FCS quarterfinal-round playoff review: With champ ousted, who’s next?

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – Maybe the best way to accentuate that FCS college football in the spring is just plain ol’ different is for North Dakota State not to win the national championship.

Or even play in the semifinals.

In one of the signature games of the spring, Sam Houston took down the dynasty in a quarterfinal on Sunday. NDSU had won the three most-recent national titles and eight of the last nine, last falling short of a semifinal-round appearance in 2010.

In addition to Southland champ Sam Houston, CAA teams Delaware and James Madison and Missouri Valley member South Dakota State qualified for the semis.

Here’s a review of the national quarterfinals:

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No. 2 seed Sam Houston (8-0) 24, North Dakota State (7-3) 20

How The Game Was Won – Two plays after completing a 47-yard sideline bomb, Sam Houston quarterback Eric Schmid scored from 6 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:39 left, and the Bearkats withstood an North Dakota State drive into their red zone. This was the Bison’s first road playoff game since a quarterfinal-round loss in 2010.

Game Ball – Schmid, the Southland Conference player of the year, completed 25 of 37 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown, adding a team-high 36 rushing yards on 10 carries, including the game-winning run up the middle of the Bison defense.

Key Stat – The Bearkats kept the NDSU offense without a touchdown and to just 229 yards as the Bison scored mostly on special teams with a safety and a TD on both a kickoff return and a punt return. It was the Bison’s fewest yards since gaining just 175 in a 23-3 loss at UNI on Nov. 8, 2014.

Up Next – Sam Houston, which is 15-0 all-time in home playoff games, will host No. 3 seed James Madison (7-0) in a national semifinal on Saturday.

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Delaware (7-0) 20, No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (10-3) 14

How The Game Was Won – Anthony Paoletti and Dejoun Lee rushed for short touchdowns on Delaware’s first two possessions and the defense did much of the work from there, collecting five sacks and two interceptions and limiting Jacksonville State to 200 yards – half the Gamecocks’ season average and the third-fewest of the John Grass era (since 2014).

Game Ball – While Jacksonville State starting quarterback Zion Webb was knocked out of the game in the first quarter, Blue Hens junior Nolan Henderson kept returning from wicked hits to run the offense and account for 269 yards.

Key Stat – The CAA’s automatic qualifier had a 16-minute, 50-second advantage in time of possession after limiting Jacksonville State to 1 of 12 on third-down conversion attempts.

Up Next – Delaware will play in the national semifinals for the first time since 2010 at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (7-1) on Saturday. The Blue Hens won the only previous meeting, 26-3 at home on Sept. 11, 2010.

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No. 3 seed James Madison (7-0) 34, North Dakota (5-2) 21

How The Game Was Won – James Madison advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons, getting big offensive performances from quarterback Cole Johnson (14 of 17 for 251 yards and two touchdowns), running back Percy Agyei-Obese (27 carries, 128 yards, two TDs) and wide receiver Antwane Wells (seven receptions for 143 yards and two TDs).

Game Ball – Agyei-Obese rushed for seven first downs in a workhorse effort that helped the Dukes gain a 15:14 advantage in time of possession. He’s been over 100 rushing yards in both playoff wins and four of his six games this season, with at least one touchdown in each outing.

Key Stat – When JMU needs him, senior place-kicker Ethan Ratke delivers. He is 12 of 12 on field-goal attempts (two versus UND) and 28 of 28 on PATs (four versus UND)

Up Next – James Madison will travel to No. 2 seed Sam Houston (8-0) for a national semifinal on Saturday. The CAA power won the only previous meeting, 65-7 at home in the 2016 quarterfinals.

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No. 1 seed South Dakota State (7-1) 31, Southern Illinois (6-4) 26

How The Game Was Won – After falling behind 20-7, top-seeded South Dakota State scored 24 unanswered points between the second and fourth quarters while escaping a upset against a team it beat 44-3 on March 20. True freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski accounted for 325 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.

Game Ball – Gronowski completed 9 of 16 passes for 183 yards, throwing a pair of touchdowns to Jadon Janke. He also surpassed 100 rushing yards for the fourth time, collecting a career-high 142 on 13 carries, including a 67-yard score to put the Jackrabbits ahead for good 24-20 with 11:41 left to play.

Key Stat – Southern Illinois committed three turnovers, including a Josh Manchigiah interception and a Xavier Ward fumble recovery that the Jackrabbits turned into second-half touchdowns. They didn’t commit a turnover.

Up Next – South Dakota State, the only Missouri Valley team to win out of four quarterfinalists, will host Delaware (7-0) in a national semifinal on Saturday. The Jackrabbits have never reached the championship game, losing in the 2017 and ’18 semifinals.

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