That is the total number of yards the St. Cloud
State defense has yielded in two playoff games, but yet the Huskies are still
alive and playing this weekend for the Super Region Three championship. Amazing
The Huskies* latest victim was top-ranked and
unbeaten Minnesota State. SCSU raced out to an early lead and withstood a
furious rally by the Mavericks to win 54-48. It won*t get any easier this week
as SCSU will be traveling to Northwest Missouri State in the SR3 title game.
Having a six seed like SCSU have so much playoff
success is a big part of what makes the D2 playoffs great. West Texas A&M is
another six seed that is still alive in Super Region Four. The Buffalos made the
semifinals as a six seed last season. Since the field expanded from 16 to 24
teams in 2004, two six seeds-- Northwest Missouri in 2005 and Wayne State in
2011-- have even advanced to the national championship game.
To me the success of so many lower seeded teams
in the playoffs is based on two factors. One, usually good teams from the top
conferences that may have lost a game or two in the regular season will be
seeded lower that an unbeaten team from a weaker conference. And we all know how
those games tend to go when teams from that scenario square off.
Secondly, there is quite a bit of balance among the top teams in D2 which makes
for very interesting (and difficult to predict!) playoffs each season.
Observations from Round Two of the Playoffs
-I have always said that the second round of the
playoffs is the most difficult to predict and last week certainly held true to
form with five of the eight home teams losing. For some reason that bye week
tends to do funny things to good teams that have been playing ten or eleven
weeks in a row.
-The Shepherd defense is for real! I knew the
Rams were good but to completely dominate the WSSU offense the way they did was
extremely impressive. Howard Jones and the Shepherd defensive line are as good
as it gets in D2 and they are capable of carrying the Rams all the way to the
national championship game with just a bit of help from the offense.
-Lenoir-Rhyne was another team that nearly fell
victim to the second round home team jinx, but the Bears got their act together
and defeated Carson-Newman 27-20 after falling behind 20-7. I expect LRU to play
at a much higher level as they host North Alabama in the SR2 final.
-I wasn*t completely surprised that St. Cloud
State beat Minnesota State but never in my wildest dreams did I think there
would be over 100 points scored in the game. SCSU senior quarterback Philip
Klaphake is a 4-year starter and he is playing at an exceptional level.
-West Texas A&M has certainly earned more of
my respect this postseason. The Buffalos still commit a lot of dumb penalties,
but they have played very solid defense over the last three weeks and stay
committed enough to the running game to keep opposing defenses off balance. And
having a quarterback as great as Dustin Vaughan (5004 passing yards, 49
touchdown passes, just 7 interceptions) certainly helps as well.
Playoff Games this Week
Super Region One Championship
West Chester (12-1) at Shepherd (11-0)
WCU is a good football team and they have had an
excellent season in reaching this point. But as I mentioned earlier in the
column, the Shepherd defense is for real. Shepherd allows just 45 yards per game
on the ground and they have already shut out two of the top offenses
(Shippensburg and Winston-Salem State) in the region. I think the only way WCU
wins this game is to somehow have a big advantage in turnovers. That would
require WCU quarterback Sean McCartney playing a perfect game and the WCU
defense somehow forcing turnovers by a Shepherd offense that is usually pretty
Shepherd 24 West Chester 16
Super Region Two Championship
North Alabama (10-2) at Lenoir-Rhyne (11-1)
The strength of the UNA team is its pass defense.
The Lions have 29 interceptions this season and have returned those
interceptions for 529 yards and six touchdowns. The Lions had five interceptions
in beating UNC-Pembroke last week.
The problem for UNA this week is that LRU runs a
flexbone option offense that rarely throws the football so a big part of the
Lions* game is mitigated. In addition, UNA has struggled at times to stop the
run which could be a problem as well. LRU also has a very good defense that has
allowed more than 20 points in a game just once all season. I still think UNA
has a little bit more overall talent, but this is going to be a close game that
could go either way.
North Alabama 27 Lenoir-Rhyne 24
Super Region Three Championship
St. Cloud State (12-1) at Northwest Missouri
As I mentioned earlier, SCSU has given up a ton
of yards this postseason. They were also already without standout defensive back
Jack Moro, who is out for the season with an injury. They have also lost another
standout defensive back in Marvin Matthews, who is suspended for this week*s
To cut to the chase, I think the only way the
Huskies have a chance in this game is to score a bunch of points. As I mentioned
earlier, quarterback Philip Klaphake is certainly a great player, but he will be
going up against arguably the best overall defense in D2 and for sure the top
secondary. The Huskies may keep it interesting for awhile, but I just don*t see
SCSU winning this game.
Northwest Missouri State 44 St. Cloud State 24
Super Region Four Championship
West Texas A&M (11-2) at Grand Valley
In the final game of the regular season, GVSU
beat rival Saginaw Valley despite giving up 573 yards of offense and 34 points.
A week later the Lakers beat SVSU again in the first round of the playoffs by
limiting the Cardinals to just 307 yards of offense and 7 points. The reason the
Lakers were so much more effective on defense the second time around against
SVSU was due to wind and winter-like conditions at Lubbers Stadium.
Why do I bring this up now? Because West Texas
A&M and SVSU are both pass-heavy teams. To bring my point full circle, I
think weather (and especially wind) is going to be a huge factor in this game.
Put these two teams in a dome stadium and I think I like WTAMU a little bit more
on both offense and defense. But if it*s windy at Lubbers Stadium like it often
is this time of the year, then it may seem like GVSU is playing with 12 guys on
defense. The forecast (as of Thursday) calls for temps in the mid-20*s and 10
MPH winds. West Texas A&M 34 Grand Valley State 31
[Q] Unfortunately you were right and we (CSU-Pueblo)
didn*t have what it takes this year to advance in the playoffs. What are we
going to have to do to win a national championship?
[A] First of all you have to keep in mind that
the Thunderwolves were a very young team this year. Almost all of the key
contributors were underclassmen and rarely do young teams win national
championships. In addition, as I mentioned a few times this season, the defense
just wasn*t national championship quality which was obvious against GVSU last
To me, the Thunderwolves need to become a little
bit more physical everywhere on the field (particularly at all three levels of
the defense) to have a better shot of advancing in the playoffs. Another
off-season in the weight room is going to help with all of the young players but
the coaching staff is going to have to continue recruiting better athletes as
One thing to keep in mind however: winning
national championships is not easy. I think most people would agree that
Northwest Missouri State is the benchmark program in D2 right now and the
Bearcats have won just one championship in the last 13 years. North Alabama hasn*t
been to a championship game in 18 years. Pittsburg State won its first title in
1991 and it took 20 years for the Gorillas to win another. There are many good
programs in D2 trying to win the national championship and even if a program
does everything right, sometimes it just plain takes a little luck as well.
[Q] How do they determine which team gets home
field in the semi-finals of the playoffs? I have followed the D2 playoffs for
years and haven*t figured out or heard the rhyme or reason behind this.
[A] The committee uses the same criteria that
they use to seed the teams within each region. This includes strength of
schedule, D2 won-loss record, record against common opponents, etc.
So what will happen is after Saturday*s games are
complete is the semifinal opponents will be compared to each other using the
criteria listed above. The results of the playoff games so far will be included
as well. Whichever team is "ranked" higher when compared will be the
[Q] Earlier in the year you said (West Texas
A&M) Dustin Vaughan would have to have some impressive numbers to receive
the Harlon Hill Trophy. Considering that he is one of the finalists still
playing for a shot at the championship and has gone over 5,000 yards passing
with 49 TD*s and only 7 interceptions what do you think his chances are now?
[A] I said earlier this season that Henderson
State quarterback Kevin Rodgers was my favorite, but I would have to go with
Vaughan as my selection to win the award at this point. Not only has Vaughan put
up those incredible numbers, but he has continued to do it in the playoffs and
against a schedule that has included eight teams with winning records. In
addition to Rodgers and Vaughan, the other player that I believe should be one
of the three finalists at the banquet in Florence is Bloomsburg running back
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