DII Football Games to Watch: North Greenville, Northwest Mo. St. compete in playoffs
No. 6 seed North Greenville gets a home playoff game
Making the NCAA Division II playoffs each year is tough, so only on rare occasions will a team with four losses reach the second round and play at home. North Greenville (S.C.) is in that rarified air.
The Crusaders, 8-4 and the No. 6 seed in Super Region Two, will take on Tuskegee, 9-2 and the No. 7 seed, at noon ET Saturday at Younts Stadium in Tigerville, S.C.
A week ago, North Greenville traveled to Florida Tech and pulled off a 27-13 victory over the No. 3 seed. Tuskegee also nabbed a road, upset victory, knocking off second seed Newberry 35-33.
“Going to Florida was a three-day trip,” said North Greenville sophomore quarterback Will Hunter. “It was a nine-hour drive. We split it up into two days. I am not a big fan of riding the bus all day long. It is more comfortable playing at home and not having to travel. It is really exciting playing at home.”
Based on the Crusaders’ 2016 resume, if they had to play round two on the road, they would be just fine. The Crusaders are a resilient group. It even starts before the first game.
As an independent, North Greenville coach Jeff Farrington has the chore of finding 11 games to play. It became more difficult last season when an alliance with the South Atlantic Conference ended. North Greenville went 7-3 in 2015 and one of those losses was to a FCS team.
“It is pretty challenging to put the schedule together,” Farrington said. “We are fortunate. There are a group of Division II teams that are close to us. We always start there.
“In 2018, we will be in the Gulf South Conference, so we were able to get some dates with them. But it is difficult. We want to get some home games. You don’t want to beat your head against the wall every week, playing everybody who is really good, but we kind of done that this year.”
Indeed. All four losses were against high-quality opponents. The three Division II losses (Newberry, North Alabama, UNC Pembroke) all made the playoffs and two of them are still playing. The fourth loss came against The Citadel.
RELATED: DII Football Playoff Bracket
The back-to-back losses in the third and fourth week against Newberry and UNC Pembroke put the Crusaders in an early hole.
The Crusaders knew they couldn’t afford any more losses after falling to North Alabama in week eight. They were 4-4.
“Our coach says every week we are 0-0,” Hunter said. “For the past four weeks, if you lose it is over with. I think everybody took that to heart. If we lose, it is over with.
“If we lost to Wingate, it was over with. If we lost to Carson Newman it was over with. Everybody understood that. Nobody wanted to lose. We kept winning.”
The Wingate game turned out to be vital to North Greenville’s late-season success. It came right after the loss to North Alabama. North Greenville trailed 27-17 entering the fourth quarter and outscored Wingate 17-3 for a 34-30 victory.
The go-ahead touchdown came with 1:12 left when Hunter tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior Mason Sanders.
“I think that we always would love to have a resilient team,” Farrington said. “Sometimes it might show a little more than other times. We try to encourage that from day one. That is something easy to talk about but hard to do. We try to recognize opportunities to grow in that area, and any opportunity to feed off of that.
“We had a tough stretch and then we had to be pretty resilient in the Wingate game in the fourth to win that game.”
North Greenville concluded the regular season with a 34-24 win over Carson-Newman and a 37-0 win at Limestone.
“All we had to do was win out and we still had a chance to make the playoffs,” Hunter said. “We did. We had our backs against the wall the past four or five games. It made us play our best football so far. That is what good teams do. You have to play your best ball to keep going.”
Because of that, the Crusaders are playing a home playoff game.
“We are honored to be part of the playoffs,” Farrington said. “I hope we put our best foot forward and do all the things we are supposed to do. Our people here do a great job setting up for a game. They are excited about it and our guys are excited about getting a chance to play again.”
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Northwest Missouri defensive back Jack Young enjoys playoff time
Northwest Missouri State fifth-year senior Jack Young will savor every moment when the Super Region Three top seed takes on Emporia State at 1 p.m. CT Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.
Every game could be the last game for Young, who arrived at Northwest in 2012 as a walk-on and slowly worked his way to earning some scholarship money to getting a couple of interceptions in 2014, increasing it to four last season and four more this season.
Young has also been part of two national championship teams and in his four years in uniform, Northwest has compiled a 51-2 record and is currently riding a school-record 26-game winning streak.
Despite all those victories, the journey hasn’t always been a smooth ride.
“He will tell you it hasn’t always been easy,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “I am proud of him not only how he has grown as a football player, but as a man. He is a good student-athlete and a good teammate.
“ He is very good at the energy he brings each day to practice. He is an energy giver. He can sense a lull in practice from our guys. When he senses that lull, he revs up and gets people going. He has worked really hard to get himself where he is.”
Young is an example of what exist on every Division II playoff roster. He wasn’t highly recruited. His love of football plus hard work allowed him to progress from walk-on to starter. These types of players are the life blood of successful Division II football programs.
“It has definitely been a long, tough road,” Young said. “I knew if I stuck to the process and do everything they asked and worked hard and be dedicated, I knew I was going to get my shot.”
Young knows the Bearcats have a challenge ahead of them, especially the secondary. Young, senior Kevin Berg and juniors Edward Richey and Jarrod Bishop were together last Saturday, watching Emporia State sophomore quarterback Braxton Marstall throw for 481 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-26 victory over Minnesota Duluth in a first round game.
“This was definitely not the team we saw in week one,” Young said about Northwest’s 41-14 victory. “Their quarterback is playing phenomenal. He is very quick with his reads. They have athletic players all over the field. It is going to be a great challenge for us.”
Northwest and Emporia State are getting very familiar with each other. This will be the fourth time they have faced each other in the last two seasons. A year ago, Northwest beat Emporia State in the quarterfinals.
“They are a great program,” Dorrel said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. Emporia State coach Garin Higgins is a friend of mine. I think they do a tremendous job of coaching. I think their kids play the game the right way. They play hard.
“What he has been able to do there has been absolutely remarkable. Anybody in our league will say that. When Emporia State comes to town, you better be ready to play or you are going to get beat.”
Young definitely doesn’t want that to happen.
“At this time of the year, if you don’t win, you go home,” Young said. “For me personally, that is the end of my football career. We are excited to play against a great football team and great school. We are excited to play at home. We want to go out there and give it all we have.”
|Emporia State||Northwest Missouri State|