samford: 17 - North Dakota State: 30

ESPN2 will carry the contest at 7:00 PM (ET).

William & Mary, Montana State Clash on Friday Night

Homefield advantage may never be more evident than on Friday evening when Montana State welcomes in William & Mary. The Bobcats (11-1) have won 19 straight in their building partly because it’s one of the loudest and coldest venues in all of the FCS. Flexing the game to Friday night under the lights should only exacerbate the noise and low temps but the Tribe (11-1) are no pushover either. Winners of eight in a row, W&M is riding in high with aspirations of an upset on their minds.

Montana State fields the best rushing attack in the nation right now having averaged 330.9 yards per contest on the ground. In the sub freezing weather this should play to MSU’s benefit. The QB tandem of Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers has been gashing defenses all season but so has the running back corps. Now with All-American Isaiah Ifanse back in the mix, the Bobcats look as scary as ever. Against Weber State last week, MSU ran for 388 yards with Ifanse accounting for 91.

John Pius will play a major role for the Tribe in thwarting the Montana State run game. The sophomore is one of the best pass rushers in the country with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He leads a defense that allows under 20 points and 144.4 rush yards per outing. He and Nate Lynn (6 sacks, 10 TFL) will have a tall task on their hands.

Offensively, William & Mary is led by quarterback Darius Wilson who has thrown for 2,190 yards and 16 touchdowns. He will be joined in the backfield by standout running back Bronson Yoder. Yoder has ran for 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns this fall while averaging 6.4 yards per touch.

This contest will likely boil down to how well the Tribe can plug the gaps up front because if MSU’s flurry of rushers find holes it’s going to be trouble. Mellott and Chambers can both pass the ball effectively as well, though, meaning that the W&M defense needs to be attentive on the back end also. There’s a lot stacked against the visitors in this one but at the same time, they’ve only lost one game all season and that was to Elon back in September.

PREDICTION: William & Mary: 24 - Montana State: 34

The game will begin at 10:15 PM (ET) on ESPN2.

Two of FCS’ Top Offenses Meet with UIW, Sac State

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last Saturday Sacramento State got a very big bugaboo off its back when they knocked of Richmond to pick up their first ever playoff victory. With those demons in the rear view now, though, the Hornets (12-0) turn their attention to a scary good Incarnate Word team. The Cardinals (11-1) have an electric offense and dynamite quarterback that’s as good as they come at any level. It could be a long slog for both defenses on Friday night.

UIW signal-caller Lindsey Scott Jr. is downright lethal when slinging the ball and he proved again last week against Furman. Scott, who has an eye-popping 55 touchdowns this season, threw five against the Paladins. He averages over 340 passing yards per game and has a plethora of weapons to choose from. Receivers Taylor Grimes and Darion Chafin each went over 1,000 yards receiving this year while running back Marcus Cooper hit 1,148 on the ground.

On the other side, Sac State will run perhaps the most effective two-quarterback system in the land with Asher O’Hara and Jake Dunniway. O’Hara has run for 19 touchdowns this year while Dunniway has thrown for over 2,000 yards. Throw in standout running back Cameron Skattebo into that fray and the Hornets, like Incarnate Word, have an offense that can seemingly score at will.

All that means that whichever defense can step up will likely win this game. The Cardinals surrender 20.7 points per game while Sacramento State gives up 22.6. Defensive lineman Chris Whittaker on UIW’s side will play a big part as will Sac State linebacker Armon Bailey. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles while Whittaker is tops on the Cardinals defense in sacks with 7.5.

This is going to be a track meet of a game and it may very well come down to has the ball last. Scott has shown time and time again he has what it takes to lead the Incarnate Word offense against anyone but Sac State is the one that’s unbeaten on the year. This one has the feeling of being that game that’s a shame someone has to lose.

PREDICTION: Incarnate Word: 38 - Sacramento State: 35

The Cardinals and Hornets will kick at 10:30 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

South Dakota State Welcomes Holy Cross

Playing in just their first quarterfinal game since 1993, Holy Cross (12-0) has been given the lofty task of battling the #1 seed on the road. South Dakota State (11-1) does just about everything right and has smothered almost everyone they’ve come across in 2022. From a suffocating defense to an explosive offense, the Jacks are as a good as it gets. The Crusaders, though, haven’t suffered a loss since last year’s playoffs and could turn the bracket on its head with one more win on Saturday.

No one in the FCS stops the run better than SDSU. The Jacks allow a mere 70.8 yards per game on the ground. Linebackers Adam Bock and Jason Freeman spearhead the stout unit. Bock and Freeman have combined for 123 total stops (11 for loss) six sacks on the year and that’s with Bock missing four games due to injury. If this group can force Holy Cross signal-caller Matthew Sluka to become one-dimensional then winning the game becomes that much easier.

Stopping Sluka, though, is much easier said than done. The dynamic QB has thrown for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 while accounting for 36 total touchdowns. Last week against New Hampshire he hit the century mark running for the fifth time this season and threw for a score. Running back Peter Oliver will also see a lot of carries as he toted the ball 30 times against the Wildcats last Saturday.

South Dakota State will have their own set of offensive weapons at their disposal. Quarterback Mark Gronowski has had a stellar year with 2,378 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. Running back Isaiah Davis has 1,062 rush yards and 12 scores on his portfolio for the year while receivers Jaden and Jaxon Janke have lit it up through the air. On top of all of that, SDSU has arguably the best tight end in the nation as well with Tucker Kraft.

It seems like an almost impossible job that’s been laid out at Bob Chesney and his team’s feet this weekend. Stopping this Jackrabbit bunch is something only the Big Ten’s Iowa Hawkeyes have been able to do and even they struggled mightily to get it done. The Jacks are built to win this time of year and have just enough sour taste in their mouths from last season to be the most dangerous team left standing. If Holy Cross is to have any chance of leaving Brookings with a stunner, it will need to play darn near perfect football.

PREDICTION: Holy Cross: 14 - South Dakota State: 27

The game will kick off at 12:00 PM (ET) on ESPN.