FCS Playoffs: Sam Houston State at North Dakota State
FCS Playoffs Semifinal
The Matchup – No. 6 seed Sam Houston State (12-1) at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (12-1)
Kickoff – 8 p.m. ET Friday at the Fargodome (19,000) in Fargo, North Dakota
Coverage – ESPN2
Series – North Dakota State leads 4-1 (last meeting: NDSU won 35-3 at home in an FCS semifinal Dec. 19, 2014)
Coaches – Sam Houston State: K.C. Keeler, 46-11 in four seasons (220-84-1 overall); North Dakota State: Chris Klieman, 52-6 in four seasons (55-13 overall)
Players to Watch – Sam Houston State: QB Jeremiah Briscoe (306 of 528, 4,714 yards, 44 TDs, 13 INTs), RB Corey Avery (176 carries, 1,068 yards, 14 TDs; 23 receptions), WR/RS Davion Davis (72 receptions, 1,147 yards, 17 TDs; 21 total TDs), WR Nathan Stewart (67 receptions, 1,568 yards, 13 TDs), WR Yedidiah Briscoe (66 receptions, 894 yards, 7 TD), NT P.J. Hall (55 TT, 19 TFL, 6 sacks, 6 PBU, 4 BK), LB Justin Johnson (101 TT, 8 TFL, 5 sacks); North Dakota State: QB Easton Stick (141 of 225, 2,176 yards, 23 TDs, 7 INTs; 596 rushing yards, 11 TDs), RB/KR Bruce Anderson (199 carries, 970 yards, 8 TDs), WR RJ Urzendowski (33 receptions, 561 yards, 8 TDs), LB Nick DeLuca (61 TT, 9 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 FF), S Robbie Grimsley (60 TT, 4 INTs, 7 PBU, 2 FR), S Tre Dempsey (41 TT, 5 INTs, 3 PBU)
The Skinny – This is the fourth meeting in a playoff semifinal or final in the last seven seasons between these national powers. In their most recent meeting at the Fargodome – the first year of the Keeler and Klieman head coaching eras – NDSU led 7-3 midway through the third quarter before it pulled away with touchdowns on its final four possessions. It’s a perfect matchup of offense versus defense – Southland power Sam Houston leads the FCS in yards (552.4) and points per game (45.6), while seven-time reigning Missouri Valley champ NDSU has surrendered the fewest yards per game (228.3) and the second-fewest points per game (11.4). In fact, Sam Houston has thrown for at least 300 yards in 11 games this season, while NDSU has allowed that many in only 11 games since 2004. The host Bison are 20-1 at home in the playoffs this decade. Their usually significant advantage on the offensive line will be challenged by the power of Hall and DE Chris Stewart (13 sacks), but they’ll still look to run the ball with thunder (Anderson) and lightning (Ty Brooks), which sets up Stick for play-action passes. Their plus-14 turnover margin underscores they don’t make a lot of mistakes. Briscoe, the FCS leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, spreads the ball well to his receivers, yet isn’t particularly mobile, which hurts against the Bison pass rushers (36 total sacks). Davis, the Bearkats’ leading scorer, suffered an ankle injury in the quarterfinals and may not be 100 percent. Both teams have excellent special teams. Among the place-kickers, Sam Houston’s Tre Honshtein is 20 of 25 on field goal attempts and NDSU’s Cam Pedersen has kicked 11 of his 12 career field goals beyond 40 yards inside the Fargodome.
Up Next – The winner will play either No. 5 seed South Dakota State (11-2) or No. 1 seed James Madison (13-0) in the FCS championship game Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Prediction – When Keeler’s Bearkats have been eliminated in the playoffs, it hasn’t been pretty: three losses by a combined 162-20. They’ll be more competitive, but the Bison are too good for them. North Dakota State, 40-24.