Jake Riepma

NCAA Division II National Semifinal: #2 Minnesota State VS. #3 Ferris State

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Four undefeated teams remain in the NCAA Division II Playoffs setting up a fantastic weekend of two National Semifinal contests.

After the re-seeding, on one side of the bracket #2 Minnesota State (Mankato) hosts #3 Ferris State, while on the other side the #1 Valdosta State Blazers welcome the #4 Notre Dame (Ohio) Falcons.

Currently at 14-0, Ferris State has a chance to become the first team to go 16-0 in a single season in DII history. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, standing in the Bulldogs way is its toughest test yet, a road tilt with Minnesota State.
I said my prayers this week in hopes of a game that actually lives up to the pre-game hype, and I’m convinced given the stakes of a birth in the title game, as well as the proven programs involved, this one will in fact deliver. No disrespect to Ouachita Baptist, but last week’s quarterfinal stage was just too much for them. Okay, maybe that’s a little disrespectful, but the truth hurts sometimes.

This weekend is reserved for the big boys...

You’d be hard-pressed to find two programs that have been as consistently dominant as Ferris State and Minnesota State in recent years. Since 2010, only two programs have won more games than Minnesota State, who oh by the way also made a run to the finals in 2014. More importantly, the Mavericks have been number one in the country for the majority of the season and like Ferris State, MSU has shown few weaknesses and withstood every other team’s best shot. Meanwhile, the level of success Tony Annese has brought to Big Rapids is no secret – FSU’s 59-7 record over the past five seasons is the best of any Division II football program in the country.

Without further ado..

The Matchup: I’m done insulting my readers by continuing to beat the dead horse of how good both of these teams are. We all get it. It’s the final four, the best of the best, and these two teams deserve all the praise in the world, but what’s been done in the past is no longer important on Saturday. Both of these teams want to run the ball down its opponent’s throat, and for the most part, they usually succeed in doing so. Last week Ferris State dominated the run game versus Ouachita Baptist to the tune of 357 yards on the ground, and I’m sure that’ll be a huge part of the game plan again this week. The same goes for MSU. In last week’s 13-10 win over Tarleton State, the Mavericks imposed their will on the ground compiling 350 rushing yards and possessing the football for over 40 minutes of the game! The feature back for the Mavericks is junior Nate Gunn. And by feature I mean 50-carries in one game type of feature back. Gun led the Maverick offense with 261 rushing yards and one touchdown while setting an MSU single-game record with 50 carries. 50 carries is absurd!

Stars Collide: Harlon Hill Finalist Jayru Campbell leads all quarterbacks in DII with 20 rushing scores, while also proving to be lethal in the pass game with 2,581 yards passing and 24 touchdowns, all to just five interceptions. He was on full display last week against Ouachita Baptist, but given the nature of the blowout, he wasn’t in the game throughout the second half. In his press conference with the media this week, head coach Tony Annese made it clear that he has no problem continuing to play multiple quarterbacks and has complete confidence in all four guys that have taken snaps at the QB position during this postseason run for the Bulldogs. On the other side, the star for the MSU Mavericks is running back Nate Gunn. His 1,556 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns are both the single season school records. After carrying the ball 50 times last week, it’s no secret he’s the engine that fuels this offense.

From one Extreme to the Next: Last week Ferris State traveled to warm and sunny Arkadelphia, Arkansas and played in 60 degree temperatures. This week, the Bulldogs will be playing at at Blakeslee Stadium. Here’s what Blakeslee Stadium looked like last week:

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Not quite sunny and 65. FSU will have to make the adjustment to the colder temperatures which I imagine won’t be much of an issue, but it’s still worth noting game time temperatures are expected to be in the 20s.
X Factor: Ferris State’s run defense. Admittedly, people like me have been aboard the FSU Offense hype train when in reality often times it’s been the Ferris State defense that has stepped up most and in the biggest of spots. MSU’s offense is not flashy, but has the potential to control an entire game. If this Bulldog defense can force some 3-and-outs early, and avoid the long, ball-control type drives, it will give this FSU offense the opportunity to shine. The offense gets the headlines, but on Saturday, If FSU is to advance, it starts with the defense, and specifically, the run defense.

Iconic Coaching Matchup: Leading the charge for this incredibly successful Minnesota State program is Todd Hoffner. During his nine seasons at Minnesota State, Hoffner is an astonishing 92-20 (.821) and has tallied five NSIC Championships and six trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. For Ferris State, what Tony Annese has accomplished is nothing short of incredible, in his 7th season, Annese’s record at FSU is an astonishing 74-14 (.826) and over the last five years with Annese at the helm, the Bulldogs have claimed three conference championships, posted three unbeaten regular-seasons, captured two regional titles and reached the national quarterfinals three times.

Series History: This is my favorite note because it took the least amount of research. It’s the first ever contest between Ferris State and Minnesota State.

My Pick: It’s hard to go against a team that has been number one in the land all season. Then again, look at what Ferris State did last week and I’d feel silly picking against the Bulldogs. I’m truly conflicted! Truth is, at this stage in the playoffs, it comes down to whose better for 60 minutes on Saturday. (Thank you Captain Obvious). GLIAC champs versus NSIC champs. I think this is where the road ends for Ferris State, another incredible run, but Minnesota Mankato at home is a team I don’t see losing. Give me the Mavericks in a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire classic playoff showdown, 17-14.

Here’s to the best of the best squaring off in the artic for a shot to compete for a National Championship!

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