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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | December 9, 2018

Valdosta State, Ferris State are in the DII football championship game. Here's what we know

The finale of the DII football season is set. Valdosta State will meet Ferris State in McKinney, Texas for the national championship on Saturday, Dec. 15.

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If thrilling football is your thing, the DII football championship semifinals certainly delivered. Notre Dame (OH) nearly tamed the beast that is the Valdosta State offense, but the Blazers held on for the 30-24 victory. Ferris State and Minnesota State headed into the half in a tight 21-19 game in the nightcap, before the Bulldogs ran away with the 42-25 victory.

The stage is set. Valdosta State, a three-time national champion, will face off against Ferris State, a team heading to the finals for the first time in program history. Let’s take a quick look at what we learned in the DII semifinals.

A perfect 2018 DII football season is on the line

Four teams entered Saturday’s semifinals with a perfect record, marking the first time in DII football history four undefeated teams remained in the hunt this late into the season. Valdosta State ended Notre Dame (OH)’s perfect run 30-21 while Ferris State ended the undefeated season of Minnesota State, 42-25.

Now, Valdosta State and Ferris State face off in the first national championship game featuring undefeated squads since 2015. That time Northwest Missouri State defeated Shepherd 34-7.

This Valdosta State team just wins

It was arguably the Blazers sloppiest game of the season, but they still prevailed. And they scored 30 points in the process.

That's saying a lot about just how good this Notre Dame (OH) defense was in 2018. The Blazers actually trailed at the half 10-9 and used a 100-yard pick six in the second half to spark their 21-point second half. That was what Valdosta State did all day. Made the big play when it needed to, whether it was a blocked punt for a safety or that David Brown rumble to the end zone. 

Harlon Hill finalist Rogan Wells was held in check, passing for just 134 yards — his second lowest passing output of the season — and rushing for 37, but it was Jamar Thompkins came through for the Blazers. The redshirt freshman running back totaled 145 yards on the ground, springing a career-long 84-yard touchdown run to give Valdosta State some breathing room.

It’s a tired cliché, but good teams find ways to win bad games. Valdosta State did just that, and the Blazers are rewarded with a fifth championship game appearance since 2002.

DII football is officially put on watch, Notre Dame (OH) is really, really good

What a season for the Falcons. The best part of their 13-1 season that concluded in Saturday’s semifinals is the bevy of youth that should return next year. 

Jaleel McLaughlin had yet another big day in the biggest game of his young career. He finished the day with 175 yards, bringing his season total to a DII freshmen record of 2,421 yards. Chris Brimm, a red-shirt freshman, wasn’t at his best, but also refused to relent, throwing 38 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. His receiving corps —huge 6’7” tight end, sophomore Zaire Mitchell and junior wide receivers Marvelle Ross, Markus Hood, and Conner Henry — should all be back. Junior Sha’haun Williams will get some looks, but he and Jack Kosko and Derrick Brumfield, the three of which combined for 32.5 sacks for this tough defense in 2018, could all return as well. 

The 2018 Falcons exceeded every expectation by a landslide. Now they’ve set the bar higher than ever before heading into 2019.

Ferris State is balanced

The Bulldogs have a nice formula and it has worked 15 times this season. They now are on the cusp of becoming the first 16-0 team in DII football history. 

Ferris State attacks and scores quickly. That’s exactly what it did Saturday, jumping out to a 21-10 lead against Minnesota State in the second quarter. The defense grinds it out, but the lead is always seemingly just big enough for Jayru Campbell and company to keep enough distance. 

Right when Minnesota State cut the lead to three in the third quarter, Ferris State showed it has patience on offense, executing a nearly seven-minute drive, ending in Marvin Campbell’s second touchdown of the day. A forced fumble and a 19-yard Derrick Portis touchdown run put the game out of reach less than 20 seconds later. That ability to score quickly and control the tempo is simply a dangerous combination.

Ferris State and Valdosta State is quickly mounting up to what could be the most exciting, high-scoring national championship game in history.

Minnesota State isn’t going anywhere

Quick, what do Ryan Schlichte, Nate Gunn, Justin Taormina, JD Ekowa, and Shane Zylstra all have in common? None are seniors.

This is a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game in two seasons. Last year, the Mavericks season came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of Texas A&M-Commerce, the eventual national champions. Their fate could very well be the same the way Ferris State is playing this year.

Nate Gunn is as good as it gets when it comes to DII football running backs, and receiver Shane Zylstra concluded another big season with a 178-yard game in the finale. If all the pieces of the puzzle return, the Mavericks could be set up for a third-straight undefeated run through the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Just wrap your head around that.

Be sure to scroll down for all the day's highlights.

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