At RoadTripSports.com we’re not just about the FBS. We’re about everyone playing college football. Here our Kendall Webb looks at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), as he reviews the quarterfinal action and provides his predictions for all FCS semfinals.
By Kendall Webb
The FCS semifinals are set, and it’s a classic line-up with the past two national champions (North Dakota State and Eastern Washington), last year’s runner-up (Sam Houston State) and the all-time leader in FCS championships (Georgia Southern).
And after losing Montana State against Sam Houston State Friday night on our picks, we bounced back to hit all three of our Saturday picks, including the Georgia Southern Eagles’ 49-35 upset win over the Old Dominion Monarchs on the road. Heading into the semifinals, we are 12-4 in the FCS playoffs.
In the Georgia Southern-Old Dominion game, the higher-rated host Monarchs appeared to be the better team for much of the game, twice leading by 14 points including a 35-21 lead entering the fourth quarter.
But then a series of mistakes both on the field and by the coaching staff opened the door for a Georgia Southern comeback and the Monarchs came unraveled. After the Eagles closed to within 35-28, record-setting Old Dominion QB Taylor Heinicke was hit from behind deep in Eagles territory, leading to a lost fumble. On a day when Heinicke would set the all-time FCS records for single-season passing yards (5,076) and completions (398), the fumble stood out as one of the key moments in a game that was not trending in the Eagles’ direction at that point.
But the Eagles took advantage of the turnover driving the length of the field for the tying score. Then it was time for Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder to make a mistake. With less than four minutes to play, Wilder gambled on a fourth-and-six from his own 39, and predictably, the gamble failed. Three plays later, the Eagles led 42-35.
One more ODU turnover would follow and any hope of the Monarchs continuing their historic run was over.
Georgia Southern (10-3) at North Dakota State (12-1), Fargo, ND (12/14: 8 p.m. ET)
Georgia Southern’s win means the Eagles are still alive in pursuit of their seventh FCS National Championship. Their six titles are already the most in history, but if they are to add that seventh trophy they’ll have to find a way to beat the current title holders – the North Dakota State Bison. The Bison got here by beating the Eagles’ Southern Conference rivals, the Wofford Terriers, in a tense 14-7 decision that wasn’t settled until the Terriers turned the ball over on downs on the Bison 6-yard line with less than four minutes to play.
The failure to convert and find the end zone was a microcosm of the Terriers’ day in which they failed to score an offensive touchdown. Their only score came on a 35-yard interception return. If Georgia Southern is to unseat the defending national champions at the Fargodome, they’ll have to find a way to do what the Terriers couldn’t – score some points against a stout Bison defense that appears to be in championship form heading into the semifinals.
PREDICTION: It wouldn’t surprise us if the Eagles find a way to get it done, but there’s a reason North Dakota State is just one game away from their second FCS title game appearance. This game might look a lot like the game with Wofford – a low-scoring defensive battle, and if that’s the case, it’s hard to pick against the Bison, who have allowed one touchdown on defense in two weeks. We’ll go with the Bison to get it done at home Friday night and advance to their second straight national championship game in January in Frisco, Texas.
Sam Houston State (10-3) at Eastern Washington (11-2), Cheyney, WA (12/15: 4 p.m. ET)
The other semifinal on Saturday will feature last year’s runner-up (Sam Houston State) and the 2010 national champion (Eastern Washington), and it’s not an easy pick. Sam Houston State will be making its second straight trip to Big Sky country.
They’ll face an Eagles squad that is eager to capture its second national championship trophy in three years after pulling away in the second half from a feisty Illinois State squad that had won at Appalachian State in the second round weekend.
PREDICTION: Wow, this is as tough as it gets because Montana State and Sam Houston State were the two teams we thought were playing the best entering the playoffs, and Sam Houston dominated the Bobcats. Now the Bearkats are just one game away from a second shot at glory after losing to North Dakota State in the championship game last year, and if they make it through their second straight cross-country road trip, they know the title game is just a couple hours away in Frisco, Texas. They’ll be motivated, and we expect they’ll show up and give Eastern Washington all it can handle. But the Eagles are the No. 2 national seed, and in the end, it’s a tall order for the Bearkats to win twice in a row on the road in these kinds of environments. We’ll go with Eastern Washington to advance and face North Dakota State in a battle of the past two national champions.