Ian Carlson

The Tigers are the Last Hope

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Only one team saw any action last week, and in the first intra-regional playoff game between the MIAA and the GLIAC, the northern conference prevailed. As it turns out, the second round of this year’s playoffs will also be the second round of the MIAA vs. GLIAC battle, as the Tigers will host Ferris State for their first ever home playoff game as a member of the NCAA. Before we get to that contest, here’s a quick look at the first round game.

Northwest Missouri State 18
Ashland 21


One week into the postseason was all it took for North Alabama to remain as the lone team in Division II history to win three National Championships in a row, as the two-time defending Bearcats lost in the first round for just the third time since Mel Tjeerdsma took over the program (and fifth time overall). Northwest Missouri State was bested at Ashland University, this year’s GLIAC Champions who won just their second NCAA playoff game in school history in a wet, rain soaked game where, not surprisingly, defense was the strong suit of both teams. The Bearcats held the Eagles to just 16 first downs, 270 total yards, and allowed only three 3rd down conversions out of thirteen attempts. However, as has been the case for much of the season, the Bearcat offense struggled, and the Eagle defense out-performed the number one offense, allowing just eight first downs, 153 total yards, and three 3rd down conversions out of eighteen attempts. The Eagles managed to score more than any other team on the nation’s top ranked defense, scoring three touchdowns to tally 21 points. However, none of those touchdowns came on the ground, and the Bearcats finished the entire 2017 season without allowing a rushing touchdown. They also forced five Ashland turnovers, scoring three times off of those to get their 18 points, but that was all the offense could muster despite starting seven drives in Eagle territory on the afternoon. Of the Bearcats’ three first round losses in the playoffs since their first playoff win in 1996, two of them sandwiched the back to back National Championships in the past four years. The team fell to 9-3 in Rich Wright’s debut season as Head Coach, while Ashland improved to 11-1 and advances to host Harding in the second round.

#6 Ferris State 10-1 at #7 Fort Hays State (11-0) 1PM

When looking at the numbers for these two teams, it is truly remarkable how similar they seem to be. Both teams play very good defense (each team led by a dominant defensive lineman that won a Player of the Year award) and a balanced offense that can move the ball via the rush or the pass. The Tiger offense (which ranks 27th in D2 in total yards per game) has the better passing unit between the two teams, averaging 265 yards per game through the air (29th). A key matchup in this aspect will be FHSU WR Monterio Burchfield against FSU CB Tavierre Thomas, who won GLIAC Defensive Back of the Year, and the Tigers will absolutely have to contain FSU DE Zach Seiler, who won GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year. Fort Hays is likely going to need to be able to move the ball through the air, because the Bulldogs have one of the better rushing defenses in the country, allowing just 98 yards on the ground (15th). MIAA leading rusher Kenneth Iheme and fellow back Charles Tigner have been the main forces in a running attack that averages 188ypg (48th), and it will be interesting to see who has the upper hand between two very physical lines when FHSU has possession. Still, one disadvantage that the Tigers may have is that QB Jacob Mezera is not much of a threat to run the ball unless he absolutely has to, and that could mean trouble against one of the better defensive lines in the country which has helped the Bulldogs to the fifth best pass efficiency defense in the nation.

While the Tigers have the better passing attack with Mezera leading the way, the Bulldogs are much more content to run the ball, averaging 234.7 yards per game (12th nationally). QB Reggie Bell is as athletic as any QB in the country when he is healthy, and he has averaged 6.25 yards per carry and 78 yards per game on the ground this season (he gained 99 yards on 15 carries against Ouachita Baptist in the first round last week). While running FSU’s run-first offense, however, Bell is still a threat to do some damage with his arm, too. He’s not asked to throw a whole lot (no game with at least 30 attempts), and last week he threw his first interception on the year. Of course, his health has been an issue, as he has missed five games due to injury this year. If he isn’t 100% he isn’t nearly as dynamic (then again, who is?), but even at less than full strength he can change the game, as evidenced by Ferris State’s win over their biggest rival Grand Valley State. The biggest problem for the Bulldogs is their propensity to turn the ball over. They have 20 giveaways on the year, and are just +1 in turnover margin. The Tigers, meanwhile, are +10 in turnovers, and if they can get Bell and Co. to cough the ball up a couple times, it could be the difference in the game.

Yet another similarity between the two teams, both squads have very good kickers. FHSU PK Brandon Brown was the MIAA Special Teams Player of the Year, and FSU’s PK Wyatt Ford was named to the All-GLIAC Second Team after connecting on 10 of 13 field goal attempts this year. In a game where points may be at a high premium, having someone who can score from 40+ yards away is a very good thing to have, and Brown has a 50+ yarder on the season. Ford is perfect from under 40 yards away, but is just 1 for 4 on field goals longer than 40 yards. Brown likely has a big advantage kicking on his home field, too.

Overall, this game is likely to be a slugfest. The weather forecast is very favorable, so it shouldn’t be a factor in the outcome at all. While the Tigers have had a tremendous season, this is the first playoff game for any of the players, and even though they are home, the playoff stage is a bright one, and Ferris has been on it the past four years, making it to the regional final in 2015 and the semifinals last season. That experience isn’t a guaranteed victory by any means (as Ashland proved last week), but it can still be very valuable. To me, the one key of this game is Bell’s health. If he were 100%, I think Ferris would be a sizable favorite, as he is a gamebreaker. The Tigers have had a great season, but, even with Bell at less than full strength, I think the Bulldogs have the better team and get the win on the road. Hopefully, FHSU will prove me wrong and become the sixth MIAA team to make the regional final.

FSU 24
FHSU 23

(Last Week: 0-1)
(Season: 55-12)


As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post below. You can also follow me on Twitter @IanD2FMIAA.

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Comments

  1. EveryCatAWildman's Avatar
    Good analysis. One thing you didn't mention when it comes to special teams - Fort Hays has one of the best punters in the nation. In an evenly matched game like this should be, starting field position is huge. I think Tigers take advantage of the field position and with the better field goal kicker that can boot the 40+ yarders, I think that's all it's going to take.

    FHSU - 24
    FSU - 22
  2. Bulldog's Avatar
    This is the second week in a row where the Bulldogs had to tame a Cat. Ferris 23 FHSU 20
  3. EveryCatAWildman's Avatar
    In an evenly matched game like this should be, starting field position is huge.[/QUOTE]

    well i was right about field position being a huge factor...wrong about which team it would cost