SAC Postseason Preview: National Semifinal

December 8th, 2023 4:00pm

SAC Postseason Preview: National Semifinal

We are down to the nitty gritty of the 2023 D2 football season. And while the excitement builds for the conclusion of this phenomenal roller coaster season, it also begins to dawn that the ride to McKinney, Texas is almost over. The final four is here and D2 will have a first-time champion this year, which is very exciting. It is also the first time since 1997 that the national semifinals does not feature a school from the GSC, GLIAC or MIAA. I believe that Colorado Mines will roll its way to the national championship in our other semifinal over Kutztown, but let’s dive into this semifinal matchup.


Last Week: 0-1

Season: 59-21


Lenoir-Rhyne (13-1) at Harding (13-0)

  • Location/Time: Searcy, Arkansas / 12 PM
  • Last Meeting: First Ever Meeting
  • Line:  Harding favored by -13.5


Lenoir-Rhyne Bears

Harding Bisons

Total Offense

445.9 (2nd in SAC)

448.8 (1st in GAC)

Passing Offense

227.9 (4th in SAC)

46.6 (12th in GAC)

Rushing Offense

217.9 (1st in SAC)

402.2 (1st in GAC)

Scoring Offense

39.4 (1st in SAC)

46.9 (1st in GAC)

Red Zone

84% (4th in SAC)

93.4 % (1st in GAC)

Turnover Margin



Total Defense

241.5 (1st in SAC)

232.8 (1st in GAC)

Passing Defense

168.1 (1st in SAC)

158.6 (3rd in GAC)

Rushing Defense

73.4 (1st in SAC)

74.2 (1st in GAC)

Scoring Defense

11.8 (1st in SAC)

10.9 (1st in GAC)


60.2 (5th in SAC)

46.1 (7th in GAC)

Lenoir-Rhyne advanced to the national semifinals for the second time in school history after throttling D2 blueblood Valdosta State last weekend, 35-7. It was a deluge down in Valdosta, Georgia, with the rain never letting up just like the Bears defense did in shutting down the Blazers offense. The second quarter is where the Bears opened it up and seized control, putting up 28 unanswered. The Blazers looked like they were building some momentum coming out after halftime, but Coach Jacobs and the squad shut that down faster than my wife shuts down a sentence from me that begins with “I got an idea”! I’ll be honest, I questioned for quite a while this year just how good this Bears team was, and it is showing now. They are smoking hot right now and have been playing some elite football for over a month now. Sean White has been on a heater of heaters and will need to play his best game of the season for the Bears to head back to the title game. I expect the Bears balanced offense to give Harding some problems. The Bears defense will have to repeat last week’s performance if they are going to slow down the Harding rushing attack, because even if you know the run is coming it doesn’t mean you are going to stop it especially in an option offense. Jefferson, Maye and the rest of the gang will be ready for the challenge.

Harding is also making their second appearance in school history in the national semifinals. The last was in 2017, when they lost to eventual champion Texas A&M-Commerce and Luis Perez. Harding has been nothing short of impressive after receiving a first-round bye in Super Region Three and have won two entirely different kinds of ball games. They won an offensive shootout with Zach Zebrowski and Central Missouri’s elite offense in the 2nd round (35-34), before winning a defensive battle against Grand Valley last week (7-6). The Bisons are built to win almost any type of ball game and have been stellar all season long with their nation-leading rushing attack and elite defense. Bears fans will hear other names, but will probably get tired of hearing Blake Delacruz, Cole Keylan, and Jhalen Spicer tomorrow. And even though Harding doesn’t often (55 times all season) throw the ball, they are far from incapable of doing so. The Bisons defense is the best Lenoir-Rhyne has faced to this point all year and even though there aren’t any Kyle Dugger’s or Tanner Volk’s…they play as a collective force.

When I write the column, I like looking at what some sites use for projection purposes; rewatch Inside D2Football; and love reading my fellow D2 columnist opinions. One aforementioned site has Harding as nearly two touchdown favorites. Another has them winning by a field goal. Last week I ignored both of those sites, as both had Lenoir-Rhyne favored to win. So rather than going with my gut and being a SAC homer, I picked against our SAC champions due to the game being on the road in a hostile environment; the fact Valdosta State won the ridiculously tough GSC; and I believed that Valdosta State was the better team. Despite the nearly even stats and the Bears being favored, I was ye of little faith Bear Nation. Thankfully, the Lenoir-Rhyne faithful are kind and forgiving…….

So, I’m just going to have to do it again! For Lenoir-Rhyne to win, first and foremost they need to force some uncharacteristic mistakes/ turnovers and then put the ball in the endzone. The balance they have on offense may present some challenges for the Bisons defense and spread the field for McGee, Turner-Knox and Dilliard. I think Harding wins because their offense and defense are not quite like than anything Lenoir-Rhyne has faced this season (Limestone’s offense is great but not quite as good as Harding’s). Both defenses are elite, and both offenses are special. But Harding’s ability to play either kind of game makes them more dangerous and despite Grand Valley’s injuries, the Bisons held them nearly 35 points below their season average. They also held Central Missouri to its lowest output scoring wise and while I have LOVED the redemption tour Sean White has been on for Lenoir-Rhyne, he isn’t Zach Zebrowski (who should win the Harlon Hill).

Give me Harding to advance to the national title game, winning a low scoring game around 24-19.


If you have any questions or comments you’d like answered, please feel free to contact me. If there is something specific, you’d like to see covered, let me know as well. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, Threads, etc.

Don’t forget to join us at Inside D2Football each Sunday night at 8 PM Eastern