The DII Football Championship begins on Saturday, with 12 first-round games in action. Here is one game from each Super Region we’ll be sure to have our eyes on.
Super Region One: LIU Post vs. Slippery Rock
LIU Post is one of three undefeated teams in Super Region One, along with Notre Dame (OH) and West Chester. The Pioneers posted their third undefeated mark in program history, capturing the Northeast-10 title in the final game of the season in a thriller against New Haven, 17-13. It was also the last NE10 game in the Pioneers' history, as they prepare to jump to Division I next season.
FB: WE. ARE. NOT. DONE. YET. The Rock earns the No. 7 seed in Super Region One in the NCAA Division II playoffs and we’ll head to LIU Post next week. Lots more to come. #RockFB pic.twitter.com/QvRXRMoK1S— Rock Athletics (@Rock_Athletics) November 11, 2018
Northeast football teams, in general, don’t have a strong history of making it to the championship game, but here are two teams with national title aspirations. The Rock hit a roadblock last Saturday, losing the PSAC Championship game to West Chester, but this is a potent offense. The Pioneers also have a strong offense, but their defense was the best in the conference allowing just 12.2 points and 287.2 yards per game.
If LIU Post wins, it continues on its quest to bring home a DII title before it leaves the division. If Slippery Rock wins, a possible rematch with PSAC nemesis West Chester awaits. There is certainly plenty of intrigue surrounding this one.
Super Region Two: Bowie State vs. West Alabama
West Alabama entered the season No. 12 in DII football and the early favorites to win the Gulf South Conference. Things didn’t go as planned, but a late-season surge in which it downed fellow Super Region Two team Florida Tech and reigning national runners-up West Florida gave it a life in the postseason mix. This is still a very good football team, as quarterback Harry Satterwhite leads an offense that can put up points quickly.
Opposite the Tigers is Bowie State. Picked as one of NCAA.com’s tournament sleepers, the Bulldogs are making their third trip in the four years of the Amir Hall era. The previous two trips have seen the Bulldogs falter in the first round, but this is a different team. Perhaps this is the one that breaks the mold and moves on as the lone CIAA representative in the hunt.
Super Region Three: Grand Valley State vs. Northwest Missouri State
It’s a shame this game is in the first round, as it could go down as one of the best games in the tournament. Two of DII football’s all-time heavyweights go head-to-head in a clash of the DII titans. This is Northwest Missouri State’s record 23rd trip to the postseason, while the Lakers aren’t far behind with 19. The two teams have the two highest winning percentages in DII postseason history, with the Bearcats posting a .746 mark and the Lakers a .714.
They have 10 national championships between them. Grand Valley State defeated Northwest Missouri State in the 2005 and 2006 national championship games, but the Bearcats struck back in 2009. These two programs know each other pretty well on the big stage.
That was then, however. Northwest Missouri State, which has long prided itself on its top-ranked defense, added an explosive offense into the mix in 2018 with several new faces. Quarterback Braden Wright — who is amid a simply remarkable freshman campaign — led the charge for the MIAA’s top offense, while Austin Eskew led the MIAA’s top-ranked scoring defense. For the Lakers, quarterback Bart Williams, who led the GLIAC in yards per game, has weapons at his disposal in Austin Paritee and Nick Dodson that makes Grand Valley State’s offense one to watch out for once again. This is one you won’t want to miss.
Super Region Four: Minnesota Duluth vs. Texas A&M-Commerce
The reigning national champs had a changing of the guard in Commerce but found its way back into the mix. The Lions' first test? The best total defense in DII football.
The Minnesota Duluth defense has been something else this season: No. 1 in DII in total defense and No. 3 in scoring. The Bulldogs have not yet allowed a team to score 20 points on them this season, with Bemidji State putting up a season-high 19 on Sept. 22. They don’t have any DII leaders on offense but have shown they can put up some big numbers pretty quickly. Alex Helmer leads the defense with 10 sacks and Tareq Abulebbeh leads an opportunistic secondary with five interceptions to go along with nine passes defended.
Texas A&M-Commerce had so many new faces it was hard to keep up, but they are starting to settle in nicely. Running back Ovie Urevbu has been on fire the last three weeks, totaling 497 yards on the ground. The defense was strong all season, allowing less than 20 points and 300 yards per game. But as we learned last season, the postseason is where Colby Carthel and his Lions shine, so all eyes will be on the Lions to see what they can do for an encore.