The heavyweight division is on full display in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs this weekend.
Six of the eight programs have won FCS championships, and a seventh, South Dakota State, finished as the 2020 runner-up in a playoff that was contested last spring. ETSU is the exception in a group that has combined for 15 titles and 25 championship game appearances.
North Dakota State, the all-time leader with eight FCS titles, is hosting a quarterfinal on Saturday against ETSU, which seeks its first semifinal.
Following is capsule preview of the matchup:
No. 7 seed ETSU (11-1) at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (11-1)
Kickoff – Noon ET Saturday at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota (ESPN)
Series – First meeting
Coaches – ETSU: Randy Sanders (26-16, four seasons); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (35-4, three seasons)
5 Players to Watch – ETSU: RB Quay Holmes (251 carries, 1,518 yards, 17 TDs; 27 receptions, 299 yards, 3 TDs), RB/KR Jacob Saylors (136 carries, 985 yards, 10 TDs), LT Tre’mond Shorts (two-time All-Southern Conference first team), LB Donovan Manuel (116 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery), LB Jared Folks (89 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 7 QB hurries); North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (74 of 103, 1,030 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs; 210 rushing yards, 3 TDs), RB TaMerik Williams (91 carries, 605 yards, 10 TDs), RT Cordell Volson (three-time All-MVFC first team), DE Brayden Thomas (23 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8 sacks), LB Jackson Hankey (80 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries)
5 Key Factors – 1. ETSU is making its third all-time FCS playoff appearance and has an 0-2 record in previous road games. NDSU has reached the national quarterfinals in 12 straight seasons with eight championships and is 29-1 all-time in FCS home playoff games. 2. ETSU’s 3-4 defensive front has to handle the surge of NDSU’s offensive line, which in a second-round win over Southern Illinois powered the Bison to almost 38 minutes of possession and 389 rushing yards. Williams has averaged 103 rushing yards and two TDs during the Bison’s three-game winning streak. 3. No set of FCS players combine for as many all-purpose yards as ETSU’s Holmes (151.4 per game, fourth in FCS) and Saylors (147.8, sixth). 4. With Hankey the team’s tackle leader for a third straight season, the Bison defense is allowing just 83.1 rushing yards per game – second-best in the program’s Division I era (since 2004). 5. NDSU quickly smothers teams with a plus-85 scoring differential in the first quarter (best in the FCS) and a 154-point advantage in the first half. The visiting Bucs have been resilient, posting an FCS-high five wins in games when they’ve trailed in the fourth quarter. It includes a 32-31 second-round comeback against Kennesaw State with 15 points in the final minute and a half.
Up Next – The winner will face either No. 3 seed James Madison (11-1) or No. 6 seed Montana (10-2) in a national semifinal on Dec. 17 or 18.
Prediction – North Dakota State 38, ETSU 10