What happened during Week 1 of the DII Football Playoffs
This might have been the most unpredictable and entertaining week of playoff football I can remember since the playoff format changed in 2004 and maybe since the creation of D2Football.com before the 2000 season.
A couple of schools made their first appearance in the Division II playoffs and five schools won their first Division II playoff game. Four higher seeds advanced over a favored opponent and one conference had all three of its representatives eliminated from competition in the first round.
Upsets from Saturday
The biggest upset of the weekend occurred when Emporia State kicker Austin Morton hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give the Hornets a 51-49 win over second-ranked Minnesota State.
Blakeslee Stadium on the campus of Minnesota State is not a tough place to play, but it's a tough place to win. The crowd is not overbearing and is, frankly, "Minnesota Nice." The Mavericks are simply hard to beat there - and the flow of the game was one that favored MSU.
Minnesota State had built a 28-10 lead over ESU deep into the second quarter, but the Hornets managed to cut the lead to 28-24 before halftime. Eventually, ESU built a 45-28 lead and held it until 51 second remained in the third quarter.
In typical Maverick fashion, the team battled back, cutting the lead to 10 points just before the fourth quarter and eventually retaking the lead 49-48 with 8:27 left in the game. When Emporia quarterback Brent Wilson was interpreted in the Maverick endzone with 4:26 remaining, it appeared that MSU was reading from a script that had been written so many times before.
Then disaster struck.
Ricky Lloyd, who had rallied the team back after taking over quarterback duties late in the third quarter, threw a pass that was interception by JP Lohrentz inside Maverick territory. That is the type of mistake that MSU typically hadn't made in its deep playoff run in 2012 and to the championship game in 2014.
ESU was able to capitalize when Morton booted the ball through the uprights.
It was Emporia State's first playoff win.
For a very long time, Tuskegee declined to participate in the playoffs in favor of playing a money game every Thanksgiving. In 2013, the Golden Tigers joined the rest of Division II and opted to participate in the playoffs. In back to back years, TU lost to Gulf South Conference powers by three points each time.
This year, against the best team in the South Atlantic Conference, the Golden Tigers were able to break through, recording a 26-16 win over Catawba.
The other two upsets might be upsets in seed only.
IUP dominated Charleston, winning 47-21. IUP has historically been one of the best teams in the northeast area of the country. IUP will have a chance to eliminate another Mountain East Conference team when it faces Shepherd on Saturday.
Grand Valley, one of Division II's best programs, avenged an earlier season loss with a dominant performance at Ashland, 45-28. The Lakers will have a chance to avenge another loss to a conference opponent when they face Ferris State.
Firsts on Saturday
In addition to Emporia State and Tuskegee, Humboldt State, Assumption, and Henderson State earned their first Division II playoff wins.
Humboldt State racked up over 700 yards of offense while beating Augustana, 45-31. HSU quarterback Robert Webber threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns, receiver Chase Krivashei caught 18 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns, and running back Ja'Quan Gardner rushed 44 times for 246 yards and two scores in the win.
It was the Lumberjacks' first postseason appearance since 1968.
Assumption downed Bowie State 51-29 for its first postseason win. Sophomore quarterback Marc Monks threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
In its third NCAA playoff game, Henderson State finally broke through with a 23-16 win over Sioux Falls. Tiyun Avery intercepted a potential game tying Luke Papillion pass in the HSU endzone with 10 seconds left to secure the win.
The big story in this game centered around the blizzard that forced Sioux Falls to spend all day Friday at the airport. The Cougars didn't get to their hotel rooms until early Saturday morning.
Entire Conferences Eliminated
Three conferences which had more than one representative in the playoffs this year were totally eliminated after one round of competition.
The Northern Sun went 0-3 in the first round of the playoffs. The conference had a regional finalist the last eight seasons, twice ending with an All-NSIC regional final.
The CIAA went 0-2. Winston-Salem's runs in 2011 and 2012 have been the only successful football playoff runs for the conference. However, the league is one of the nation's best basketball conferences.
It was also 0-2 for the South Atlantic Conference. In addition to Tuskegee's win over Catawba, Carson-Newman was shocked by Valdosta State, losing 61-59 on a 28-yard touchdown pass as time expired. The Eagles had taken a 59-55 lead with 46 seconds left in the game.
Where's the Defense?
The average victor on Saturday scored 42.8 points. The average loser scored 26.6 points per game. In the first round a year ago, the average winner scored 35.8 points and the average scored by the losing team was 26.5.
In 2004, the first year the playoffs had more than 16 participants, the average first-round winner scored 33.6 points while the average loser scored 21.75.
Is the increased scoring a product of an expanded playoff field or simply a change in the nature of the game?
Brandon Misener is the creator of D2Football.com.