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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | November 25, 2018

5 lessons learned from the DII Football Championship second round

Eight teams remain as the second round of the DII Football Championship is in the books. And what a second round it was.

All four No. 1 seeds advanced, while three games came down to the final play. After an opening week that saw seven upsets, just one took place in the second round. Here’s what we learned after two rounds of the DII Football Championship.

MORE: Interactive bracket | Printable bracket | Buy championship tickets

Valdosta State’s offense is a steamroller

Bowie State came into its second-round game against No. 1 Valdosta State as underdogs, but with some nice sleeper appeal. The Bulldogs came out and owned the Blazers in the first quarter, jumping out to a 7-0 lead, and headed into the half down just five at 21-16. 

But then Valdosta State's No. 1-ranked scoring offense exploded.

After a 21-point second quarter, the Blazers showed how they can reel off points in bunches by outscoring the Bulldogs 45-0 in the second half. Valdosta State got its points from everywhere imaginable as well.

Quarterback Rogan Wells was efficient, completing 60 percent of his passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and he showed how dynamic he is by adding 64 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Altogether, the Blazers tallied nine touchdowns. Of those nine touchdowns, four came on the ground, four through the air and one on the defensive side of the ball. If you were to dig even deeper into their balance, four different rushers scored each of the touchdowns, while four different receivers caught each of the touchdowns. Backup freshman quarterback Ivory Durham came on in relief and went 6-for-6 with two touchdown passes and one more on the ground. This team is ridiculously deep and Kerwin Bell’s system is definitely working in Valdosta.

Northwest Missouri State and Wingate bow out in heartbreaking fashion

Two of the most exciting games of the day were decided on the final drive. Ferris State held off Northwest Missouri State 27-21 and a last-second Hail Mary was broken up by Lenoir-Rhyne to stave off Wingate 17-14. Even Hillsdale's historic run ended in the final seconds when the Chance Stewart to Trey Brock connection that worked so many times fell just short as the Chargers fell 19-14 to Notre Dame (OH). There was no shortage of thrilling finales in the second round.

Ferris State showed how important it is to have a veteran presence on your bench deep in the season. Quarterback Travis Russell, who played in 13 games for the Bulldogs last season, was called upon to lead one of the best offenses in DII in stud quarterback Jayru Campbell’s absence.

The Bulldogs came out with a little tomfoolery on the opening drive, as Russell handed it to Jevon Shaw who in turn chucked it to Sy Barnett for the 71-yard gain, setting up a two-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but as the Bearcats have shown for years, you can never count them out. Northwest Missouri State stormed back behind freshman quarterback Braden Wright's two scores. With the ball on the Ferris State 34, down six and just five seconds remaining, Wright was strip-sacked and the Bearcats' season went down with him. The Bulldogs now head to the quarterfinals for the third year in a row.

Lenoir-Rhyne entered Saturday as winners of 11 straight football games — one of which coming against its second round opponent Wingate on Sept. 22. The 11-game win streak was dominating at that, as the Bears scored more than 30 points in every contest, commanding most of its games from start to finish. Wingate didn’t seem to care.

The Bulldogs went into the half up 7-0 and quickly scored a field goal to extend the lead to 10 in the third quarter. The two teams then exchanged leads in the fourth quarter and No. 2-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne trailed 17-14 with just 2:44 remaining. The Bears went 86 yards on 10 plays, leaving just 45 seconds for the Bulldogs to try to win the game. The game-winning score was one of the wildest you’ll see, ending on some trickery of their own with a double flea-flicker for a touchdown.

MORE: The most intriguing numbers from the first round

Ouachita Baptist defense makes them a contender

If the cliché that defense wins championships is true, then Ouachita Baptist is in a really good position. The Tigers entered Saturday’s game against Indianapolis with the No. 1 scoring defense in DII football, allowing just 9.6 points per game and a top 20 total defense allowing less than 300 yards per game.

The Tigers allowed even less than that on Saturday. How's that for your first NCAA postseason win in program history?

The Ouachita defense held a UIndy team that hasn’t scored less than 31 points since Oct. 6 to seven points. The Greyhounds only mustered 274 total yards while running backs Al McKeller and Toriano Clinton struggled to find daylight, suffocated to a combined 3.67 yards per carry.

Offensively, when the Tigers get the lead, their power rushing game controls the clock which continued on Saturday as three different rushers eclipsed the 60-yard mark. Quarterback Brayden Brazeal picked a nice time for his best game of the season, completing 73.7 percent of his passes and throwing two touchdowns, his first multiple-touchdown game of the season. If Jayru Campbell returns for Ferris State, the Tigers defense will see its biggest challenge yet.

Slippery Rock is rolling

Last week saw seven lower seeds advance. This week was quite the opposite, as only one lower seed pulled out a victory. That team was No. 7 seed Slippery Rock, and it did so in dominating fashion. 

Wes Hills is a beast. He now has 355 yards in his first two NCAA DII playoff games and found paydirt three times in The Rock’s 59-20 victory over New Haven. That gives him 1,560 yards rushing on the season, which is rather impressive considering he had just 452 yards through his first five games this year. He’s putting up serious yards in big chunks, averaging seven yards a carry over his past six games. Simply put, he’s been an unstoppable force for Slippery Rock.

The Rock dominated thanks to a bounce-back performance from quarterback Roland Rivers III. After a rough go in both the PSAC Championship and first round where he threw for just two touchdowns and five interceptions, Rivers III was close to perfect on Saturday. He completed 75 percent of his passes for 249 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions as Slippery Rock’s offense was clicking. It will be a tough matchup for No. 1 seed Notre Dame (OH).

The reigning DII football champ's title defense comes to an end

Texas A&M-Commerce pulled off an upset in Round 1, knocking off the tough defense of Minnesota Duluth in convincing fashion. However, that’s where their run ends, as the Lions' attempt at a repeat fell short against the No. 2-seeded Tarleton State Texans.

The Lions went out fighting, that's for sure. They entered the half down 17-9 and trailed by just 12 until the fourth quarter when it appeared Tarleton State would pull away. Quarterback Kane Wilson led the Lions to two scores in the final minutes, and the Texans were able to run out the clock and preserve the 34-28 victory. It was as convincing a title defense as you’ll see, especially with their Harlon Hill winning quarterback and several key seniors lost to graduation. 

With the Lions out of the picture, the chances of a first-time champion in DII football just got that much greater. Valdosta State is the only team left in the field that has a national title, winning three since 2014. In fact, only Minnesota State and Lenoir-Rhyne have appeared in a DII football championship game. The possibility of a completely new finals matchup for the second-straight season is growing with each round.

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