Division II football: Grind-it-out style working for Henderson State
Two years ago when Henderson State last made the NCAA Division II football playoffs, the Reddies went undefeated during the regular season.
Half the time, Henderson State put up points like it was basketball, scoring over 80 once, over 70 once, over 60 three times and over 40 five times.
The Reddies entered the 2013 playoffs poised to make a run. They hardly faced any adversity during the regular season. But their stay in the playoffs lasted one game. They lost at home 40-35 to St. Cloud State.
Henderson State came into the playoffs this year with one loss. In six of the Reddies’ wins, they scored in the 20s and another time just 17 points.
Despite the lower point totals, junior quarterback Dallas Hardison said the team was ready to make school history. And they did a week ago, winning their first playoff game in school history, beating Sioux Falls 23-16.
“The Henderson State team we have this season is a lot of hardnosed players who are tough,” Hardison said. “It may not look pretty a lot of times, but going out to win is what is on everybody’s mind. This year the team faced a lot more adversity than in the past. Whatever teams threw at us, we handle it very well.”
Because of that hardnosed mentality, Henderson State, 11-1 and the No. 3 seed in Super Regional Three, returns home to take on Emporia State, 10-2 and No. 6 seed, in a second round game at 1 p.m. CT Saturday at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia, Ark.
It no longer matters how many points the Reddies score each week.
“The prime goal each week is to get that W,” Hardison said. “I know in the past, teams were really good offensively and we had a lot of blowouts during the season.
“Going into this postseason, we experienced having to play four quarters of football and having to grind out some wins and make some plays in the fourth quarter to bring home some victories.”
Against Sioux Falls, the Reddies led 14-13 at halftime and put the game away in the fourth quarter by recording a safety and limiting Sioux Falls to a field goal.
Saturday’s game could have a different flavor. Emporia State pulled off an upset by winning at No. 2 seed Minnesota State-Mankato, 51-49. Mankato made it the Division II championship game a year ago.
Emporia State has scored 38 or more points eight times this year. Preparing for different styles of football from teams in different parts of the country is what makes the playoffs fun, said Hardison.
“I think a lot more preparation goes into it,” Hardison said. “In the GAC (Great American Conference), we play conference games for 11 straight weeks. That is how our conference is set up. We don’t play any nonconference games. To be able to play teams in MIAA and up in Minnesota, they play a little bit different football. It is fun to prepare for these different teams.
“You watch them on film and you see a lot of the different teams they played throughout the year and you try to figure out what teams they compare to that we played so far.”
Hardison is thankful and appreciative that Henderson State is playing during the Thanksgiving weekend. Only 16 football teams in Division II get to spend this time together, preparing for their biggest game so far this season.
“Being able to advance is the experience a lot of guys are going to remember forever,” Hardison said. “Spending Thanksgiving with your teammates is a great experience and something all championship football teams looks forward to.”
Total offense: Emporia State, 476.5; Henderson State, 364.9
Total defense: Emporia State, 408.2; Henderson State, 312.0
Points scored: Emporia State, 36.9; Henderson State, 30.0
Points allowed: Emporia State, 27.4; Henderson State, 14.6
Building a strong bond helps Slippery Rock get to the second round
A year ago, Slippery Rock season ended in the first round of the Division II playoffs. The Rock lost 13 seniors who led the team to back-to-back playoff appearances, three Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West titles and one PSAC championship.
“We knew we needed a lot of people to step up,” said sophomore defensive end Marcus Martin.
Any football coach or player will tell you, championships are built in the summer, when players come in on their time to lift weights, workout together and build a bond.
That is exactly what Martin saw last summer and says is a key reason why Slippery Rock, 11-1 and the No. 2 seed in Super Regional One, won its first playoff game since 1998.
“It is a great feeling because our team worked so hard in the offseason and this whole season and finally, not only win the PSAC championship but winning a first-round playoff game is an amazing feeling,” Martin said. “Our home atmosphere is great. Our student section is always good. Our fan base is nice. To win in front of our fans means a lot because we ended up getting another home game.”
The Rock will take on Assumption, 11-1 and the No. 3 seed, noon ET Saturday at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in Slippery Rock, Pa.
Martin said the team is taking a mature approach to these games.
“Nobody is too excited, nobody is satisfied yet, which I think shows the maturity in our team,” Martin said. “Last year we won the PSAC championship and everybody thought we were on top of the world. This year we won it. It was great. But we wanted more.
“We won playoff round one and it was like we should win round one. We are going into this week with tunnel vision. We are not focusing on anything else, none of our accomplishments. It is just about winning this weekend.”
Sweating together in the summer and pushing each other made it easier for Slippery Rock to bounce back from its one loss. The Rock lost 41-38 at Seton Hill University in the fourth week of the season.
“It definitely made us focus up,” Martin said. “It was also a humbling experience. We had a strong bond coming into the season. We thought we had a solid team. That game, statistically, we beat ourselves. That was the hardest part. We knew we shouldn’t have lost. We knew we had to focus more week in and week out so it wouldn’t happen again.”
Total offense: Assumption, 386.8; Slippery Rock, 509.2
Total defense: Assumption, 380.0; Slippery Rock, 349.9
Points scored: Assumption, 39.2; Slippery Rock, 48.0
Points allowed: Assumption, 22.7; Slippery Rock, 18.1