FCS Playoffs First Round

Monmouth (3-0 Big South) vs. No. 2 seed Sam Houston (6-0 Southland)

Site: Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas

Kickoff - 11 a.m. Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

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Series - First meeting

Coaches - Monmouth: Kevin Callahan (166-124, 28th season); Sam Houston: K.C. Keeler (65-22, seventh season; 239-95-1 overall)

3 Players to Watch - Monmouth: RB Juwon Farri (79 carries, 422 yards, 9 TDs), LB Da'Quan Grimes (27 tackles, sack), CB Eddie Morales III (18 tackles, 5 passes defended, two takeaways); Sam Houston: QB Eric Schmid (124 of 200, 2,021 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs; 278 rush yards, 5 TDs), WR/PR Jequez Ezzard (136 all-purpose ypg, 8 TDs), DE Jahari Key (22 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles)

The Skinny - While Monmouth puts up points regularly, the matchup comes down to its defense versus the Sam Houston offense. Seven of the visiting Hawks' 11 defensive starters were named to the All-Big South first team, with the unit particularly strong against the run. True freshman QB Tony Muskett (8 touchdown passes with no interceptions) has big-play wide receivers in Terrance Greene Jr. and Lonnie Moore IV, but the first offensive option is Farri, who's been over 100 rushing yards and scored multiple TDs in all three games. Sam Houston is 13-0 all-time in FCS home playoff games. The Schmid-led offense goes for the knockout low, with 24 plays from scrimmage of 30-or-more yards. The Bearkats have outscored opponents 269-105, an FCS-high 164-point advantage and 44 better than James Madison's second-highest margin. Quarterback pressure is a staple with the defenses: Monmouth leads the FCS in sacks per game (5.00) and Sam Houston is No. 2 (4.17).

Up Next - The winner will play either Eastern Washington or North Dakota State in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - Sam Houston 38, Monmouth 28


Missouri State (5-4, 5-1 Missouri Valley) at North Dakota (4-1 Missouri Valley)

Site: Alerus Center in Grand Forks

Kickoff - 3 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - Tied, 1-1 (last meeting: North Dakota won 34-0 at home on Sept. 9, 2017)

Coaches - Missouri State: Bobby Petrino (5-4, first season; 124-60 overall); North Dakota: Bubba Schweigert (41-33, seventh season; 62-54 overall)

3 Players to Watch - Missouri State: WR Damoriea Vick (40 receptions, 544 yards, 2 TDs), ILB Tyler Wiltz (75 receptions, 6 TFL), CB Jeremy Webb (34 tackles, 3 INTs, 6 PBUs); North Dakota: QB Tommy Schuster (100 of 153, 992 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Otis Weah (76 carries, 570 yards, 7 TDs), LB Devon Krzanowski (19 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 takeaways)

The Skinny - A scheduled conference matchup between these programs on April 3 was not played due to COVID-19 protocols at North Dakota. Both teams were surprising tri-champions in the MVFC, and North Dakota is the only school to hand a loss to the other champ, South Dakota State, which is the No. 1 playoff seed. Missouri State is making its first playoff appearance since 1990. Petrino can utilize two transfer QBs, Jared Johnson and Matt Stuck, who have both made three spring starts. Their receiving corps offers terrific size and depth. Both defenses like to go after the signal caller, with the visiting Bears already setting the school record with 27 sacks. UND, a first-year MVFC member, will be playing for the first time since March 20, but it owns a 10-game home winning streak. Weah and Luke Skokna form a superb 1-2 tandem on an offense that averages 206.4 rushing yards per game. Despite playing only five games, the Fighting Hawks have 16 players with 10 or more tackles.

Up Next - The winner will play either VMI or No. 3 seed James Madison in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - North Dakota 24, Missouri State 17


Eastern Washington (5-1 Big Sky) vs. North Dakota State (6-2, 5-2 Missouri Valley)

Site: Fargodome in Fargo

Kickoff - 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - North Dakota State leads, 3-1 (last meeting: NDSU won 38-24 in 2018 FCS championship game on Jan. 5, 2019)

Coaches - Eastern Washington: Aaron Best (26-12, fourth season); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (22-2, second season)

3 Players to Watch - Eastern Washington: QB Eric Barriere (166 of 268, 2,192 yards, 18 TDs, 6 INTs), WR TaloloLimu-Jones (44 receptions, 721 yards, 16.4 ypc, 4 TDs), DE Mitchell Johnson (25 tackles. 4.5 TFL, 2 INTs); North Dakota State: RB Hunter Luepke (63 carries, 355 yards, 5 TDs), WR/KR Christian Watson (15 receptions, 374 yards, TD; 32 touches, 22.1-yard average), LB James Kaczor (70 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 3 QB hurries)

The Skinny - This is regarded as the most attractive matchup of the first round. North Dakota State has never failed to reach the quarterfinals and is 36-2 all-time in the FCS playoffs, but one of the losses was at Eastern Washington in the 2010 quarters. While the Eagles need a huge game out of Barriere (365.3 passing yards per game, No. 5 in the FCS), they've committed to the run under Best, averaging 171.2 rushing yards this spring. The Eagles have struggled to match NDSU's offensive line surge in four previous matchups, surrendering 283.3 rushing yards per game. Their leading tackler, linebacker Ty Graham, has been lost to a season-ending knee injury. NDSU has yet to solve its issues at quarterback (Cam Miller, who may make his first start, and Zeb Noland). Even with the Trey Lance-led 39-28 win over Central Arkansas in October counting toward 2020-21 season statistics, the Bison's 24.8 points per game are the low of their Division I era (since 2004) and 339.4 yards per game their second-lowest average. Punter Garret Wegner (46.2-yard average, 42.4 net) so often makes a difference with field position.

Up Next - The winner will play either Monmouth or No. 2 seed Sam Houston in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - North Dakota State 31, Eastern Washington 21

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VMI (6-1 Southern) at No. 3 seed James Madison (5-0 CAA)

Site: Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Va.

Kickoff - 1 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - James Madison leads, 10-3 (last meeting: JMU won 44-16 at home on Sept. 19, 2009)

Coaches - VM: Scott Wachenheim (17-46, sixth season); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (19-2, second season; 86-28 overall)

3 Players to Watch - VMI: Seth Morgan (92 of 121, 1,088 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT), WR Jakob Herres (67 receptions, 807 yards, 7 TDs), LB Stone Snyder (76 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 4 QB hurries); James Madison: RB Percy Agyei-Obese (69 carries, 381 yards, 5 TD)s, DT Mike Greene (15 tackles, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks), SS Wayne Davis (24 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)

The Skinny - VMI has been perhaps the most surprising team of the FCS season, earning its first SoCon title since 1977 as well as a first playoff bid since moving to the FCS in 1982. Morgan, a redshirt freshman, has stepped in for an injured Reece Udinski, averaging 388.3 yards of total offense in three starts. The 6-foot-4 Herres has been on a tear, compiling 48 catches, 597 receiving yards and six TD catches in his last four games. James Madison has run the ball more than 67 percent of the time, and VMI has limited its last four opponents, including two that run the triple option, to 100.8 rushing yards per game. The Dukes have won 15 straight home games. After a shaky start to the season, QB Cole Johnson is 32 of 47 (68.1 percent) for 455 yards over the last two games, and the Dukes' leading receiver is VMI transfer Kris Thornton (17 receptions, 311 yards, 2 TDs). The defense has allowed only 10 points in the second half and kept opponents to a 49.2 completion percentage and 130.2 passing yards per game. Ethan Ratke is 67 of 80 (83.2 percent) on career field goal attempts, kicking at least one in 18 straight games.

Up Next - The winner will play either Missouri State or North Dakota in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - James Madison 30, VMI 19


Davidson (4-2, 4-1 Pioneer) at No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (9-2, 6-1 Ohio Valley)

Site: JSU Stadium in Jacksonville, Alabama

Kickoff - 1 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - First meeting

Coaches - Davidson: Scott Abell (18-11, third season; 57-35 overall); Jacksonville State: John Grass (70-21, seventh season)

3 Players to Watch - Davidson: Tyler Phelps (44 of 76, 627 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs; 323 rush yards, 1 TD), RB Coy Williams (86 carries, 459 yards, 6 TDs), CB Jaylon Bolden (35 tackles, 1 INT, 7 pass break-ups); Jacksonville State: QB Zion Webb (110 of 188, 1,524 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs; 316 rush yards, 4 TDs), RB Josh Samuel (131 carries, 707 yards, 7 TDs), SS Nicario Harper (79 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery)

The Skinny - Davidson is making its first postseason appearance since the 1969 Tangerine Bowl, having turned around a program that beat only one Division I opponent in the five seasons (2013-17) prior to Abell's hiring. Five of this season's six games have been decided by six points or less (3-2 record). The Wildcats will attack a tough Jacksonville State run defense with a spread option that averages an FCS-best 293.8 rushing yards per game (Dylan Sparks has a team-high 519 yards). In the Abell era (29 games), they have 65 touchdown runs of 30 yards or more. They're excellent with converting third downs (56 percent) and have as many fourth-down attempts (19) as punts and field goal attempts combined. Jacksonville State has the most wins among FCS teams spanning fall and spring schedules. It has kept nine straight opponents to 80 or fewer rushing yards, including four under 30. The offense spreads the carries between Samuel and Uriah West (603 yards, 5 TDs), with both targeted regularly by Webb out of the backfield. Trae Barry has the most receiving yards (1,536) among tight ends in JSU history. Defensive end D.J. Coleman lives in opposing backfields with 21.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 41 QB hurries in the last two seasons. The Gamecocks are prone to committing penalties, averaging nearly eight per game.

Up Next - The winner will play either Sacred Heart or Delaware in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - Jacksonville State 34, Davidson 16


Sacred Heart (3-1 Northeast) at Delaware (5-0, 4-0 CAA)

Site: Delaware Stadium in Newark, Del.

Kickoff - 6 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - Sacred Heart leads, 1-0 (last meeting: Sacred Heart won 10-7 at Delaware on Oct. 4, 2014)

Coaches - Sacred Heart: Mark Nofri (54-42, ninth season); Delaware: Danny Rocco (24-16, fourth season; 114-58 overall)

3 Players to Watch - Sacred Heart: QB Marquez McCray (59 of 92, 772 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs), RB Julius Chestnut (93 carries, 717 yards; 222 all-purpose ypg, 11 TDs), LB Chris Outterbridge (33 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 pass breakups); Delaware: QB Nolan Henderson (82 of 116, 988 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 164.39 passer efficiency; 2 rush TDs), RB Dejoun Lee (77 carries, 498 yards; 152.2 all-purpose ypg, 6 TDs), S Kedrick Whitehead (18 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, one forced fumble)

The Skinny - Although considered a heavy underdog in the only night game of the first round, Sacred Heart has more playoff appearances than Delaware (three to two) in the last 10 seasons, also winning the only previous all-time meeting. Chestnut leads the FCS in all-purpose yards per game, and though not a typical-sized campaign, his four-game rushing average is the third-best in the FCS over the last 20 seasons. The junior has surpassed 100 rushing yards in 16 of his last 20 games since 2018. Noah Gettman is adept at providing good field position, averaging 46.2 yards per punt with a long of 82. Delaware has one of the more stout FCS defenses, allowing just 11.6 points (third) and 225 yards (fourth) per game. The Blue Hens have gained a takeaway from 10 different players, leading to a plus-10 turnover margin, which is tied for No. 1 nationally. First-team All-CAA linemen Mickey Henry and David Kroll pave the way for Lee and allow Henderson the time to work with wide receivers Thyrick Pitts (16.7 ypc) and Gene Coleman II (team-high 23 receptions). Delaware is hosting a playoff game for the first time since its 2010 national runner-up season; the Blue Hens are 15-6 at home during Rocco's tenure.

Up Next - The winner will play either Davidson or No. 4 seed Jacksonville State in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - Delaware 31, Sacred Heart 14


Holy Cross (3-0 Patriot) at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (5-1 Missouri Valley)

Site: Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, S.D.

Kickoff - 2 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - First meeting

Coaches - Holy Cross: Bob Chesney (15-12, third season; 82-37 overall); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (171-106, 24th season)

3 Players to Watch - Holy Cross: QB Matthew Sluka (10 of 14, 111, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 212 rush yards, 4 TDs), LT Brian Foley (three-time All-Patriot first team), OLB Jacob Dobbs (28 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery); South Dakota State: QB Mark Gronowski (76 of 133, 1,051 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs; 383 rush yards, 6 TDs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (80 carries, 453 yards, 2 TDs; 12 receptions, 1 TD), LB Logan Backhaus (39 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT)

The Skinny - A 27-17 win at three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State last Saturday helped South Dakota State secure the No. 1 playoff seed. The Jackrabbits have earned nine straight FCS playoff bids under Stiegelmeier, the second-longest active streak to NDSU. The 'Rabbits reached the national semifinals in 2017 and '18, but have never played in the championship game. They'll pound the run, having gained 11 individual performances of at least 84 rushing yards between Strong (four), Gronowski (three), Isaiah Davis (three) and Jordan Meachum (one). There's also something SDSU likes about the second quarter - its 62-7 advantage is the third-largest point margin (55) in the FCS. Holy Cross has a playoff-experienced squad from last year, but it's basically turned over the offense to Sluka, a freshman. He's a stronger rusher than passer, leaving season-opening starter Conner Degenhardt to possibly mix in off the bench. The Crusaders, who run the ball over 70 percent of the time, average only 86 passing yards per game, and SDSU's pass defense is excellent, with safety Josh Manchigiah collecting three of the unit's 10 interceptions. The Holy Cross defense needs defensive end Benton Whitley to build off a big performance in the Patriot League championship game. It's received steady play out of Dobbs and cornerback John Smith, who has an interception in each win. Place-kicker Derek Ng has made five of seven field goal attempts this season and 22 of 32 (68.8 percent) in his career.

Up Next - The winner will play either Southern Illinois or Weber State in the second round on either May 1 or 2.

Prediction - South Dakota State 34, Holy Cross 10


Southern Illinois (5-3, 3-3 Missouri Valley) at Weber State (5-0 Big Sky)

Site: Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah

Kickoff - 3 p.m. CT Saturday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - First meeting

Coaches - Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (22-31, fifth season); Weber State: Jay Hill (52-30, seventh season)

3 Players to Watch - Southern Illinois: RB Javon Williams Jr. (112 carries, 507 yards, 7 TDs; 3 TD passes), WR Avante Cox (55 receptions, 660 yards, 4 TDs), CB Qua Brown (31 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups); Weber State: RB Josh Davis (66 carries, 386 yards, 1 TD), LB Connor Mortensen (44 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 pass breakups), DE George Tarlas (21 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

The Skinny - Weber State is seeking to build on its three deepest runs in the FCS playoffs (quarterfinals in 2017 and '18, and semifinals in 2019). While the Wildcats have too often inched by with victories this spring - the last four by five or fewer points - they've won 11 straight home games (the school record) and 20 or 21. Freshman quarterback Bronson Barron has thrown for six TDs without an interception in four games, but the Wildcats first think run (205.4 ypg) with Davis and Dontae McMillan (308 yards, 5 TDs). Still, Southern Illinois will have to account for wide receiver/returner Rashid Shaheed, who has 3,924 all-purpose yards and 21 TDs in his career. The visiting Salukis, who are 4-1 against ranked opponents - including their 38-14 blowout of North Dakota State to end the Bison's FCS-record 39-game winning streak - are coming off a school-record 807 yards of total offense in a 55-48 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, which vaulted them to their first playoff bid since 2009. They've gone through three quarterbacks because of injuries, and are back to Stone Labanowitz, who's completed over 78 percent of his passes (64 of 82). They rank fourth in FCS in third-down conversion percentage (52.7). Senior defensive end Anthony Knighton has 38.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks in his career.

Up Next - The winner will play either Holy Cross or No. 1 seed South Dakota State in the second round on May 1 or 2.

Prediction - Southern Illinois 30, Weber State 28