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Everything you need to know, including predictions, on the FCS quarterfinals

North Dakota State predicted advance into semifinal showdown against North Dakota.

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FCS illustration. Forum News Service

FCS Playoff Quarterfinals

North Dakota State (7-2) at No. 2 seed Sam Houston (7-0)

Site - Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas

Kickoff - 2 p.m. CT Sunday

TV Coverage - ESPN

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Series - North Dakota State leads 5-1 (last meeting: NDSU won 55-13 at home in a national semifinal on Dec. 15, 2017)

Coaches - North Dakota State: Matt Entz (23-2, second season); Sam Houston: K.C. Keeler (66-22, seventh season; 240-95-1 overall)

3 Players to Watch - North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (23 of 41, 273 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 150 rush yards, 4 TDs), RB Jalen Bussey (40 carries, 390 yards, 9.8 ypc, 3 TDs), LB Jackson Hankey (66 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 pass breakups); Sam Houston State: QB Eric Schmid (136 of 224, 2,154 yards, 15 TDs, 7 INTs; 291 rush yards, 5 TDs), WR Jequez Ezzard (29.2 yards per catch, 124.1 all-purpose ypg, 8 TDs), LB Markel Perry (25 tackles, 11 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

The Skinny - North Dakota State defeated Sam Houston in the 2011 and '12 FCS championship games and the 2014 and '17 semifinals. Sluggish offensively in the regular season, NDSU suddenly has a three-headed monster at running back with Dominic Gonnella (449 yards, 2 TDs), Hunter Luepke (401, 6) and Bussey. One key is how well the true freshman Miller handles Sam Houston's pass rush. While WR Christian Watson is the deep threat (23.6 yards per catch), Bison TD passes often go to the tight ends, and Josh Babicz and Noah Gindorff have combined for five of nine overall this season. LB James Kaczor, the team's leading tackler, missed the first-round win over Eastern Washington due to a groin injury, but true freshman Cole Wisniewski stepped in with a team-high nine stops. Sam Houston, the Southland champ, is 14-0 all-time in home playoff games, and Keeler 28-0 including his stints at Delaware and Rowan. The Bearkats averaged 524.7 yards and 44.8 points per game in the regular season, but managed only 257 and 21, respectively, while eliminating Monmouth in the first round. RB Ramon Jefferson bailed the offense out with 95 yards and two TDs. The defense has amassed 77 tackles for 318 yards in losses and 31 sacks, led by Perry, DE Jakari Kay (11 TFL, 6.5 sacks) and LB Trevor Williams (10 TFL, 2 sacks). The unit has suffocated the run for two seasons, allowing only four of its last 19 opponents to surpass 100 yards, and just 58.9 rushing yards on average this spring.

RELATED:

  • FCS playoff game at Sam Houston will be a rare warm-weather game for Bison It won't be near 100 degrees like it was at Kansas State, but playing in 80-degree conditions doesn't happen often for NDSU.
  • What started with 5 a.m. high school workouts has paid off for Bison freshman linebacker Cole Wisniewski from Sparta, Wis., led NDSU in tackles in first round win over Eastern Washington.

Up Next - The winner will play either North Dakota (5-1) or No. 3 seed James Madison (6-0) in a national semifinal on May 8.
Prediction - North Dakota State 28, Sam Houston 20


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North Dakota (5-1) at No. 3 seed James Madison (6-0)

Site - Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Va.

Kickoff - 5 p.m. CT Sunday

TV Coverage - ESPN2

Series - First meeting

Coaches - North Dakota: Bubba Schweigert (42-33, seventh season; 63-54 overall); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (20-2, second season; 87-28 overall)

3 Players to Watch - North Dakota: QB Tommy Schuster (113 of 171, 1,215 yards, 10 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Otis Weah (89 carries, 634 yards, 8 TDs), LB Noah Larson (29 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery); James Madison: RB Percy Agyei-Obese (94 carries, 491 yards, 6 TDs), RB Jawon Hamilton (71 carries, 449 yards, 5 TDs), LB Kelvin Azanama (38 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries)

The Skinny - Smash-mouth football will be on display with both teams possessing strong offensive lines and versatile running backs. Cignetti said North Dakota's bullish Weah may be the best running back he's coached against in the last five seasons. James Madison has the superb combo of Agyei-Obese and Hamilton, the latter scoring on a 99-yard run against VMI in the first round for the longest play from scrimmage in playoff history. UND, which throttled Missouri State 44-10 in an all-Missouri Valley first-round game, has allowed only 20 tackles for loss - a 3.33-per-game average which is the best in the FCS - with just one sack. Meanwhile, the Fighting Hawks' defense has played aggressively, totaling 22 sacks and helping to create a plus-7 turnover advantage. The offense is conservative in the passing game, ranking 44th nationally in yards per attempt (7.11) and only 73rd in yards per completion (10.95). JMU, top-ranked for the final eight weeks of the regular season, has won 10 straight home playoff games. The CAA power seeks to control time of possession considering UND has held an advantage in all wins and didn't in its lone loss to North Dakota State. QB Cole Johnson has to avoid interceptions (six versus six TDs), but the 6-foot-5 fifth-year senior works with big-play wide receivers in Antwane Wells Jr. and Kris Thornton. The Dukes' defense finally allowed an opponent to surpass 100 rushing yards this season - VMI with 111 - but it's happened only three times in their last 22 games since 2018. Ethan Ratke is 68 of 81 (84 percent) on career field goal attempts, kicking at least one in 19 straight games.

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Up Next - The winner will play either North Dakota State (7-2) or No. 2 seed Sam Houston (7-0) in a national semifinal on May 8.

Prediction - North Dakota 22, James Madison 20

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Delaware (6-0) at No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (10-2)

Site - JSU Stadium in Jacksonville, Ala.

Kickoff - 2 p.m. CT Sunday

TV Coverage - ESPN3

Series - Delaware leads 1-0 (Blue Hens won 42-27 in a Division II quarterfinal on Nov. 25, 1978)

Coaches - Delaware: Danny Rocco (25-16, fourth season; 115-58 overall); Jacksonville State: John Grass (71-21, seventh season).

3 Players to Watch - Delaware: RB Dejoun Lee (90 carries, 533 yards, 5 TDs; 12 receptions), LB Johnny Buchanan (35 tackles), S Kedrick Whitehead (24 tackles, 1 INT, 2 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, one forced fumble); Jacksonville State: QB Zion Webb (119 of 203, 1,763 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs; 384 rush yards, 5 TDs), RB Josh Samuel (138 carries, 773 yards, 8 TDs), FS Nicario Harper (83 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery)

The Skinny - The two programs have met previously in a national quarterfinal, but it was on the Division II level. Sunday's matchup has a defensive feeling to it with Delaware leading the FCS in points allowed per game (11.3) and Jacksonville State ranked 12th (17.4). The visiting Blue Hens, who earned the automatic bid out of CAA Football, have allowed opponents to reach the red zone only 13 times, and the end zone just seven times. Behind a secondary stocked with Whitehead, Nijuel Hill and Noah Plack, the Blue Hens have limited opponents to 50% pass completion and 111.3 passing yards per game. Their offense seeks to rev up again after managing only 199 yards in a 19-10 first-round win over Sacred Heart. QB Nolan Henderson (1,101 yards, 69.7 percent, 10 TDs, 3 INTs) is efficient, having thrown at least one TD in each game. His counterpart, Webb, has defined consistency during a three-game winning streak, accounting for 312 yards and three TDs against Eastern Illinois, 304 yards and three TDs against Murray State and 307 yards, and three TDs in a first-round win over Davidson. Samuel and West also have similar rushing statistics while combining for 1,452 yards and 15 TDs on the ground. The defense won't be shy about a pass rush, with DEs D.J. Coleman and Chris Hardle up to eight and six sacks, respectively. The Ohio Valley champ is 39-6 at home during the Grass era.

Up Next - The winner will play either Southern Illinois (6-3) or No. 1 seed South Dakota State (6-1) in a national semifinal on May 8.

Prediction - Delaware 21, Jacksonville State 20


Southern Illinois (6-3) at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (6-1)

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

Kickoff - 8 p.m. CT Sunday

TV Coverage - ESPN2

Series - South Dakota State leads 8-3 (last meeting: SDSU won 44-3 on the road on March 20)

Coaches - Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (23-31, fifth season); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (172-106, 24th season)

3 Players to Watch - Southern Illinois: QB Stone Labanowitz (85 of 116, 994 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs), WR Avante Cox (61 receptions, 780 yards, 5 TDs), ILB Bryson Strong (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles); South Dakota State: QB Mark Gronowski (88 of 154, 1,204 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs; 398 rush yards, 6 TDs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (93 carries, 529 yards, 2 TDs), LB Logan Backhaus (43 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)

The Skinny - Top-seeded South Dakota State has been on a tear with its running game and defense. The Jackrabbits mauled Southern Illinois in last month's Missouri Valley Conference matchup by scoring 41 points over the second and third quarters, with RB Isaiah Davis (150 yards, 3 TDs) and Gronowski (103-2) leading a 392-yard ground assault. The defense hasn't bent or broken while allowing only 23 points (a mere two touchdowns) and just 219 yards on average in the Jackrabbits' last three games. LBs Preston Tetzlaff (49), Adam Bock (47) and Backhaus (43) rank 1-2-3 on the team in tackles. Southern Illinois has gotten hot at the right time of the season behind Labanowitz, whose last-minute TD pass to Branson Combs in the final minute at Weber State produced the only road upset of the first round. It doesn't seem to matter who's available for the Salukis at running back because Javon Williams Jr. (507 yards, 7 TDs), Romeir Elliott (491-4) and Justin Strong (370-2) keep eating up yardage. Conversely, though, the Salukis aren't exactly stout against the run, having allowed nearly 201 rushing yards per game on five yards per carry. CB James Ceasar has an FCS-high 13 passes defended (one INT, 12 breakups).

Up Next - The winner will play either Delaware (6-0) or No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (10-2) in a national semifinal on May 8.

Prediction - South Dakota State 31, Southern Illinois 17

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