What a weekend in store for Division II football fans. No. 8 Colorado Mesa and No. 17 Colorado State-Pueblo square off in the DII football showcase, but there are plenty of top-billed matchups on Saturday's slate.
No. 1 goes for No. 35. PSAC West powers collide. A Northeast-10 battle of Top 25 teams. That's just a taste of what's in store. Here's what you need to know about five must-see games on this weekend's DII football Saturday.
No. 1 Northwest Missouri State at Central Missouri (RV)
Northwest Missouri State is looking for its 35th consecutive win. Central Missouri is looking to get back into the Top 25. It's the perfect weekend to head to Arrowhead Stadium for one of DII football's biggest games.
The chances of winning the lottery are likely higher than scoring on the Bearcats defense right now. They are the best defense in DII, allowing 147.5 yards and 3.5 points a game. A mere 14 points have been scored on the Bearcats all season, and that was in the same game, pitching a shutout in 75 percent of their games. This past weekend, they held Missouri Southern to -43 yards rushing as a team. With the offense coming off its best performance of the season, things are starting to click for Northwest Missouri State.
Central Missouri has been on both the losing and winning side of an upset this season. An early season loss to then-unranked Fort Hays State knocked them from the Top 25. One of the most bizarre game-winning touchdowns this past Saturday put them on the right side of an upset, downing then-No. 15 Emporia State 37-31.
Quarterback Brook Bolles, running backs Devante Turner and Koby Wilkerson, and wide receivers Jaylen Zachery and Kyrion Parker bring enough offensive fire power to give the Bearcats defense fits. This could be the closest game Northwest Missouri State finds themselves in all season, but if they can beat UCM handedly, it makes them even more of a threat to three-peat in December.
No. 5 California (PA) at No. 18 Slippery Rock
Another week brings another huge battle in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference with major postseason implications. The Vulcans and The Rock are two of the three teams tied atop the PSAC West Division at 4-0.
Slippery Rock may be led by one of DII football's greatest defensemen of all-time, but it's the offense that is clicking. Defensive end Marcus Martin recently became DII's all-time sack and tackles-for-loss leader, but The Rock is still giving up points (28.75 per game, to be exact). That's been ok, because their offense is outgunning the competition. Quarterback Tanner Garry is coming off a 518-yard, five touchdown performance, and with Milly Raye and Marcus Johnson at his disposal, they will be tough to stop.
Like Slippery Rock, the Vulcans put up big numbers last week, but still had to eke out a victory in the final quarter. That was thanks to quarterback Michael Keir's last-second touchdown scramble. Keir has been the leader of the offense, with over 1,000 yards passing and nine touchdowns on the season. Running back Nick Grissom and wide receiver Tom Greene give him weapons to work with as well. Luke Hrapchak could be the key to the game. The senior linebacker alreasy has 33 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries on the season. He'll need to put the pressure on The Rock's offense for the Vulcans to have a chance.
No. 22 Assumption at No. 24 LIU Post
It's a battle for the Northeast-10 in Brookeville, New York.
Last week the Pioneers suffered an upset at the hands of the upstart Bentley Falcons. Quarterback Yianni Gavalas was held in check and still had a big game. He's fourth in DII with 1,374 yards passing and third with 15 touchdowns. His number one weapon Michael Richardson is amongst DII receiving leaders with 356 yards and six touchdowns (tied for second in DII).
The bad news for Gavalas and company is Assumption's defense handles the pass extremely well. The Greyhounds are tops in the NE-10, allowing just 167.3 yards through the air per game. That's helped them to the No. 8 scoring defense in all of DII, allowing a mere 10.8 points per game. Defensive lineman Ray Sarkodieh leads the pass rush, already sacking the quarterback 4.5 times with five tackles-for-loss this season.
Offensively quarterback Marc Monks has a trio of wide receivers to attack the Pioneers defense. Deonte Harris, Ashton Grant and Sam Blake all have over 200 yards on the season, combining for 773 yard and nine touchdowns in four games.
This is a game featuring the NE-10's two best scoring offenses, with Assumption No. 9 and LIU Post No. 28 in DII football. This game could very well come down to which defense makes the last (and possibly only) big stop.
Ouachita Baptist (RV) at No. 11 Arkansas Tech
Simply put, the Wonder Boys have become fun to watch each week. Arkansas Tech has gone from receiving 11 votes in the preseason poll all the way to No. 11 in the latest rankings. It has been quite the rise in Russellville, Arkansas.
Last week, Arkansas Tech had its most complete game of the season, defeating Southern Nazerene 52-0. Senior running back and return man Braden Stringer stole the show, first breaking off an exciting 63-yard touchdown run and then setting the Great American Conference record with a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The Wonder Boys are the cream of the GAC crop, with both the No. 1 scoring offense and defense in the conference. But don't sleep on Ouachita Baptist. The Tigers own the third-best scoring offense and defense in the conference, as well as a 3-1 record and a few votes in last week's poll. The Tigers dropped their only loss two weeks ago to the GAC's other undefeated team (Southeastern Oklahoma State). There is no doubt that Ouachita will be looking to make a statement that it can hang in the GAC.
Clark Atlanta vs. Grambling State (FCS)
Another DII football team will be playing at an NFL stadium this weekend. Clark Atlanta travels to the Windy City in a showdown with Football Championship Subdivision power Grambling State in the Chicago Football Classic at Solider Field. The 3-1 Tigers are ranked No. 19 in the recent FCS poll, so Clark Atlanta will have its hands full.
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Clark Atlanta is also 3-1, mostly thanks to its multi-talented quarterback Johnathon McCrary. McCrary has 869 yards passing for the Panthers, with eight touchdowns through the air while adding another three on the ground. The senior spreads the ball around evenly, with five receivers already over the 100-yard mark, four of which have scored. The Panthers No. 30-ranked defense will have to keep Grambling State in check, because McCrary and company are certainly able enough to control the tempo of this game.
Battle of the Mascot: Week 5
Last week saw the second Great American Conference showdown of the season. The Boll Weevils were looking for the upset, but the Savage Storm reigned supreme.
WEEK 1: Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys 28, Southern Arkansas Muleriders 21
WEEK 2: South Dakota School of Mines Hardrockers 35, Dixie State Trailblazers 14
WEEK 3: Califoria (Pa) Vulcans 29, Millersville Marauders 13
WEEK 4: Southeastern Oklahoma State Savage Storm 41, Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils 21
Who's on deck for Week 5?
The Ichabods, named after school founder Ichabod Washburn, are off to a 3-1 start. They are the only team to threaten Northwest Missouri State, losing 20-14 back in Week 2. Pittsburg State may have the coolest logo in DII football. The Gorillas are 2-2, and will be looking for a big win at The Jungle (Carnie Smith Stadium's beloved nickname) to gain ground in the tough Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.