This Saturday, Dec 8, four teams will battle it out in order to earn their spot in the NCAA
Division II National Championship Game.
After being re-seeded, the two matchups to determine who meets in the championship are Ferris at Minnesota State University-Mankato and Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio) at Valdosta State University (Georgia). So how exactly did each of these teams get to this point and how should they be expected to fare in this round?
The Mavericks come into this round with an undefeated record. They also were the number one
ranked team basically all season long. Minnesota State also is looking to reach the National
Championship Game for the second time in the past five seasons.
To get to this point, they had to beat a couple of good teams. In their first game, they defeated Colorado State University-Pueblo 24-10. They then followed that up with an impressive 13-10 victory over Tarleton State (Stephenville, Texas), despite being down 10-1 early on.
On offense, the Mavericks are led by their rushing attack as they rank 17th in Division II in rushing yards per game with 243 yards per contest. This dynamic ground game has led them to rank among the nation leaders in scoring, scoring 41 points per game. That total ranks 11th in the nation.
They also tend to struggle if they’re forced to pass the ball. The Mavericks would much rather turn the game into a battle of who’s tougher at the line of scrimmage, because that works in their favor the majority of the time.
Their defense is the same way. The Minnesota State rush defense allows a measly 91 yards per game, which is good for eighth in the nation. However, they are vulnerable in defending the pass and that is likely a weakness that will be exploited by these other top teams.
Minnesota has a few notable players to look out for if you want to slow them down, however the biggest among those being Mankato sophomore running back Nate Gunn. Gunn has run the ball this season for 1556 yards and 21 touchdowns, both of which rank among the tops in all of Division II. If you can control him, this is a very beatable team despite their impressive strengths.
The Bulldogs also come into this round undefeated. They are an impressive 14-0 so far this season and advanced to the semifinals for the second time in the last three seasons. Ferris travels to Minnesota with a chance to beat the only team that was ranked ahead of them in the polls for the majority of the season.
The Bulldogs have played three playoff games thus far to get to this point. They started out with a couple of close wins at home. The first being a 21-19 win over Harding University (Searcy, Arkansas). The next win was a 27-21 win over Northwest Missouri State University (Maryville, Missouri). The most recent game was against Ouachita Baptist University (Arkadelphia, Arkansas), a game the Bulldogs won in dominating fashion to the tune of 37-14.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs are led by a Harlon Hill candidate Ferris junior quarterback Jayru Campbell. Campbell has thrown for 2581 yards and 24 touchdown passes to go along with his 1235 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. Campbell’s athletic abilities helped the Bulldogs rank sixth in Division II, rushing for 277 yards per contest. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs are very strong in defending the run. Ferris has only allowed teams to gain 103 yards per game on the ground, good for 15th in the nation.
However, they also struggle against defending the pass so teams might look to exploit that weakness, especially if they can advance to the finals. The key for other teams is simple: the best way to beat this team is to limit Campbell at all costs. Stop him and you’ll have a great chance to win.
Another undefeated team, the Valdosta State University (VSU) Blazers come into this round off of a pair of easy victories at home. In their first playoff game, they ran Bowie State University (Maryland) out of the stadium by a score of 66-16. They followed that blowout up with another one, crushing Lenoir-Rhyne University (Hickory, North Carolina) 61-21.
The Blazers are looking to win their fourth NCAA Division II Football Championship, previously winning in 2004, 2007 and 2012. They are the only previous champion remaining in the playoffs.
Continuing the trend, VSU is known for their strong rushing attack, in which they rank ninth in Division II with 271 yards per game. This mixed with a very reliable passing game has allowed them to rank first nationally in points per game, with 53.5 points per game, six points more on average than the next best team.
They are led on this dynamic offense by one of the best quarterbacks in Division II football. VSU sophomore quarterback Rogan Wells has thrown for 2592 yards and 32 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. He has also chipped in 656 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Stop him and there is a shot at slowing down this outstanding offense.
On defense, the Blazers are average. They allow 20 points per game, more than each of the remaining three playoff teams. They also rank in the thirties in both rush defense and pass defense. This may have to do with their style of play on offense, which oftentimes leaves other teams chasing them on the scoreboard, but it is interesting to note.
Overall, they have looked nearly unbeatable as of late and it will likely take a perfect game to knock these guys out.
Notre Dame College
Perhaps the underdog of the four, Notre Dame College of Ohio (NDC) is the fourth and final undefeated team in the nation. They have gotten to this point courtesy of a pair of close calls on their home turf. They first beat Hillsdale College 19-14, and then followed that up with a nail-biting 21-17 win over Slippery Rock University (Butler County, Pennsylvania).
For NDC, their offense is predicated solely on the run game just as much as the other three teams. The Falcons rank eighth in the nation, averaging 271 rushing yards per game. Their offense ranks 40th nationally, scoring 33 points per game, which trails the other team remaining significantly.
They make up for this with a stingy run defense. The Falcons only allow 74 rushing yards per game, which should serve them well in matching up with VSU and one of the other two teams in a potential championship matchup. They also allow just 17 points per game, which gives them perhaps the best chance of slowing down the Blazers.
They are led into this game by perhaps the best player in Division II football in freshman running back Jaleel McLaughlin. McLaughlin has rushed for an outlandish 2246 yards and 18 touchdowns to lead this Falcon offense. Defensively, the Falcons are led by junior defensive lineman Sha’haun Williams. Williams has had a ridiculous season, accumulating 62 tackles, 23.5 of which have gone for a loss. He also has 19 sacks on the season to go along with four forced fumbles.
If NDC wants any chance to get through these next two games with a trophy being the end result, then these two players must be the catalysts that lead the team to glory.
So there you have it. Now that you know more about these teams, you can decide for yourselves how these games are likely to turn out. Then, make sure to tune in on Saturday, Dec. 8, to see which two teams will meet up in the NCAA Division II Championship on Saturday, Dec.15.