We are roughly a quarter of the way through the DII football season. That means conference play is in full force and rivalry games are now being played on a weekly basis.
What’s on tap for Week 5? We have a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference battle for a share of first place, a top 25 showdown in Colorado for a spot atop the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and a rivalry known best as The Coal Bowl.
Go ahead and grab the cliched popcorn. Here are three games you’ll want to pay close attention to.
Ashland (2-2) at No. 4 Ferris State (4-0), WATCH LIVE
Just how big is this GLIAC showdown? The game between the Eagles and the Bulldogs is the lone game featured in this weekend’s DII football showcase. At stake is a tie atop the GLIAC standings.
We will be on a national stage on Saturday at 3⃣ p.m. at #4 Ferris State!— Ashland University Eagles (@goashlandeagles) September 24, 2018
1⃣st place in the GLIAC will be at stake!
And we have won 🔟 of 1⃣3⃣ games all-time at Big Rapids, Mich.... 😏 pic.twitter.com/vB5k94CRO0
Ashland entered the season with high aspirations, opening the season at No. 15 in the AFCA preseason poll. The Eagles put also put themselves to the test facing two top 25 teams in a row to start the season, but the results weren’t what they hoped, as they dropped to 0-2 and out of the top 25.
Ashland is now back on track and is 2-0 in the GLIAC. It heads to Big Rapids, Michigan to face Ferris State where Eagles head coach Lee Owens has a pristine 4-0 record. In fact, the Eagles have taken the last four of five meetings overall, winning 20-3 last season. Senior back Andrew Vaughn (417 yards, four touchdowns) is the leader on the field, as he is very acquainted with this rivalry.
The problem is that this Ferris State team is something special and arguably the best team in DII football. If quarterback Jayru Campbell doesn’t beat you in the air (850 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception), he can beat you on the ground (462 yards, eight touchdowns). His receiving corps is deep, but Keyondre Craig (301 yards, two touchdowns) stands out above the rest. The Bulldogs are incredibly balanced, however. Their top 20 defense allows just 14.8 points per game to compliment the No. 2 scoring offense in DII football, dropping 49.0 points per game.
It will be tough for the Eagles to go into the unfriendly environment of Top Taggart Field and come out victorious. But if there’s a GLIAC team that has proven they can do it, it is the Ashland Eagles.
No. 24 Colorado Mesa (3-1) at No. 14 (tie) Colorado School of Mines (4-0)
The only top 25 showdown of the weekend has major Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship implications. The red-hot Mines already have a big win over No. 16 Colorado State-Pueblo, while Colorado Mesa is coming off an upset at the hands of Chadron State and looking for a big statement game in rebound fashion.
Congrats @bsoliver15 @IsaacHarker05 and now @Cam_bam35 on @RMAC_SPORTS Player of the Week honors, three weeks in a row! #GreatPlayers #GreatLeaders #GreatTeammates #GreatMines pic.twitter.com/8YWJbbS0f0— Nick Fulton-MINES® (@CoachNFulton) September 17, 2018
The Mines offense is one of the more fun to watch. First-year quarterback Isaac Harker has had no issues transitioning with his new team, already throwing for 1,190 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions on the year. His life is made a lot easier with the sure hands of Brody Oliver (539 yards, ten touchdowns) on the receiving end. If those two can’t get it going, there’s always Cameron Mayberry. The running back already has amassed 564 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Right now, it seems this offense is unstoppable, allowing the Orediggers to play an exciting, catch-me-if-you-can style of football.
Speaking of exciting, look no further that Colorado Mesa quarterback Eystin Salum. The reigning 2017 RMAC Offensive Player of the Year looks to be improved on his 2017 breakout campaign. The dual-threat quarterback averaged 307.6 total yards per game last season and is averaging 333.0 yards per game in the early going of 2018. He and wide receiver Peter Anderson have shown a clutch connection thus far, with Anderson going for 266 yards and two touchdowns last week.
Rounding out the awards is your 2018 #RMACfb Preseason Offensive POTY, Eystin Salum of @CMUMavericks! Salum finished last season with the highest pass efficiency in the RMAC, completing 137-of-245 of his pass attempts, and 20 were for TD. pic.twitter.com/KZnhjYHSMq— RMAC Sports (@RMAC_SPORTS) July 26, 2018
It will be on Chance Drake (4.5 sacks) and the defense to put the pressure on Harker and the Mines because we know the Mavericks offense has the firepower to keep up. This game could very well be a shootout and be decided by whoever makes the last mistake.
No. 2 Indiana (Pa.) (4-0) at California (Pa.) (2-2)
This Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rivalry dates all the way back to 1918, but it was just recently coined The Coal Bowl. This Saturday’s rendition marks the 10th anniversary that got its start thanks to brother Barry and Bob Lippencott, who played against each other in the late 1960s at Indiana and Cal respectively. The victor walks away with the Coal Miners Pail Trophy and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
IUP comes rolling into this game undefeated. Lenny Williams, Jr. has this offense gelling, outscoring its opponents by more than 100 points this season 155-48. The individual stats don’t tell the whole story of how dominant IUP has been thus far in 2018 as both the running back and wide receiver positions are deep, neither one having one player that needs to stand out. Defensively, Dondrea Tillman and Deandre Easterling have been a nightmare for opposing teams, combining for 12 tackles for a loss and recording 4.5 sacks each. This will be a big test for the duo, as Cal's offensive line has allowed just two sacks this season.
The Vulcans got off to a slow start this season, losing on opening night to a top 25 opponent in Ohio Dominican before opening PSAC play with a heartbreaking, three-point loss to the upstart Kutztown Golden Bears. They have quickly bounced back and are looking to send a message to the PSAC this weekend with a strong performance against the No. 2 team in the country. There’s no doubting quarterback Noah Mitchell’s arm (1,369 yards through four games) but he’ll have to improve his accuracy (nine interceptions already) against this stout Crimson Hawks defense. IUPs secondary will have its hands full with Jordan Dandridge, Tyson Hill, and Chad Livingston as all three wide receivers have over 300 yards and multiple touchdown receptions.
Throw away the records and take history into account. Cal and IUP have flip-flopped back and forth the past six seasons, splitting the series 3-3 over that span, each team alternating years in its victories. With IUP claiming the latest bragging rights after its 26-10 victory in 2017, if history has anything to say about it, we may be seeing an upset for the ages in California, Pennsylvania this weekend.