FCS first-round playoff review: MVFC Invitational kicks off

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – The Missouri Valley Football Conference validated having five teams in the FCS spring playoffs on Saturday, advancing four out of the first round and into the national quarterfinals.

Southern Illinois produced the first round’s only road upset at Big Sky champion Weber State. The MVFC had to have at least one loss because North Dakota defeated Missouri State in an intra-conference playoff matchup.

Here’s a review of the first round:

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No. 2 seed Sam Houston (7-0) 21, Monmouth (3-1) 15

How The Game Was Won – The Southland Conference champ built a 21-0 lead through three quarters and withstood a Monmouth rally, with Isaiah Downes clinching the win on an interception in the Bearkats’ end zone in the final minute. Ramon Jefferson rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

Game Ball – Sam Houston linebacker Markel Perry had eight tackles, including career highs with four tackles for loss and three sacks.

Key Stat – The Bearkats racked up 15 tackles for 61 yards in losses, disrupting the Big South champ while they built their lead.

Up Next – Sam Houston, which is 14-0 all-time in home playoff games, will host North Dakota State in a quarterfinal on May 1 or 2. Since 2011, the Bearkats are 0-4 in playoff games against NDSU.

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No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (10-2) 49, Davidson (4-3) 14

How The Game Was Won – The Ohio Valley Conference champ scored two offensive touchdowns just seven seconds apart in the final minute of the second quarter to gain a 28-7 halftime lead over a Davidson squad that was playing its first-ever playoff game.

Game Ball – Jacksonville State quarterback Zion Webb accounted for 307 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.

Key Stat – The Gamecocks outgained the FCS leader in rushing yards, 222-202, as part of a 461-261 overall advantage in offensive yards.

Up Next – Jacksonville State will host Delaware in a quarterfinal on May 1 or 2. Delaware won the only previous meeting, 42-27 in 1978.

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No. 3 seed James Madison (6-0) 31, VMI (6-2) 24

How The Game Was Won – Juwon Hamilton opened the scoring with a 99-yard run for the longest play from scrimmage in playoff history, highlighting James Madison’s 509-yard offensive assault against a first-time playoff qualifier.

Game Ball – Hamilton finished with a career-high 171 yards on 19 carries.

Key Stat – James Madison, No. 1-ranked in the final regular-season Stats Perform FCS Top 25, had an 11-minute, 40-second advantage in time of possession.

Up Next – The Dukes, who have won 10 straight home playoff games, will host North Dakota in in a quarterfinal on May 1 or 2. It will be a first-time meeting.

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No. 1 seed South Dakota State (6-1) 31, Holy Cross (3-1) 3

How The Game Was Won – The top-seeded Jackrabbits scored on three straight possessions in the first half and kept Holy Cross out of the red zone, posting a 439-198 advantage in offensive yards despite playing conservatively.

Game Ball – Starting SDSU linebackers Adam Bock, Preston Tetzlaff and Logan Backhaus combined for 21 tackles, including Backhaus with a pair of sacks.

Key Stat – The Jackrabbits racked up 281 yards on 34 carries (8.3 yards per carry) against a Crusaders defense that entered the matchup allowing only 44 rushing yards per game. Freshman Isaiah Davis scored on a 60-yard run while gaining a career-high 156 yards.

Up Next – South Dakota State will host Southern Illinois in an all-MVFC quarterfinal on either May 1 or 2. The Jackrabbits defeated SIU, 44-3, on March 20.

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North Dakota State (7-2) 42, Eastern Washington (5-2) 20

How The Game Was Won – Three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State overpowered playoff rival Eastern Washington with 422 rushing yards and the game’s final 35 points. The Bison were so effective at rushing the ball, they did it on 26 straight offensive plays.

Game Ball – True freshman Dominic Gonnella (20 carries, 163 yards, two touchdowns) and redshirt freshman Jalen Bussey (13 carries, 143 yards) went over 100 yards for the first time.

Key Stat – Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere started strong as the Eagles built a 20-7 lead, but was held to 246 passing yards and one TD pass – his season lows – while being sacked five times.

Up Next – Making their 11th consecutive postseason appearance, the Bison will play their first road playoff game since 2010 at No. 2 seed Sam Houston in a quarterfinal.

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North Dakota (5-1) 44, Missouri State (5-5) 10

How The Game Was Won – Despite playing for the first time in 35 days, North Dakota didn’t show any rust as the defense produced eight sacks and quarterback Tommy Schuster passed for 223 yards and two touchdowns.

Game Ball – Inside linebacker Noah Larson had a game-high 10 tackles, including two for loss and a sack.

Key Stat – Missouri State averaged a mere 3.1 yards per pass attempts (97 yards, 31 attempts) and just 2.8 yards per play (66 plays, 185 yards).

Up Next – North Dakota will try to build on its first FCS playoff win at No. 3 seed James Madison in a quarterfinal on May 1 or 2.

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Southern Illinois (6-3) 34, Weber State (5-1) 31

How The Game Was Won – SIU quarterback Stone Labanowitz lobbed a fourth-down pass to the back of the Weber State end zone and it came down in Branson Combs’s hands for a game-winning, 8-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.

Game Ball – Despite facing a steady pass rush, Labanowitz completed 21 of 34 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns (the first one to Avante Cox) with one interception.

Key Stat – All 11 Salukis’ possessions began in their territory, and five of their six scoring drives went at least 11 plays and the other one traveled 75 yards.

Up Next – The Salukis take their 5-1 record against ranked opponents to No. 1 seed South Dakota State in a quarterfinal on May 1 or 2.

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Delaware (6-0) 19, Sacred Heart (3-2) 10

How The Game Was Won – After Delaware went ahead 9-7 late in the first half when a botched snap on a punt sailed out of the Sacred Heart end zone for a safety, the Blue Hens nursed their lead throughout the second half.

Game Ball – Blue Hens safety Noah Plack had a career-high 11 tackles and his second career interception.

Key Stat – While Sacred Heart standout Julius Chestnut finished with 138 rushing yards, it was a season low. and Delaware made the junior work for it on 31 carries (4.5 yards per carry, down from his pre-game 7.7-yard average). No Sacred Heart play went for more than 16 yards.

Up Next – Delaware will travel to No. 4 seed Jacksonville State for a quarterfinal on May 1 or 2.

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