GAC Postseason Preview: National Semifinals

December 8th, 2023 12:30pm

GAC Postseason Preview: National Semifinals

Another week down in the postseason and the GAC remains a player in the D2 playoffs. The Harding Bisons are the Super Region Three champions, courtesy of a 7-6 win over Grand Valley State last week in Searcy. 

This week, the Bisons host the champions of Super Region Two, Lenoir-Rhyne. The winner goes to the national championship game, where they will take on the winner of Colorado School of Mines and Kutztown. 

As always, we’re here to break down the games involving the GAC, so let’s hop right in and take a look at the Bears and the Bisons.


Getting to Know the Bears

Lenoir-Rhyne is a really good team. Obviously, you can’t get to the national semifinals if you’re not. The Bears are a really balanced group, putting up almost 40 points per game and nearly 450 yards of offense, while holding teams to 12 points per game and 241 yards on 4.2 yards per play. They average over 200 yards through the air and on the ground, making them a difficult group to defend. 

On the ground, the Bears average 218 yards per game, led by running back Dwayne McGee, who has rushed for 1,531 yards and 12 touchdowns. McGee has great speed and averages 6.9 yards per rush. Zayvion Turner-Knox (693 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Zyheir Dillard (512 yards, three touchdowns) are excellent secondary options as well.

The Bears employ a true two-quarterback system on offense. Sean White has played in 12 games this year, throwing for 1,685 yards and 18 touchdowns. Jalen Ferguson appeared in nine games, throwing for 1,468 and 16 scores. The fascinating part about this system is that neither of these quarterbacks are runners. White has rushed for six touchdowns, but the two quarterbacks have combined for just 129 rushing yards this season. Playing two similar-style quarterbacks is very rare in today’s college football—at any level—but the Bears have made it work. 

The receivers are a deep group without a true alpha. Three receivers have at least 40 receptions this year and seven have caught at least three touchdowns. They also have eight receivers averaging at least 12.5 yards per reception. It’s not the high-flying passing attack like Central Missouri, but it is effective and will be a threat to the Bisons’ secondary. 

Defensively, the Bears are really good. They’ve given up just 21 touchdowns all season with just four teams putting up multiple touchdowns in a game. There’s no doubt the defense’s performance this year helped lift the offense in a big way. The Bears have forced 27 turnovers this year and have held opponent to less than 25 percent conversion on third downs. The biggest number that stands out in terms of this game on Saturday is the 73 yards per game the Bears allow on the ground. To be clear, the SAC teams don’t commit to the run like Harding or other teams in the GAC, but that’s still an impressive number, including a 2.4 yards per carry allowed.

Personnel-wise, the Bears are led by linebacker Jon Ross Maye (102 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss) and defensive end Andre Jefferson (24 TFL, 13 sacks). 13 different players have an interception and nine players have at least five tackles for loss. It’s a well-rounded group that has a history of producing good players. Former safety Kyle Dugger was a second round pick by the New England Patriots in the 2020 NFL Draft. 


What This Means for Harding

The Bisons defense has proven itself to be the real deal throughout the season and in two playoff games thus far. They held UCM to its lowest point total of the season and the same for Grand Valley State. Last week, Harding held the Lakers to just 2-of-12 on third downs and allowed them to run just 49 plays. Oh and that whole thing about keeping them out of the end zone. The Bears’ offense is good, but they haven’t faced a defense like Harding this year. I’d expect some success due to unfamiliarity, but the Bisons should be able to hold the Bears down from their season averages. 

Offensively, it’s hard for any team to prepare for the flexbone in a week when they never see it. The important thing for the Bears is for the players to never get bored executing the same assignment over and over again. The Bisons rushed for only 202 yards last week, their lowest total of the season. They had a third of their rushes of five yards or more on their lone touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, as they were finally able to wear down GVSU just enough to get the win. 

It’s nearly impossible to completely stymie the Bisons’ rushing attack (I said NEARLY, Northwest Missouri fans), so expect the Bisons to still generate some solid numbers on the ground on Saturday. 



This should be a great game between two really good teams. Both teams have dominated their schedules for the most part with few exceptions. The thing I keep coming back to is just how good the Bisons have been defensively this year. Lenoir-Rhyne is very good offensively, but they’re not outstanding in either facet of the game. Will they be able to get into a rhythm on Saturday? On the other side, the Bears will give up yards, but can they keep Harding out of the end zone consistently? That will be key, just like it was key for Harding against UCM. 34 points while giving up over 500 yards of offense is A-OK against that offense. 

At the end of the day, I can’t see Harding dropping this one, especially at home. On to McKinney for the Bisons

Harding 31, Lenoir-Rhyne 21