FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview: UIW at Sam Houston and UT Martin at Montana State
With late-game heroics, overtime, road upsets and three first-time winners, the FCS playoffs got off to a fast start with the first round last Saturday.
This week, the action will be even sweeter with the round of 16 continuing on the Road to Frisco (Texas).
Following are capsule previews of two of the eight second-round games, with the winners set to meet in the quarterfinals:
UIW (10-2) at No. 1 seed Sam Houston (10-0)
Kickoff – 3 p.m. ET Saturday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas (ESPN+)
Series – Sam Houston leads 8-1
Coaches – UIW: Eric Morris (24-17, four seasons); Sam Houston: K.C. Keeler (79-22, eight seasons; 253-95-1 overall)
3 Players to Watch – UIW: QB Cameron Ward (345 of 529, 4,167 yards, 42 TDs, 10 INTs), WR Taylor Grimes (78 receptions, 1,041 yards, 14 TDs), LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (119 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 takeaways); Sam Houston: QB Eric Schmid (167 of 296, 2,254 yards, 26 TDs, 7 INTS; 291 rushing yards, 3 TDs), RB Ramon Jefferson (140 carries, 972 yards, 11 TDs), LB Markel Perry (38 tackles, 15 TFL, 5 sacks)
3 Key Factors – 1. Sam Houston, the reigning FCS champion, owns the longest active win streak in Division I at 21 games and is 16-0 all-time in FCS home playoff games. UIW is 0-5 all-time at Bowers Stadium. 2. UIW is ready to go end zone-to-end zone with the Bearkats. Ward is tied for No. 1 in the FCS in TD passes (42), while Grimes (15) and RB Kevin Brown (14) have combined for 29 TDs, the most for a pair of FCS teammates. 3. Special teams could play a pivotal role. In their careers, Sam Houston’s Jequez Ezzard is averaging 12.6 yards on punt returns and UIW’s Robert Ferrel 12.3 per return. SHSU’s Matt McRobert is averaging 46.1 yards per punt this season, while UIW is second in the FCS in net punting average, featuring Keven Nguyen and his 45.6-yard average.
Up Next – The winner will play UT Martin (10-2) or No. 8 seed Montana State (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.
Prediction – Sam Houston 38, UIW 28
UT Martin (10-2) at No. 8 seed Montana State (9-2)
Kickoff – 4 p.m. ET Saturday at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana (ESPN+)
Series – First meeting
Coaches – UT Martin: Jason Simpson (100-79, 16 seasons); Montana State: Brent Vigen (9-2, one season)
3 Players to Watch – UT Martin: RB Peyton Logan (143 carries, 1,050 yards, 4 TDs; 27 receptions, 253 yards, 3 TDs), RB Zak Wallace (142 carries, 788 yards, 15 TDs), LB John Ford (76 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 INTs, 4 pass breakups); Montana State: RB Isaiah Ifanse (210 carries, 1,258 yards, 8 TDs; 11 receptions, 100 yards, 1 TD). WR Lance McCutcheon (50 receptions, 904 yards, 6 TDs), LB Troy Andersen (111 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 7 pass breakups)
3 Key Factors – 1. Both teams have intriguing quarterback scenarios. Following UT Martin’s Keon Howard, the Ohio Valley Conference’s offensive player of the year, missing the first-round win at Missouri State with an injury, the school has listed Dresser Winn (who passed for 272 yards and two TDs) atop the depth chart this week. At Montana State, season-long starter Matthew McKay entered the NCAA transfer portal on Thursday, so a change is expected behind center. 2. Montana State ranks No. 9 in the FCS in rushing yards per game (218.5), just one spot behind UTM. The Bobcats have had their lowest rushing totals in their two losses. 3. The Bobcats rank third nationally in scoring defense (13.2 ppg), allowing a TD on only 11 of their opponents’ 25 trips into the red zone. Led by DE Daniel Hardy, they have four players with at least eight tackles for loss.
Up Next – The winner will play UIW (10-2) or No. 1 seed Sam Houston (10-0) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.
Prediction – Montana State 34, UT Martin 21