Dec. 3, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Carson-Newman at Grand Valley State
Saturday, Dec. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Grand Valley State and Carson-Newman both delivered upsets against the top seeds in their regions as they downed defending NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth and North Alabama, respectively, in quarterfinal action last week.

The Lakers will be making their seventh NCAA Division II semifinal appearance in the last nine years, and fourth in the last five seasons.  They have advanced to the NCAA title game five times, winning four championships, with the last two coming back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.

“This is nothing new to them,” said C-N head coach Ken Sparks. “They are a really, really good football team. They are probably the most complete football team we’ve seen this year. It will be a great challenge for us.”

C-N is making its fifth appearance in the semifinals and first since 1999.  The Eagles have advanced to three Division II championship games -- the last in 1999 – but are 0-3 in those contests.  

Grand Valley State boasts one of the top offenses in the nation, racking up 458.69 yards and 36.46 points per game.  Senior quarterback Brad Iciek, a three-time Harlon Hill Trophy finalist, ranks second in the nation with a 174.11 pass efficiency rating.  

The game will most likely be won in the trenches as C-N will trot out the nation’s top rushing offense, averaging 349 yards per game on the ground.  The Lakers, however, will challenge the run as they have given up just 83.85 rushing yards per game (ninth in nation), and have held all but four opponents under 100 yards on the ground.

Carson-Newman began the season with an 0-2 record, but has reeled off 11 straight wins entering the semifinal match-up with the Lakers.  GVSU’s only loss of the season was a three-point setback to Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Hillsdale, which the Lakers avenged in the first round of the Div. II playoffs with a 44-27 victory over the Chargers.

The meeting will be the second in series history between the two squads.  Carson-Newman topped GVSU, 42-9, in the 1984 regular season opener.

Did you know?  Carson-Newman senior running back Buck Wakefield became the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 48 after scoring a pair in the Eagles’ win over North Alabama last week.  He has rushed for 1,396 yards and 18 TDs despite missing the first three games of the season with a broken leg.

California (Pa.) at Northwest Missouri State
Saturday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports Network

Over the last few years, California (Pa.) and Northwest Missouri State have been two of the most familiar faces when the NCAA Division II playoffs head into December.  

The Vulcans will be making their third straight appearance in the NCAA semifinals, while the Bearcats are back for their fifth consecutive trip.  Cal has fallen in its last two semifinal appearances to the eventual national champion – Valdosta State in 2007 and Minnesota Duluth in 2008.  Northwest has never lost a national semifinal game (6-0), with five of the six contests (including the last three) being played at home.  The Bears won back-to-back national titles in 1998 and 1999.

Both teams feature one of the top wide receivers in Division II – Cal’s A.J. Jackson and Northwest’s Jake Soy.  Jackson has posted single-season school records with 94 catches for 1,313 yards and 17 TD receptions, and also leads the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in all three categories.  Soy paces the nation with 23 TD catches – a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association record – and leads the league with 79 receptions for 1,393 yards.

Northwest ranks seventh in the nation with 478 yards of total offense per game, while the Vulcans are also recording over 400 yards per contest.  The Bearcats rank fourth in turnover ratio (1.38) with the nation’s second-leading interception total of 24.  They have also posted 43 sacks led by Sean Paddock – the school’s career leader (26).  Cal took on the highest scoring offense in the nation last week, outlasting the Hilltoppers for a 57-35 victory.

It is the first meeting between the two programs.

Did you know?  The game sets up a meeting of 200-win coaches in Cal’s John Luckhardt and Northwest’s Mel Tjeerdsma for only the 28th time in all-division NCAA history with the last coming in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl between Jim Tressel (Ohio State) and Mack Brown (Texas). Tjeerdsma has the most post-season victories in NCAA Division II history with 24, while Luckhardt has a combined 20 post-season victories between Cal U and Washington & Jefferson (NCAA Division III).