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Football

FCS Playoffs Moving into Quarterfinals with South Dakota State Still the Favorite to Repeat

The Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals start Friday night with Furman playing at Montana

By Associated Press
The Grizzlies enter Washington Grizzly-Stadium ahead of a game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in Washington-Grizzly stadium in Missoula on on Oct. 30, 2021. Photo by John Sieber/UM Athletics

If there was any doubt that defending champion South Dakota State is still the team to beat in the Championship Subdivision playoffs, the Jackrabbits provided a resounding answer in their first game: A 41-0 rout of Mercer on Saturday.

The second round went mostly as expected. The only unseeded team to win also is the most dominant in the history of the FCS. North Dakota State, winner of nine of the last 12 national titles, won 35-34 at No. 6 Montana State on a blocked extra point in overtime, eliminating the Bobcats for the fourth time in five years.

That game, though, also highlighted how quickly the competition amps up in the playoffs. The Bison won their opener 66-3 against FCS playoff newcomer Drake.

It was the record 46th playoff victory for the Bison — against four losses — and moved them into the quarterfinals for the 14th straight season. They will be on the road again this weekend, facing third-seeded South Dakota in the DakotaDome.

The Coyotes have reached the quarterfinals for the first time.

Here are the matchups:

FURMAN (10-2) at MONTANA (11-1), Friday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Paladins, national champions in 1988, have reached the quarterfinals for the ninth time, but first since 2005. The Grizzlies are in their 15th quarterfinal round. The teams played for the 2001 national championship with Montana winning 13-6.

Furman, ranked second late in the season, beat fellow Southern Conference member Chattanooga 26-7 on Saturday, while Montana scored on a blocked punt and fumble return and blew out Delaware 49-19 in the snow in Missoula, Montana.

The Paladins rank third in the FCS, allowing only 92.7 rushing yards per game, and seventh in scoring defense, allowing only 16.8 ppg. But Montana was similar in each category, allowing 14.8 points, fourth overall, and 97.7 rushing yards (ninth).

VILLANOVA (10-2) at SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (12-0), Saturday, noon (ESPN)

The Wildcats would seem to have drawn the short straw in the field having to go to Brookings, South Dakota, to face the defending champions, but in the last 20 years, the Coastal Athletic Association has won five national championships.

Villanova won it in 2009 and hosted the Jackrabbits in 2021, losing 35-21 when Isaiah Davis ran for 174 yards and three TDs. He ran for three more last week.

The Jacks lead the FCS in passing efficiency, total defense (256.8 yards per game), scoring defense (10.3 ppg), third- and fourth-down conversion rates, red zone offense and red zone defense and are in the top five in several other categories.

“What doesn’t impress you with those guys?” Wildcats coach Mark Ferrante said. “We know Isaiah Davis. In 2021, he was a sophomore and had a great game against us in their victory here. … It’s going to be two teams going toe to toe and hopefully we’ll come out with a victory. Hopefully we’ll make the fewest mistakes.”

NORTH DAKOTA STATE (10-3) at SOUTH DAKOTA (10-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)

The third-seeded Coyotes won 24-19 at North Dakota State on Sept. 30 and are one of only two programs — South Dakota State is the other — to have beaten the Bison twice since 2011. Both programs, though, have evolved since September, and the visitors have that 14-1 edge in quarterfinal appearances to take into account.

“Is there advantage in that? Maybe,” South Dakota coach Bob Nielson said this week. “You know, they’ve had a lot of players that have been through the grind of the playoff structure. But I like the way that our guys handled the environment last Saturday and the chance to be at home is an advantage for us.”

The Coyotes’ Will Leyland hasn’t missed in 12 field goal attempts this season, with a long of 50 yards. The Bison’s Griffin Crosa is 15 of 18 with a long of 44 yards.

UALBANY (10-3) at IDAHO (9-3), Saturday, 10 p.m. (ESPN+)

These are the unfamiliar players at this level, with the fifth-seeded Great Danes, tri-champions of the Coastal Athletic Conference, making their first appearance this deep in the playoffs and the Vandals making their fifth, but first in 30 years.

Reese Poffenbarger threw for two TDs and ran for two as the Great Danes dispatched CAA rival Richmond, another tri-champion at 7-1, with ease, 41-13.

The Vandals beat Southern Illinois 20-17 with a huge special teams assist. Jermaine Jackson returned a punt 86 yards for a TD, Ricardo Chavez kicked two field goals and Xe’Ree Alexander blocked a winning field goal try at the regulation buzzer.

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