The first round of the DII football championship was certainly a fun one. Five seeded teams went down as the underdogs seemingly won the day. With 12 games set to kick off on Saturday, Nov. 23, just what is in store for the second round?
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Here are three things we're excited to watch, and you should be as well.
1 — No. 1 seeds back in action
The four top seeds in each Super Region had the luxury of sitting back and watching their second-round opponents in action. After two No. 2 seeds fell last week, these No. 1 seeds know to take nothing lightly.
Undefeated Slippery Rock takes on Shepherd in a clash of two Harlon Hill Trophy candidates. Rams' quarterback Tyson Bagent led Shepherd to the thrilling 31-27 upset over Indiana (Pa). Now it prepares for Roland Rivers III and the scorching hot Rock offense. This will not be a low scoring affair and whoever has the ball last could very well be moving on to the third round.
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Valdosta State has the advantage of familiarity with its opponent, facing off against a West Florida team the Blazers faced just three weeks ago. The problem is the Argos gave the Blazers one of their toughest challenges of the season. West Florida's young quarterback Austin Reed and his receiver Quentin Randolph are red hot, hooking up for 234 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks.
The national runners-up will certainly have their hands full. Ferris State's No. 4-ranked scoring defense will have to maintain Central Missouri's No. 2-ranked scoring offense. The Bulldogs will also have to figure out how to score points without 2018 Harlon Hill winner Jayru Campbell under center, who seems like he's out for the year after having surgery. Travis Russell has been sharp in his stead, but playoff football takes on a whole new challenge.
Minnesota State is the owner of the top-scoring offense and second-best scoring defense in all of DII football, so the Mavericks have been itching to get back to action after their bye. They will face a CSU-Pueblo team that posted the only shutout in the first round. If Nate Gunn and company can do its thing and get out to an early, big lead it will be highly advantageous. The Thunderwolves aren't made to come from behind, but if CSU-Pueblo can dictate the tempo with its signature D, the Mavericks will have a long day ahead of them.
2 — 2019 Harlon Hill Trophy candidates ready for second-round action
The 36-player Harlon Hill watchlist was released on Monday, Nov. 25. Of the student-athletes nominated for the Heisman trophy of DII football, 12 will be on the field this coming Saturday.
The Blazers Rogan Wells and Falcons Jaleel McLaughlin are no strangers to Harlon Hill attention. Wells finished as runner-up last season, while McLaughlin was a finalist after shattering the freshman single-season rushing record. Speaking of freshmen, the Orediggers will be led into their second-round battle by the lone freshman nominee in quarterback John Matocha. Quarterback is the most plentiful position on the list as seven of the 12 nominees playing Saturday will be under center.
Here's the complete list of Harlon Hill Trophy nominees in the second round:
- Tyson Bagent, Shepherd, QB
- Collin DiGalbo, Kutztown, QB
- Jaleel McLaughlin, Notre Dame (OH), RB
- Roland Rivers III, Slippery Rock, QB
- Jaquan Artis, Lenoir-Rhyne, DE
- Rogan Wells, Valdosta State, QB
- Antonio Wimbush, Carson-Newman, RB
- Brook Bolles, Central Missouri, QB
- Cade Brister, Lindenwood, QB
- Austin Edwards, Ferris State, DE
- Nate Gunn, Minnesota State, RB
- John Matocha, Colorado School of Mines, QB
3 — Lenoir-Rhyne puts its home winning streak on the line
Opponents have not fared well at Moretz Stadium over the past few years. The Bears have won 14 in a row, which is the longest current home winning streak in DII football. Lenoir-Rhyne hasn't lost at home since Nov. 4, 2017. Its opponent that day was Carson-Newman.
The Bears opponent Saturday, you ask? Why yes, it is the same Carson-Newman Eagles.
Carson-Newman paid a visit to Hickory, North Carolina earlier this season and lost 36-23. The Eagles haven't lost since, including a big first-round upset of No. 3-seeded Bowie State last weekend. These two teams know each other so it will be interesting to see how it all goes down between the bricks.
DII football championship game of the week
Let's face it, every game is a big one. We already discussed the big conference rematches between Valdosta State/West Florida and Lenoir-Rhyne/Carson-Newman. With all the shockers after the first round, you should have your eyes on every game.
But we won't ignore the upstart Lindenwood Lions. This team has gone from a 4-7 afterthought last season to a 9-3 juggernaut in 2019 that has taken down three nationally-ranked foes and went perfect in its conference. Cade Brister is a Harlon Hill nominee and this team has plenty of talent, including tight end Erik Henneman who earned preseason All-American honors. The Lions just dropped 41 points on an Ouachita Baptist defense that allowed no more than 21 points in any game this season.
Here's where it gets even more storybook for the Lions. In order for their magical run to continue, they'll have to figure out how to beat Northwest Missouri State in Maryville. The Bears, of course, are one of the winningest teams in DII football championship history and showed they could survive even when their exciting offense is held in check, defeating Harding 7-6 in the first round. Let's see just how far this underdog story can go.