FCS Second-Round Playoff Review: Seeded Teams in Command
Following a bye week of rest, the home teams flexed their muscles in the second round of the FCS playoffs, winning seven of the eight games this weekend.
Nonetheless, there were some terrific matchups, and ETSU’s late rally and Sam Houston’s nailbiter were highlights.
Here’s a review of the second round:
No. 7 seed ETSU (11-1) 32, Kennesaw State (11-2) 31
How The Game Was Won – ETSU scored 15 points in the final 1 minute, 28 seconds to come back for a dramatic victory – its first in the postseason since 1996. After Tyler Riddell’s four-yard touchdown pass to Quay Holmes with 35 seconds left pulled the Buccaneers within 31-30, they went for a two-point conversion and got it with tight end Nate Adkins catching a pass from Riddell in the back of the Kennesaw end zone.
Game Ball – The gutty two-point decision puts ETSU coach Randy Sanders into the mix, but Holmes, who entered the game as the FCS rushing leader, was his usual all-around self, catching seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, and carrying the ball 13 times for 87 yards and another TD.
Key Stat – Hah, the Southern Conference champ was 1 of 1 on the onside kick with Tim Stayskal recovering an attempt with 1:26 remaining to give the Bucs the ball again after they had pulled within 31-24 on the first of their two late touchdowns.
Up Next – ETSU will play at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (11-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 11. It will be a first-time meeting.
No. 3 seed James Madison (11-1) 59, Southeastern Louisiana (9-4) 20
How The Game Was Won – James Madison ran off 38 unanswered points over a 14-minute span of the second and third quarters to blow out Southeastern Louisiana.
Game Ball – The “Cole Bowl” went to James Madison quarterback Cole Johnson, who accounted for 365 yards of total offense and six touchdowns to outperform Southeastern’s Cole Kelley, who in defeat surpassed 5,000 passing yards this season (5,124). Johnson averaged nearly 39 yards on five TD passes and scored from 35 yards out.
Key Stat – Southeastern unraveled with five turnovers, including JMU linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey scoring on a 43-yard interception return. JMU has an FCS-best plus-21 turnover margin.
Up Next – James Madison will host No. 6 seed Montana (10-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10. James Madison will host No. 6 seed Montana (10-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11. In two prior meetings, JMU won in the 2004 national championship game and UM triumphed in a 2008 semifinal.
No. 2 seed North Dakota State (11-1) 38, Southern Illinois (8-5) 7
How The Game Was Won – North Dakota State controlled the All-MVFC matchup on the ground, carrying the ball 62 times for 389 yards and five touchdowns. The Bison improved to 29-1 all-time in FCS playoff games inside the Fargodome.
Game Ball – Quarterback Cam Miller (two touchdown runs) and the running backs will be the first to give it to the Rams, the affectionate nickname of the NDSU offensive line.
Key Stats – The Bison converted nine of 13 third-down attempts while posting a 28-14 advantage in first downs, and had a commanding 15:30 edge in time of possession.
Up Next – NDSU has reached the national quarterfinals for the 12th straight season and will host No. 7 seed ETSU (11-1) on Dec. 11.
No. 1 seed Sam Houston (11-0) 49, UIW (10-3) 42
How The Game Was Won – Sam Houston, the defending FCS champion, overcame three different deficits and broke a 42-42 tie on quarterback Eric Schmid’s three-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left to play. The Bearkats clinched their 22th straight win since 2019 (which matches the sixth-longest streak in FCS history) with a goal-line stand.
Game Ball – Considering UIW’s Cameron Ward passed for 481 yards and five touchdowns, Sam Houston was fortunate to have running back Ramon Jefferson controlling game clock with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Key Stat – The Bearkats always find a way to survive and advance in an FCS playoff game at Bowers Stadium. They improved to 17-0 all-time in such matchups.
Up Next – Sam Houston will host No. 8 seed Montana State (10-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 11. The Bearkats have a 4-2 series lead, winning the most recent matchup in 2012.
No. 8 seed Montana State (10-2) 26, UT Martin (10-3) 7
How The Game Was Won – The distraction of season-long quarterback Matthew McKay getting benched and then announcing his intention to enter the NCAA transfer portal were put behind Montana State by new starter Tommy Mellott’s outstanding rushing performance. The defense shined as well as UT Martin did not have an offensive touchdown.
Game Ball – Mellott, making his first career start, had 23 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns (1 nd 73 yards). He was 8 of 20 for 51 yards.
Key Stats – The Bobcats held a 13:30 advantage in time of possession while outgaining UT Martin 438 to 178 (running back Isaiah Ifanse was right behind Mellott, chewing up 176 yards).
Up Next – Montana State, under first-year coach Brent Vigen, will play at No. 1 seed Sam Houston (10-0) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 11.
South Dakota State (10-3) 24, No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-3) 19
How The Game Was Won – Isaiah Davis rushed for a pair of first-half touchdowns as South Dakota State built a 24-0 first-half lead. The Jackrabbits then held off Sacramento State’s slow-but-sure rally to become the only unseeded road team to win in the second round.
Game Ball – SDSU cornerback Don Gardner, playing with a wrist cast, stymied Sac State in the first half with an interception in the Jackrabbits’ end zone and finished with seven tackles, including four solos and one for loss.
Key Stats – The Jackrabbits averaged 7.4 yards per carry in their big first half. Davis had 108 of their 205 rushing yards – the fourth time he’s been over 100 in his six career playoff games.
Up Next – South Dakota State will move from the West to the East when coach John Stiegelmeier’s 25th season continues at No. 5 seed Villanova (10-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 11. In one previous meeting, the Jackrabbits won 10-6 in the second round of the 2016 playoffs (then-Villanova coach Andy Talley’s final game).
No. 5 seed Villanova (10-2) 21, Holy Cross (10-3) 16
How The Game Was Won – Justin Covington rushed for two first-half touchdowns and Jalen Jackson scored on the ground in the third quarter before Villanova held on in the fourth, earning the first playoff win in coach Mark Ferrante’s five seasons.
Game Ball – ‘Nova linebacker Forrest Rhyne reached double figures in tackles in each half, finishing with a career-high 21 overall. He had three tackles for 13 yards in losses, including both Wildcats’ sacks, and added one quarterback hurry.
Key Stat – While Holy Cross led in many statistical categories, Villanova converted all three possessions that reached the Crusaders’ red zone into touchdowns, while the Patriot League champion was only 3 of 5 inside the Wildcats’ 20. The Crusaders failed to convert a fourth down on their first possession and misfired on a field goal attempt to end the first half.
Up Next – Villanova will host South Dakota State (10-3) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 11.
No. 6 seed Montana (10-2) 57, Eastern Washington (10-3) 41
How The Game Was Won – Montana overcame a 21-20 halftime deficit with a 30-7 run to begin the second half, ultimately holding off Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere to avenge a regular-season loss. Adding to a strong rushing attack, the Grizzlies scored on a pick-six (Justin Ford’s FCS-leading ninth interception) and set up two short TD drives with a fumble recovery and a blocked punt.
Game Ball – Barriere set the FCS single-game playoff record with 530 passing yards, completing 47 of 80 attempts for five touchdowns and one interception. The sixth-season senior ended his career with EWU and Big Sky records for total offensive yards (15,394), passing yards (13,809) and TD passes (121).
Key Stat – The visiting Eagles began all 18 possessions in their territory with an average start from just inside the 26. The average start of Montana’s 17 possessions was its 43, but after the first quarter, the average start was EWU’s 49 due to five drives beginning in Eagles territory.
Up Next – Montana will play at No. 3 seed James Madison (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10.