DII Football Championship: North Ala.- Shepherd, Ferris St.- Northwest Mo. St. prepare to battle in semifinals
NORTH ALABAMA at SHEPHERD
Noon ET Saturday | GameCenter
A year ago, Shepherd knocked off Grand Valley State, one of the most decorated Division II programs, to reach the national championship for the first time in school history. Will the Rams be able to do it two years in a row at Shepherdstown, West Virginia? North Alabama is playing in its 10th national semifinal game and is trying to make the national championship game for the first time since 1995. It will be the first time these two schools play each other.
NORTH ALABAMA (10-1)
Signature win: On Oct. 1, North Alabama played a home game against West Georgia, which was undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the country. West Georgia won its Super Region the previous two seasons. North Alabama entered the fourth quarter trailing 23-10. The Lions rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and won 24-23. The game-winning touchdown came with 1:44 left on a 2-yard run by Blake Hawkins. It capped 67-yard drive that started with a little over four minutes left in the game.
Players to watch: Senior Jacob Tucker is a dual-threat quarterback. He has passed for 2,483 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 789 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tucker is a Harlon Hill Award finalist. Junior wide receiver Dre Hall ranks second in school history in career touchdown receptions with 22. Senior linebacker Eddrick Harris and junior defensive back Dorsey Norris are tied for team lead in tackles with 61. They also both have two interceptions.
Interesting facts: North Alabama has three sets of brothers on this year’s team. Tucker became the fourth North Alabama quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards in his career. The Lions’ only loss was the season-opener at Jacksonville State, a FCS team that reached the FCS quarterfinals and finished 10-2. North Alabama had a game against Florida Tech cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew. North Alabama has lost its last three times in the semifinals, the last coming in 2008 to Northwest Missouri State.
Coach: Bobby Wallace, 15th year at North Alabama. His seven Gulf South Conference titles are the most in the 46-year history of the GSC.
Signature win: Playing at home on Nov. 5, Shepherd beat Fairmont State 27-17 in a battle of unbeaten teams. The late-season battle for the Mountain East Conference title prepared the Rams for the playoffs when they handed LIU-Post and California (Pa.) their first losses of the season.
Players to watch: Senior quarterback Jeff Ziemba, a Harlon Hill Award finalist, ranks first as the school’s all-time passing leader with 10,310 career passing yards. He is also first in career completion by over 200 with 741 completions. C.J. Davis, after three seasons at cornerback, switched to wide receiver this season and is second on the team with 66 receptions for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Billy Brown is having another stellar season with 97 receptions for 1,563 yards and 22 touchdowns. He is the all-time leading receiver at Shepherd. Junior defensive end Myles Humphry leads the Rams with 12 sacks and 21 tackles for loss.
Interesting facts: Since 1990, Shepherd is 139-19 when it holds an opponent under 100 yards rushing. In the last two seasons, Shepherd is 26-1. The Rams are starting to like playing in December. They are 4-8 overall in December games, but 3-1 in December in the last two seasons. Shepherd has scored 38 or more points 10 of its 13 games, and five of those games the Rams scored exactly 38 points.
Coach: Monte Cater is in his 30th season at Shepherd. He has led the Rams to 16 conference titles. Cater has had over 250 victories in his career.
FERRIS STATE at NORTHWEST MISSOURI STATE
3:30 p.m. ET Saturday | GameCenter
Like the other semifinal game, this will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Bulldogs will try to do what no other team has accomplished in 2015 and 2016: beat Northwest Missouri State. Northwest Missouri State is currently riding a school record of 28 straight victories.
FERRIS STATE (12-2)
Signature win: The team posted a 47-32 victory at Grand Valley State last weekend in the Super Region Four championship game. Ferris State is calling it one of the biggest wins in the program’s history. It was the first road playoff win for the Bulldogs. The victory shows how much the Bulldogs have improved in nearly two months. On Oct. 8, Ferris State lost 35-23 at Grand Valley State. Ferris State also got a little bit of playoff revenge. Last year, Grand Valley State beat Ferris State in the second round.
Players to watch: Junior quarterback Reggie Bell was a Harlon Hill Award nominee. Bell has thrown for 2,073 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore defensive end Zach Sieler made American Football Coaches Association second team All-American. Sieler was also GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year. His 18.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for losses are school records. Senior punter/quarterback Trevor Bermingham, an all-region punter, made his first career start at quarterback in the regular-season finale. In the last four games at quarterback, he has accounted for 20 touchdowns, 16 by rushing.
Interesting facts: Ferris State has made the playoffs the last three years. The Bulldogs' overall record in the Division II playoffs is 9-7. This is the second time in the program’s history it has reached the semifinals. The other time was 1995, and the Bulldogs lost at North Alabama. This will be just the third game ever for Ferris State in December. Ferris State, ranked No. 15 in the last AFCA top 25, is the lowest-ranked team left in the playoffs. The other three teams were ranked in the top seven.
Coach: Tony Annese is in his fifth season at Ferris State. The 12 wins this season is the most in the program’s history. In 2014, he led the Bulldogs to the Division II playoffs for the first time since 1996 and first 11-0 regular season.
NORTHWEST MISSOURI STATE (13-0)
Signature win: In the 10th game of the season (Nov. 11), Northwest Missouri State finally had to play its starters throughout the fourth quarter. The Bearcats faced their first significant in-game adversity at Fort Hays State. They lost their all-conference receiver to a season-ending knee injury just before halftime. Senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman threw his first two interceptions on the season. Northwest Missouri State, though, scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, sealing a 28-7 victory.
Players to watch: Senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman, a Harlon Hill Award finalist, has thrown for 3,582 yards, 36 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has also rushed for 263 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior defensive end Collin Bevins, who was selected for AFCA First Team All-American honors, has the school for record career sacks with 33. Last year, his record of 15.5 sacks was a single-season school record. Senior running back Phil Jackson II leads a balanced rushing attack with 800 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
Interesting facts: This is the 13th straight season Northwest Missouri State has played in the Division II playoffs. Northwest Missouri State has won five national titles. The senior class is 53-2 in four seasons. The only losses came in 2014, a regular-season loss to Pittsburg State and a first-round playoff loss to Minnesota Duluth. Northwest Missouri State athletic director Mel Tjeerdsma coached current head coach Adam Dorrel at Northwest Missouri State. Tjeerdsma led the Bearcats to three of the national titles. The Bearcats are trying to reach the national championship game for the 10th time since 1998.
Coach: Adam Dorrel, who was selected AFCA Region 3 Coach of the Year, is in his sixth season as head coach. Dorrel, who grew up Maryville, the home of the Bearcats, also played football for the Bearcats. Dorrel has a 74-8 record as head coach at Northwest Missouri State. He has led the Bearcats to national titles in 2013 and 2015.