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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | September 5, 2021

5 things you missed and the players that shined in a wild Week 1 of the DII football season

2021 DII football predictions: Can anyone dethrone West Florida?

The DII football season is underway. An action-packed Week 1 concludes Sunday with the Red Tails Classic between Tuskegee and Fort Valley State. 

The return to DII football certainly didn't disappoint. West Florida downed FCS McNeese State as it started its quest to repeat as national champion, a few top-25 upsets were handed out and the best college lacrosse player in Division I last spring led Ferris State to a dominating victory.

Yes, you read that correctly. Get ready, DII football fans. Here are five things you may have missed, plus the standout individual performances from the top-25. 

PRESEASON RANKINGS: The NCAA.com Preseason Power 10AFCA poll takeaways

Five things you may have missed this weekend in DII football

1. DII fares well against FCS opponents over the weekend

West Florida Athletics West Florida took down FCS McNeese State on Saturday. West Florida took down FCS McNeese State on Saturday.

Southern Connecticut State got it started on Friday when a 14-7 final quarter shocked FCS Central Connecticut, 28-21 — a team that finished 11-2 in its last full season and made the FCS tournament. Richard Williams, Jr. returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown and Izaiah Sanders reeled in 109 yards with a 51-yard touchdown in the Friday night stunner. Both Virginia Union and Bowie State lost their FCS matchups, but certainly played well. Virginia Union lost 42-28 to a tough Hampton team while Bowie State fell to Delaware State 32-24.

But it was West Florida that stole the headlines. The defending champ extended its winning streak to seven games, defeating FCS McNeese State 42-36. If there were any questions about how Austin Reed would perform with some new coaches and receivers, they were answered. The sophomore quarterback — and one of our top preseason picks for the Harlon Hill Award — threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns connecting with David Durden for 172 of those yards and one touchdown. Reed spread the wealth and threw each touchdown to a different receiver. 

Harlon Hill 2021: 23 preseason hopefuls to watch | The ultimate guide to the history of the award

2. Ferris State football is Tewaaraton powered

Welcome to DII football, Jared Bernhardt. Ferris State had an impressive 54-14 victory over Findlay. Bernhardt led the way, completing 12 of his 14 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 120 yards and four more touchdowns. Bernhardt spent the previous four years at Maryland as one of the premier college lacrosse players in DI. Winner of the 2021 Tewaaraton Award, DI lacrosse’s highest honor, Bernhardt left Maryland as its all-time leader in points, goals and points in a single NCAA tournament. Not a bad debut for someone who hadn't played football since high school. Not a bad debut, at all. 

3. Minnesota State comes back to keep NSIC win streak alive

No. 2 Minnesota State had a brief scare on opening night, trailing Northern State by 10 entering the fourth quarter. Quarterbacks JD Ekowa and Hayden Ekern led the comeback as Minnesota State outscored the Wolves 17-7 to force overtime. Ekowa ran in both the game-tying and game-winning touchdown. Northern State’s quarterback Hunter Trautman had a strong performance in the loss, throwing for 331 yards and four touchdowns in a day where the Mavericks defense held Northern State to just 52 yards rushing on the night. It was the Mavs' 36th consecutive NSIC victory.

4. Upset City for several top-25 teams

  • Mak Sexton was impressive in Pittsburg State’s 35-16 upset of No. 13 Central Missouri. He threw for 251 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for one more. Christian Carter was the main recipient, pulling in 108 yards on just three catches and scoring a touchdown.
  • West Georgia utterly dominated No. 24 Carson-Newman, winning 45-7. Quarterback Harrison Frost exploded for 316 yards and three touchdowns, teaming up with Mechane Slade for two scores. The Wolves came in at No. 5 in the Gulf South preseason poll and clearly have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They have a tough schedule but be sure to keep your eyes on West Georgia. 
  • We spoke about Angelo State's impressive returning defense, making the Rams one of our sleeper teams for 2021. The Rams certainly impressed, defeating No. 21 Lindenwood 40-20. Angelo State held star quarterback Cade Brister in check and allowed just 29 yards rushing on the day.  

5. Augustana (SD) among impressive teams outside the top 25

Kyle Saddler passed for 301 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another in a dominating 49-0 victory. The Vikings were right outside the top 25 to open the season and made a strong case to jump in this week. Texas Permian Basin extended its winning streak to seven after running the table last spring. Clayton Roberts passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns, hooking up with Kobe Robinson for 123 yards. 

How about a shoutout to Lendon Redwine who threw for 326 yards and six touchdowns for UVa-Wise. The Cavaliers were dominant in 54-0 victory. And let's not forget Justin Felder — our bold prediction to be the 2021 DII football rushing leader — reeled off 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-13 victory for Stonehill. That's a good start for rushing title aspirations. 

Standout players from the top 25

For the past three seasons, we have highlighted some of the best individual performances of those players on teams in the AFCA top 25. Without further ado, let's get right the first installment of Season 4. 

Minnesota Duluth Athletics John Larson threw for 447 and six touchdowns in his 2021 debut. John Larson threw for 447 and six touchdowns in his 2021 debut.
Player School Position Stats
John Larson Minnesota Duluth QB 447 pass, 6 TD
Austin Reed West Florida QB 380 yards, 4 TD
Tyson Bagent Shepherd QB 346 pass, 4 TD
Andrew Koester Slippery Rock QB 316 pass, 1 TD, 52 rush, 1 TD
Jared Bernhardt Ferris State QB 218 pass, 3 TD, 120 rush, 4 TD
Nick Watson Tiffin QB 196 pass, 3 TD, 124 rush, 2 TD
       
Dwayne McGee Lenoir-Rhyne RB 189 rush, 2 TD, 4 receiving, 1 TD
Al McKeller Northwest Missouri State RB 161 rush, 1 TD, 7 rec.
Kaleb Sleezer Minnesota State RB 153 rush, 1 TD, 7 rec. yards
TJ Cole Ouachita Baptist RB 151 rush, 1 TD
Toriano Clinton UIndy RB 135 rush, 3 TD
Michael Zeman Colorado School of Mines RB 111 rush, 2 TD, 40 rec., 1 TD
Cole Chancey Harding RB 102 rush, 3 TD
       
Armani Carmickle Minnesota Duluth WR 209 receiving, 2 TD
David Durden West Florida WR 172 receiving, 1 TD
Henry Litwin Slippery Rock WR 161 receiving, 1 TD
Ryan Beach Shepherd WR 129 receiving, 2 TD
Lio'undre Gallimore Valdosta State WR 112 receiving, 2 TD
Jalen Sample Minnesota State WR 104 receiving 1 TD

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