No matter where you look Roos Field on Saturday, you will be sure to be seeing red.
Eastern Washington – home of the red turf dubbed the “The Inferno” – welcomes the Illinois State Redbirds for a FCS quarterfinal in a match-up between one of the best home field teams and one of the best road squads in the nation.
Since the red turf was installed in 2010, Eastern has compiled a 16-2 record at The Inferno, including a 6-0 mark this season. Eastern was 8-0 at home in the year the red turf debuted, and the Eagles went on to win the NCAA title.
“It helps a ton to know you are not traveling,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. “It helps to know that every game will be at home as long as you take care of your end of things. It is fun for the fans and we have such amazing fan support. We are close to setting records for attendance and the student support.”
“Teams are kind of fascinated by (the red turf),” EWU quarterback Kyle Padron said. “It’s a unique situation to play on red turf, and it is a definite attraction for our fans and recruiting. I think it will be fun to look back a few years down the road and say you played on some red turf. I think a lot of people enjoy it.”
The Redbirds may enjoy the experience, but they will most likely not be intimidated by a little bit (or a lot) of red, or any challenge on the road. Illinois State is 6-0 in road games this seasons which sets a school record and ties the Missouri Valley Football Conference mark for road wins in a season.
“Our seniors made it a goal before the season to go undefeated on the road,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said. “I have always stressed to the players that in order to be a championship football team that we had to be successful away from home. They really bought into that philosophy and made it a priority this year and so far they’ve been able to do that.”
The Redbirds embark on the 1,813-mile trek to Cheney, Wash., on an eight-game road winning streak dating back to last season. Most recently, the Redbirds escaped Boone, N.C., with a 38-37 overtime victory against Appalachian State.
While Eastern Washington boasts one of the top passing offenses in the FCS at 301.2 yards per game, the Redbirds will counter with the nation’s ninth-best defensive passing efficiency rating (105.7). ISU has picked off 16 passes, which ranks fourth nationally, led by senior free safety Ben Erickson’s seven interceptions.
Illinois State will also field a solid passing game, averaging 253.6 yards per game (25th in FCS) with senior Matt Brown calling the signals. Brown passed for 322 yards and five touchdowns against Appalachian State last weekend and ranks 19th in the nation with a 143.05 passing efficiency.
• The best defense in the nation will meet the most productive rusher in the FCS as North Dakota State hosts Wofford and senior running back Eric Breitenstein.
The Bison lead the nation in scoring defense (11.08 ppg), total defense (197.5 ypg), rush defensive (63.25 ypg) and pass defense (134.25 ypg), and have allowed just three rushing touchdowns this season.
While the Bison are stout defensively, Wofford’s rushing offense should pose a challenge. The Terriers are grinding out 357.0 yards on the ground per game, which ranks second in the nation, while Breitenstein leads FCS with 158.33 rushing yards per game this season.
Something will have to give in the trenches on Saturday. Last week, NDSU downed South Dakota State as they held Zach Zenner to 46 yards on 15 carries — more than 120 yards below what led the FCS at the time. But Wofford’s Breitenstein ran for 247 yards and three touchdowns in the Terriers defeat of New Hampshire – his sixth career 200-yard game.
• While some may believe No. 1 Mount Union should be sent straight to the Division III championship game, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor will definitely do its best to snap the Purple Raiders’ streak of seven consecutive years playing in the title game when the teams meet in the semifinals on Saturday.
In fact, the Crusaders were the last team to beat Mount Union in an NCAA semifinal contest, downing the Raiders 38-35 to advance to the 2004 championship game against Linfield. While Linfield eventually won the title, UMHB pulled off quite an accomplishment as it held Mount Union out of the title game for the first and only time since 2000. Saturday’s meeting will be just the second between the two programs.
• Minnesota State-Mankato football is having an incredible year as the Mavericks head into the program’s first NCAA semifinal playoff game against Valdosta State on Saturday. The Mavericks are 13-0 and won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, which garnered Aaron Keen AFCA Regional Coach of the Year honors on Monday. While the spotless record may be the obvious reason for the honor, Keen – the acting head coach for the Mavericks – has done a marvelous job rallying his team in the face of major adversity.
Less than two weeks before the team’s season-opening game at Minot State, Minnesota State head coach Todd Hoffner was arrested and charged with felony counts of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and possession of child pornography. Hoffner was put on paid administrative leave, and Keen, the offensive coordinator, was put in charge. While the counts against Hoffner were dismissed for lack of probable cause on Nov. 30, he has yet to be reinstated at MSU and Keen remains at the helm of the program during the playoff run.
Keen is one of five regional finalists for the AFCA National Coach of the Year Award, which will be announced at the AFCA Convention in January.
• West Texas A&M has two fall sports still in contention for an NCAA Division II title as the ninth-ranked volleyball squad and the sixth-seeded football team continue to roll.
On the court, the Lady Buffs will be making their 12th appearance in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals beginning on Thursday at West Florida. WTAMU will face West Region Champion BYU-Hawaii in quarterfinal action on Thursday as the Lady Buffs look to stretch their 13-match winning streak. They are back in the quarters for the first time since 2009 when they fell to Concordia-St. Paul in the championship match. WTAMU is looking for its first volleyball title since winning back-to-back trophies in 1990 and 1991.
The Buffaloes’ football team has already beaten two higher-seeded squads, upending Ashland and Colorado State-Pueblo, and will play at undefeated and second-seeded Winston-Salem State on Saturday. It will be the first time the Buffs (12-2) will be playing in the NCAA semifinals, and their 10th road game of the season. The Buffs have won eight consecutive away games since losing to CSU-Pueblo in the regular-season opener.
Leading the Buffs is junior quarterback Dustin Vaughan, who was recently named Capital One/CoSIDA Academic Player of the Year for his efforts on the field and in the classroom, where he owns a 3.9 grade-point average in biology/pre-med. Vaughan is the first WT student-athlete to receive the honor.
• Speaking of Division II volleyball, Concordia-St. Paul will be seeking its sixth consecutive title at the NCAA Championship beginning Thursday in Pensacola, Fla. The Golden Bears are riding a 33-match NCAA postseason winning streak into a quarterfinal contest against Wingate in the first meeting between the two schools.
Concordia’s five consecutive NCAA Division II titles is the longest streak in Division II history, and longer than any Division I championship streak. This season, Concordia is attempting to tie the NCAA record of six in a row held by Washington (Mo.) at the Division III level between 1991 and 1996.
• Virginia Wesleyan took control of the top spot in the latest NABC Division III Top 25, and has already defended the No. 1 ranking with a 72-65 win against Lynchburg on Tuesday. VWC began the season ranked No. 1 last year before falling to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the NCAA quarterfinals. All-American DJ Woodmore reached the 1,000-point milestone after scoring 22 points versus Lynchburg. The Marlins are off to a 6-0 start, and will host Guilford in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play on Saturday.
• After beginning the season unranked, the New Hampshire men’s hockey team climbed to No. 1 in the Division I national rankings for the first time since January 29, 2007 on the merits of an 11-1-2 record and 8-1-1 mark in Hockey East play. It is the best start by a UNH team season the 1968-69 season. The Wildcats take an eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1) into Thursday’s home game against No. 7 Boston University – their last official contest before winter break before resuming play on Dec. 30 at Dartmouth’s Ledyard National Bank Classic.
• Ashland women’s basketball senior forward Kari Daugherty garnered Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division Player of the Week after setting the Division II record for consecutive double-doubles with a 12-point, 19-rebound performance against Ferris State on Dec. 1. It was her 25th consecutive double-double dating back to last season. Daugherty added her 26th consecutive double-double with 29 points and 18 rebounds on Wednesday as the No. 1 Eagles improved their record to 9-0. She currently leads the GLIAC with a 24.9 scoring average and rebounds per game with 15.7. Both the Eagles’ winning streak and Daugherty’s double-double streak will be on the line Saturday at Saginaw Valley State.
• For the first time in 28 seasons, Limestone’s women’s basketball team is off to a 6-0 start and was voted into the WBCA/USA Today Division II Top 25 at No. 20 this week. The Saints are tied with the 1984-85 team for the best start in program history. Limestone is averaging a 31.5 margin of victory through its first six games. The Saints will enjoy their new ranking for a week before putting it on the line at Newberry on Dec. 15.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy