Hopefully, a week was enough time to catch your breath. A thrilling first round of the DII Football Championship concluded last Saturday with several stunners and even more dominating performances. This week the four No. 1 seeds re-enter the mix, hoping not to fall to the same fate as the seven top seeds that were upset in Round 1.
Here's a look at what we will be watching.
Tarleton State vs. Texas A&M-Commerce
The new champions of the Lone Star Conference take on the defending national champs in this Super Region Four super rivalry. Texas A&M-Commerce, winners of six-straight postseason games, rolled to an upset over Minnesota Duluth in Round 1 thanks to a brilliant defensive and special teams’ performance. It was quite the opposite for Tarleton State, who shut down any notion of an upset with a completely dominating 58-0 offensive output over Azusa Pacific.
These two teams faced on Oct. 13 and it was very much all Texans. Tarleton State led 27-21 before erupting for a 20-0 fourth quarter to put the game out of reach and end the Lions hopes of an LSC title. That game was Xavier Turner’s second of seven-straight 100-yard performances, racking up 166 yards and two touchdowns. This likely doesn’t bother Texas A&M-Commerce, however. The Lions entered the 2017 tournament 9-1, their lone loss costing them a shot at the LSC title. They were a five-seed then and rolled to the national championship.
These two teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Texans are looking to add new history to their program’s lore, while the Lions are hoping history repeats itself. When you combine that with the fact that these are two rivals from one of the toughest conferences in DII football, you have the recipe for a memorable football game.
Ferris State vs. Northwest Missouri State
Last week, Northwest Missouri State handled Grand Valley State in a first-round matchup that featured two schools with 10 of the 45 DII football national championships to their names. Ferris State came out fired up, looking like one of DII football’s best offenses, but struggled to move the ball against Harding’s tough defense in the second half, eking out a 21-19 victory for the narrowest victory of the first round.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Bearcats this week, as they face yet another team with postseason history on its side. The Bulldogs have reached the national quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons, giving this coaching staff the playoff know-how to prepare for big games. For the Bulldogs, Jayru Campbell and company will be staring down another notoriously ferocious defense. There is no question that Ferris State will be looking to show its explosive offense can counter any defense in the land, facing its second top 10 defense in a row.
This game pits two of the most exciting quarterbacks in DII football against each other. Campbell can not only throw for touchdowns but is No. 7 in DII football with 20 rushing touchdowns. Built from the same dual-threat ilk as his opposing quarterback, Northwest Missouri State’s Braden Wright is dangerous through the air and on the ground. No freshmen quarterback ran for more touchdowns than Wright’s 11.
Two DII football powerhouses are ready to go head-to-head. Both of these teams can put up points quickly, making it must-see football.
Lenoir-Rhyne vs. Wingate
A conference showdown between familiar adversaries in the second round is always exciting. When not many expected said two teams to be here, it adds to the excitement level.
Most had Carson-Newman as the favorites to win the South Atlantic Conference. Wingate received some preseason love, but Lenoir-Rhyne was pretty much an afterthought, voted to finish sixth in its own conference. But that’s why you play the game, as they say.
Lenoir-Rhyne is one of the hottest teams remaining in the tournament. The Bears have won 11 in a row, almost all of them in convincing fashion averaging over 44 points per game this season. Wingate is pretty hot itself, rolling into the second round amid a seven-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs and Bears squared off back on September 22. Lenoir-Rhyne appeared to have that game in hand, leading 31-7 halfway into the third quarter. But redshirt freshman quarterback Shaw Crocker found senior wideout J.T. Stokes for two big touchdowns to close out the third quarter with 17 unanswered points. Their comeback fell a touchdown short, and one would imagine that Wingate was hoping for a chance to avenge that loss.
Now it has that opportunity, and on DII football’s biggest stage nonetheless. The Bulldogs had arguably the biggest upset in the first round, taking down No. 10 West Georgia for its first win over a ranked team since 2015. The team they beat previously? That would be the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears. Oh yeah, this is going to be a good one.
What else we’re watching:
Bowie State’s quarterback Amir Hall was impressive in edging out West Alabama for his first NCAA tournament victory with the Bulldogs. Now he and his team face the No. 1 offense in DII football in Valdosta State. The Hall/ Rogan Wells matchup may be the best quarterback showdown in the second round.
Last year’s freshman phenom Al McKeller led Indianapolis to the playoffs. This year, he was joined in the backfield by another freshman breakout star in Toriano Clinton. Can this young, dynamic duo find paydirt against Ouachita Baptist’s top scoring defense in DII football?
Just who will emerge from Super Region One? With all three lower seeds advancing, this is a bracket full of Cinderellas looking for the glass slipper. The No. 1 seeded Notre Dame (OH) is the most surprising No. 1 seed in the field, so there is plenty of intrigue in both games. Whichever sleeper comes out of this region will be exciting to watch in the semifinals.