The 2019 DII football championship quarterfinals are upon us. The DII tournament resumes play at noon ET on Saturday, Dec. 7 and by the time the sun sets, we'll have the final four teams remaining in the DII football season.
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Last year, all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the semifinals. With the defending champion Valdosta State Blazers eliminated last week in stunning upset fashion, we know that won't happen in 2019. There are still three No. 1 seeds, a storied DII football championship program and five 2019 Harlon Hill Trophy finalists in play.
Trust us. There is plenty to watch. But here's the three storylines we are watching closely.
Harlon Hill Trophy favorites go head-to-head
The Harlon Hill Trophy finalists were announced Monday, and the two frontrunners (in our opinion) will be on opposite sides of the football this weekend. Slippery Rock's quarterback Roland Rivers III will lead The Rock into battle against Jaleel McLaughlin and the Notre Dame Falcons in game of contrasting offensive styles.
McLaughlin has had quite the start to his DII football career. Two years, two 2,000-yard seasons, two trips to the quarterfinals (at least), and a two-time Harlon Hill finalist. To put his resume in perspective, he has over 4,500 yards rushing in two years and a total of four games not breaking the 100-yard mark — out of 27 played.
Roland Rivers III didn't take over as Slippery Rock's quarterback until game three of last season and The Rock hasn't lost a regular-season conference game since. Rivers III has thrown for 3,825 yards this season with a DII-best 44 touchdowns. He was also second on the team in rushing, adding seven more scores with his legs. This should be a showdown to remember.
What does West Florida do next?
Entering the tournament we said the Argos were the team to watch in Super Region Two, and they have yet to disappoint. First, they won in commanding fashion over four-seeded Wingate and then pulled off the thrilling last-second win against Valdosta State in the second round.
Now, West Florida travels to Hickory, North Carolina to face off against a Lenoir-Rhyne team that is not only incredibly talented, but is dominant at home. The Bears now have the longest current home winning streak in DII football with 15 straight victories at Moretz Stadium.
While Slippery Rock and Notre Dame (OH) could be a game where 100 points are scored, this one is a battle between two pretty solid defenses. West Florida had the top scoring defense in the Gulf South Conference while Lenoir-Rhyne allows just 15.46 points per game thanks to Harlon Hill candidate and sack-artist extraordinaire Jaquan Artis. This should be a close one between the bricks.
How about those Lions?
Texas A&M-Commerce is having quite the postseason run. Let's just talk about this defense for a minute. The Lions came in and held Tarleton State — a team that scored 45 points per game in 2019 — to its lowest output of the season, a mere 16 points. They then faced a Colorado School of Mines team that scored 40.4 points per game and not only held the Orediggers to their lowest output of the season — three points — but the lowest output since August of 2008.
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Up next? The No. 1 scoring team in DII football.
Minnesota State has been absolutely absurd on offense this season, scoring 217 points in a three-week span in October. Not many people have been able to shut down Nate Gunn and his 23 touchdowns on the ground, and Shane Zylstra is scary outside and has caught 66 passes for 1,379 yards and 15 touchdowns. This is just a frightening offense to try to stop.
But Texas A&M-Commerce isn't playing scared, that's for sure. And the Lions are two years removed from a national title. They were unranked when they shocked the DII football year in 2017, can they do it again?
Game of the Week: Northwest Missouri State at Ferris State
Last week, the Bearcats utterly dominated Lindenwood putting up 63 points on a balanced offensive and defensive attack. Ferris State dominated a Central Missouri offense that was one of the best in DII football all season long.
Here's what makes this a little more exciting. These are truly two consistent DII football heavyweights. Northwest Missouri State has reached the DII football championship 16 years straight while Ferris State has reached the past six seasons. Those are the two longest streaks in DII football right now. These are two teams that know December football, two teams that know what it means to be in the semifinals, and two teams that do not want to lose on Saturday.