Time has run out on this year’s Cinderellas. All of the favorites won this past weekend, so four of the top six teams in the country remain as we head into the semifinals of the FCS playoffs.
Two of the most exciting games yet in the postseason happened over the weekend. James Madison barely hung on to beat Weber State, and Sam Houston State made a huge defensive stop to end Kennesaw State’s dream season.
James Madison 31, Weber State 28
For the first time all season, the Dukes actually trailed in a game. Weber State was able to keep this one close with some big plays from quarterback Stefan Cantwell, who had some success against the best secondary in the nation. These two teams battled back and forth all game and the Wildcats actually trailed going into the fourth quarter. A wild final frame gave us our best finish of the playoffs thus far as James Madison’s Ethan Ratke nailed a 46-yard field goal as time expired to win it for the Dukes.
This was James Madison’s 25th consecutive victory, but Weber State showed that the Dukes are not unbeatable. Still, it should be noted that James Madison completely dominated on the stat sheet. James Madison racked up 549 total yards of offense and out-gained Weber State by 220 yards. The Wildcats’ special teams play was instrumental in keeping it close, with good kick returns from Rashid Shaheed and solid punting from Jacob DeMaio.
North Dakota State 42, Wofford 10
I thought Wofford would be able to keep this one close, but boy was I mistaken. The Terriers just couldn’t move the ball all game against this front seven. The Bison allowed just two plays of over 10 yards and held Wofford to a grand total of 177 yards on the afternoon. North Dakota State is now set to play in the FCS semifinals for a record seventh straight time.
This one could have been worse, too. NDSU was up 35-10 at halftime, but it knew that Wofford could not come back from such a large deficit with its triple option attack. The Bison put in backup quarterback Cole Davis for the entirety of the fourth quarter and the team threw just seven passes in the second half. NDSU ended up out-gaining Wofford by nearly 300 yards on the day.
South Dakota State 56, New Hampshire 14
You had to have the feeling that this was coming. The Wildcats were incredibly fortunate to get past Central Arkansas the previous week, but they were smoked in this one. New Hampshire has relied on turnovers during its playoff run and South Dakota State knew it needed to just play smart football to advance.
The Jackrabbits jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and it was all pretty much gravy from there. South Dakota State’s offense couldn’t be stopped. The ground game ripped off big chunks of yardage, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and Taryn Christion made sound decisions with the football. After this performance, many college football observers will believe that SDSU has a legitimate chance to beat James Madison next week.
Sam Houston State 34, Kennesaw State 27
The Bearkats looked to have this game in hand in the first half, but for the second straight week they allowed their opponent to get back in it. Sam Houston State was up 24-7 in the second quarter, yet it managed to score just 10 points in the last 35 minutes of play, which gave Kennesaw State a chance to tie it up late in the fourth.
It felt like the Owls just might pull off another upset after they picked off Jeremiah Briscoe in SHSU territory down seven with under five minutes remaining. Kennesaw State quickly moved the ball into the red zone, but the drive stalled. Briscoe had a pretty nice game and now the Bearkats’ attention turns to North Dakota State. The Bison beat them for the national title in 2011 and 2012 and hammered them in 2014, too. SHSU will be a large underdog in the FargoDome.