(STATS) – The two best teams in the FCS are playing in the national championship game – Jacksonville State and North Dakota State.
Both national powers left no doubt while posting semifinal wins this weekend, three weeks before they square off Jan. 9 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
They were so good that TV viewers were probably channel surfing by halftime. Third-seeded NDSU built a 26-0 halftime lead in beating up seventh-seeded Richmond 33-7, while No. 1 seed Jacksonville State was ahead 41-10 on Sam Houston State en route to a 62-10 romp.
But their FCS final – the fifth straight for NDSU and the first for Jacksonville State – is must-see TV. It's the brute power of the reigning champions against the speed and athleticism of the contenders to the throne.
NCAA FCS PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS
FRIDAY, DEC. 18
No. 3 seed North Dakota State (12-2) 33, Richmond (10-4) 7
Game Balls: Running back King Frazier defined North Dakota State's power run game, going over 1,000 yards for the season with 121 on 20 carries, including 2-yard runs for the game's opening and closing touchdowns. Cornerback C.J. Smith, the FCS active career leader in passes defended, added three more with an interception (and 26-yard return) to and two breakups while helping limit Richmond's Kyle Lauletta to 12 completions.
Key Stat: The Bison held the ball for 36 minutes, 37 seconds – slightly longer than their season average, which ranks No. 1 in the nation.
STATS Takeaway: Although North Dakota State's vaunted defense appeared vulnerable going into the season following the loss of seven starters, the unit has been on an elite level in the playoffs. All three opponents have been held to a season-low yardage total – in Richmond's case just 209 yards. The visiting Spiders did what they couldn't afford to do – they fell behind early and played catch-up the rest of the way inside the raucous Fargodome, where the Bison are 16-0 in FCS playoff games this decade. Bison redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick went without a turnover for the seventh time in his eight starts and the special teams scored on a return for the third straight game, with Eric Perkins going 88 yards off a punt.
Up Next: The Bison are off to their second home – Frisco, Texas – to try to build on their record four straight FCS national titles.
SATURDAY, DEC. 19
No. 1 seed Jacksonville State (13-1) 62, Sam Houston State (11-4) 10
Game Balls: The Jacksonville State offensive line created lanes for 360 rushing yards on 61 carries. Left tackle Justin Lea, left guard Adam Wright, center Casey Dunn and right guard Blake Burns are first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selections who line up in a row, flanked by right tackle Dylan Cline in the starting lineup. Right guard Kyron Samuels brings senior experience off the bench.
Key Stat: The Gamecocks turned four turnovers into 24 points in the first half en route to a 41-10 halftime lead. The Bearkats fumbled three times in the first 8:09.
STATS Takeaway: Another week, another OVC record for points in a playoff game. Jacksonville State's 45-point second half against Charleston Southern in a 58-38 quarterfinal win flowed right into a 41-point first half against Sam Houston. The Gamecocks weren't just opportunistic, they were efficient in converting nine of their first 13 third-down chances and 11 of 18 overall. Sam Houston didn't have an answer for the way Gamecocks running back Troymaine Pope (21 carries, 181 yards, two TDs) stayed low to the ground and weaved around defenders. Bearkats quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe had been so good in three straight playoff wins, but he completed only 13 of 42 attempts for 130 yards and committed three turnovers. Just utter domination by the Gamecocks.
Up Next: Jacksonville State brings an FCS-high 12-game winning streak into the national championship game against North Dakota State.