Four teams remain in the 2019 DII football championship. Slippery Rock and Minnesota State get the semifinals action rolling on Saturday, Dec. 14.
THE DII FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: Updates, bracket, and schedule for the full tournament
It's been a wild tournament so far. The No. 1 Valdosta State Blazers were bounced before winning a game and the same West Florida team that did it is alive and well. Texas A&M-Commerce eliminated two of the top scoring offenses in DII football by holding them to a combined 19 points before finally being ousted by Minnesota State.
2019 CHAMPIONSHIP: Interactive bracket | Printable bracket | Selection show
And that leaves two thrilling matchups left before the final game of the DII football season heads to McKinney, Texas on Saturday, Dec. 21. Here's what we're keeping our eyes on on what should be an action-packed weekend.
Slippery Rock and Minnesota State's superstar showdown
There are plenty of exciting weapons to watch in this game. Slippery Rock's dynamic duo of wide receivers Henry Litwin and Jermaine Wynn, Jr. have combined for 2,680 yards and 34 touchdowns, while the Mavericks wideout Shane Zylstra has 1,379 yards and 15 touchdowns in a run-heavy offense.
But we know who all eyes will be on this Saturday.
Roland Rivers III and Nate Gunn are both Harlon Hill Trophy finalists and for good reason. Rivers III combined for eight touchdowns in Slippery Rock's 65-59 quarterfinals win over Notre Dame (OH) bringing his total touchdown passes to 50 on the season. Gunn is just a machine. He put up his third straight season with at least 1500 yards and set a career-high with 26 touchdowns. We're talking about two players that have pretty much looked unstoppable for the better part of two years.
But one of them will have to be stopped this weekend. This could be a thrilling high-scoring affair that comes down to the final drive.
What magic does West Florida have this week?
West Florida isn't simply upsetting teams that are higher seeds. The Argos are pulling off monumental victories. After a commanding victory over fourth-seeded Wingate in the first round, the Argos ended Valdosta State's 25-game winning streak and then went into Hickory, North Carolina, and beat Lenoir-Rhyne — which were winners of 15-straight at home — in one of the toughest venues to play in DII. It's only fitting that to move on, they'll have to take on the top seed remaining in the tournament.
And you can be sure Ferris State is ready. Tony Annese has created a powerhouse in Big Rapids, Michigan, as the Bulldogs are in their third semifinals in the past four seasons. And there has been a variety of moving pieces from a Harlon Hill Trophy winner to under-the-radar running backs to award-nominated defensive ends that seem to fit Annese's program perfectly. Both the Argos and Bulldogs have been to the big dance, they just left empty handed. This will be an all-out battle on Saturday to see who gets another chance.
A guaranteed first-time DII football national champion
So this is quite the interesting semifinals field. The last two national runners-up — Ferris State in 2018 and West Florida in 2017 — are not only in it, but playing against each other. Minnesota State looks to head back to the championship game for the second time since 2015 while Slippery Rock looks to do something no other team in program history has done and play one more week.
BIG STATS: 7 crazy numbers from Slippery Rock's 65-59 victoryBut the one shared thing in common from all four of these teams is that none have won a DII football national championship. One year after Valdosta State claimed its fourth title in program history, we'll have a brand new set of hands raising the trophy in McKinney, Texas on Dec. 21. These semifinals matchups are about as evenly matched as you could hope for, so predicting who it will be is no easy task. That should make this Saturday one to remember.