As many of you know, I was a big advocate for
moving the national championship game. I felt the game had run its course in
Florence and it was time for a fresh start somewhere else. That fresh start
ended up being at Sporting Park in Kansas City where fans attending and watching
at home on television should be treated to a great event.
However, as the last few days tick down to this
year*s championship at the new venue, I can*t help but feel a bit nostalgic
about the 28 years that the game was played in Florence. There were many
tremendous championship games played at Braly Municipal Stadium and some great
memories created for many teams and fans. The game and events surrounding the
game were always well coordinated. Personally I will miss traveling to Florence
and seeing all of the great people in that town, a few which have become good
One of the things I always respected about
Florence is that they did the very best they could to be more than just a host
for a game: They also attempted to make D2 football as special as possible by
introducing the Harlon Hill Trophy and hosting the D2 Football Hall of Fame.
Hopefully Kansas City- and any other future host for that matter- can take some
lessons from Florence on how to make the entire weekend special.
-Minnesota State was just too big, strong and
talented for Concord to hang with. The Mavericks also played a flawless game as
they got up early and then controlled the football which never allowed the
Mountain Lions a chance.
-The diversity of the Minnesota State passing
game is what really makes the Mavericks a difficult team to defend. Over the
last two weeks six different Maverick receivers have been on the receiving end
of Ricky Lloyd touchdown passes. Lloyd has a very strong arm and throws an
accurate ball, especially on the mid-range passes.
-Colorado State-Pueblo scored points on the only
two real opportunities they had the entire game. Meanwhile, West Georgia was 0-3
in the red zone with two missed field goals and a critical interception thrown
in the fourth quarter. I felt UWG carried the play for the most part but you
just can*t come away empty on that many scoring opportunities in a big game.
-The decision by UWG coach Will Hall to go for it
on 4th-and-7 from the CSU-Pueblo 35 early in the 4th quarter was a bad one in my
opinion because of how the game was being played. UWG had a 7-3 lead at the time
and the Thunderwolves hadn*t done much offensively since their opening drive.
The stop energized CSU-Pueblo and led to their loan touchdown of the game on the
ensuing drive. A punt in that situation would have ensured that the
Thunderwolves had to drive at least 80 yards to score.
Harlon Hill Trophy
The winner of the award will be announced via
video at 3 PM Eastern on Friday. A banquet honoring the winner will be held in
January in Florence. As I mentioned last week, I find the exclusion of Azusa
Pacific running back Terrell Watson from the list of finalists to be very
unfortunate. In my opinion, he should easily have been one of the top three
overall vote getters.
Picking a winner is easy for me this year: I feel
the award should go to Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan. I have
been saying all year that I feel Vander Laan is a special talent and his
performance and statistics back that up. Vander Laan completed 67% of his passes
for 2381 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1466 yards and 20 more
National Championship Game
Minnesota State (14-0) vs Colorado State-Pueblo (13-1)
Location: Sporting Park in Kansas City, KS
TV: ESPN2 at 4 PM Eastern
These two teams are both making their first
appearance in a national championship game. But both programs have been building
towards this for the last several seasons and have had to endure their share of
playoff disappointment along the way. It*s always fun to see programs that
aspire to reach a championship level finally get a chance in the spotlight.
Minnesota State reminds me very much of an old
school NCC team with their physical play on both sides of the ball. The Maverick
offensive line is a talented, veteran group and all five starters weigh more
than 290 pounds. Running back Connor Thomas is a punishing runner and the
Mavericks will play two different quarterbacks that have some running ability as
well. Ricky Lloyd is a D-I transfer that led the state of California in passing
as a senior in high school and it shows with his strong arm and pocket presence.
Freshman Nick Pierucinni is a talented runner that is also very capable of
throwing the football. Another D-I transfer- receiver Dorian Buford- is the big
play threat in the passing game with 15 touchdown receptions this year.
Defensively the Mavericks play a 4-3 led by
All-America defensive end Joshua Gordon (17.5 sacks) and a pair of 300 pound
defensive tackles in Bryan Keys and Barry Ballinger. The back end of the MSU
defense doesn*t possess great speed but they are always assignment sharp and
tackle very well. Free safety Nathan Hancock is great at reading plays and puts
himself in position to intercept passes.
Colorado State-Pueblo is also a run first team
with a bowling ball of a running back in 5*8" 196 pound Cameron McDondle.
The Thunderwolves like to pound the ball with McDondle to set up quarterback
Chris Bonner throwing the football. Bonner is big (6*7") and has a strong
arm but he isn*t real mobile and has been inconsistent with his accuracy at
times this year. The offensive line has three all-conference performers on it,
but the interior isn*t real big, which is a concern against the size MSU has at
the defensive tackle positions. Wide receivers Kiernan Duncan and Paul Browning
are both playmakers in the passing game.
Defensively, the Thunderwolves are very strong.
All-America defensive end Darius Allen is the key player, but this is a very
talented group with seven first team All-RMAC performers on it. Cornerbacks C.J.
Roberts and Stephan Dickens have combined for 14 interceptions. As a team the
Thunderwolves have forced 40 turnovers, have 53 sacks and have scored seven
defensive touchdowns. The linebackers are fairly quick but undersized so it
remains to be seen how they will hold up against a power offense like MSU.
Players to Watch for Minnesota State:
8 QB Ricky Lloyd: 1629 yards, 20 touchdown
passes, 171 pass efficiency rating
5 RB Connor Thomas: 1338 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
15 WR Dorian Buford: 1007 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns
95 DE Joshua Gordon: 17.5 sacks
33 LB Tyler Henderson: 117 tackles, 4.5 sacks
4 FS Nathan Hancock: 69 tackles, 6 interceptions
Players to Watch for CSU-Pueblo:
12 QB Chris Bonner: 3100 passing yards, 29
30 RB Cameron McDondle: 1901 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns
81 WR Paul Browning: 552 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
3 DE Darius Allen: 14 sacks
4 CB Stephan Dickens: 77 tackles, 7 interceptions, 631 yards on punt returns
5 CB C.J. Roberts: 7 interceptions
Keys to the Game for Minnesota State:
-Keep chipping away on offense. The Mavericks are
big and strong up front and running back Connor Thomas is a physical, downhill
runner. When you watch MSU play, those two and three yard runs in the first half
tend to turn into eight and ten yard runs in the second half. I think the
Mavericks can wear down the CSU-Pueblo defense if they keep pounding with the
-Control the CSU-Pueblo running game. If the
Mavericks can slow down Cameron McDondle, then they will make the CSU-Pueblo
offense one-dimensional and they aren*t very effective when they can*t set up
the pass with the run.
-Be efficient on 3rd down. As I mentioned above,
the Maverick running game is more of the chip away variety which leads to many
3rd down and short opportunities. If MSU can convert on those as they did last
week they will keep the CSU-Pueblo defense on the field and start to wear them
Keys to the Game for CSU-Pueblo
-Make something big happen on special teams. I
think the Thunderwolves have an advantage in this area and if they can get a big
return or block a punt (something MSU has been susceptible to over the last
month) then they can stay in and win the game.
-Get the running game going somehow. The
Thunderwolves have to find a way to run the football or they will struggle badly
against the MSU defense. McDondle has averaged just four yards per carry over
the last two playoff games and I think he will need to be more effective than
that for CSU-Pueblo to score points.
-Win the field position battle. I don*t expect
there to be a lot of 80 yard drives in this game. But MSU is more complete
offensively so I think the Mavericks will eventually win the game if the field
position is roughly equal. Last week the Thunderwolves forced West Georgia to
start five drives from inside the 20 yard line and I think they will need to do
something similar in this game.
I think MSU is the better team, particularly on
offense. It took the Mavericks a game and a half to really get going offensively
in the playoffs, but they have since scored 81 points in their last six
quarters. In contrast, the Thunderwolves have had increasing difficulty scoring
points as the playoffs have gone on. In their last six quarters they have scored
just 17 points, with just one offensive touchdown.
That said, the Thunderwolves have a very good
defense and they play with the kind of resolve that will keep them right in the
thick of this game. Like I said earlier, if they can get a couple of turnovers
and do something big on special teams they can win this game. However, MSU is
more diverse and dynamic offensively and I think the overall physicality of MSU
prevails as the game goes on. Minnesota State 24 Colorado State-Pueblo 13
[Q] Why not get out of the regional playoff
structure and just let the best 24 teams play?
[A] I have said for years that I would prefer a
system that more resembles what D3 does: Each conference champion would get a
bid and then select the remainder of the field nationally. After the selections
are made, regionalize the bracket so that travel could be reduced.
That said; the regional structure is not going
away. And a pretty good argument could be made that it would be next to
impossible to pick a bracket nationally when more and more conferences are going
to the insular scheduling model. At the very least what needs to happen is that
they find a way to equalize the number of teams in each region and get each of
the four power conferences (NSIC, MIAA, GSC, GLIAC) in separate regions for
competitive equity. If that was done and we went to seven playoff participants
per region it would take away many of the complaints that people currently have.
[Q] Another year and another blowout of a
Super Region One team in the semifinals. If you put Concord in the NSIC and had
them play Mankato*s schedule, how many wins do you think they would have had?
[A] I think they probably would have gone about
8-3 playing MSU*s schedule. Outside of Sioux Falls and Augustana there really
weren*t any teams on MSU*s regular season schedule that gave them trouble. I was
impressed with Concord*s speed on offense and I think they would have scored
some points against teams with lesser defenses than MSU.
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