The Sports Network
By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 10th, 4:05 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fargodome (18,700) - Fargo, North Dakota. Surface: AstroTurf. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Trey Bender and Jay Taylor. Home Record: Lehigh 5-1; North Dakota State 6-1. Away Record: Lehigh 6-0; North Dakota State 6-0. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: Lehigh - Patriot League; North Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Nicknames: Lehigh Mountain Hawks; North Dakota State Bison. Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Lehigh (6); North Dakota State (4). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Lehigh (NS); North Dakota State (2). Head Coaches: Lehigh - Andy Coen (6th Season, 41-28 at Lehigh and Overall); North Dakota State - Craig Bohl (9th season 72-31 at North Dakota State and Overall). All-Time Record: Lehigh (650-566-46); North Dakota State (624-364-34). FCS Playoff Records: Lehigh (6-8); North Dakota State (3-1). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Lehigh 8 (1979-80, 98-99, 2000-01, 2004); North Dakota State 1 (2010).
GAME NOTES: In the second round of the FCS playoffs last week, North Dakota State and Lehigh both knocked off CAA Football opponents, outlasting James Madison and Towson, respectively. This week, Lehigh, the Patriot League champion, will look to knock out the Missouri Valley Conference champion for the second straight season (last year, the Mountain Hawks defeated Northern Iowa, 14-7).
After opening the season as a pass-heavy offense, Lehigh has become a more well-rounded unit the past couple weeks, particularly in the red zone. While Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) finalist Chris Lum (340.8 ypg) is still a dangerous passer, he hasn't had to shoulder the scoring responsibility like he did the first eight weeks of the season. In the victory against Towson, the Mountain Hawks scored three rushing touchdowns and running back Matt Fitz tossed a touchdown on a trick play.
North Dakota State got burned on a trick play last week as James Madison capitalized for a 35-yard touchdown pass from the wide receiver to the quarterback. Facing a creative offensive coordinator in Lehigh's Dave Cecchini, who called trick plays in the same series against Towson, North Dakota State's defense has a tough test on Saturday.
However, North Dakota State's defense has been one of the best units in the country (14.8 ppg) and has bottled up opposing offenses all season. Limiting opponents to just 320 yards per game, the Bison are stout against the run (119.3 ypg) and have a lock-down corner in Marcus Williams (7 INTs, 12 PBU), who likely will be matched up with Lehigh receiver Ryan Spadola (134.5 ypg).
When North Dakota State has the ball, running backs D.J. McNorton (75.9 ypg) and Sam Ojuri (70.2 ypg) will both get significant touches against Lehigh's impressive rush defense (92.9 ypg). If the Mountain Hawks can slow the rushing attack, it will put added pressure on quarterback Brock Jensen, a sophomore who hasn't completed 20 passes in a game since October.
On special teams, North Dakota State likely won't have many long returns, but will still have decent field position. Against Towson, Lehigh squibbed each kick, including one that turned into an unplanned onside kick, due to its suspect kick coverage. The Bison rank fifth in the FCS for kick return yardage and Ryan Smith is a skilled punt returner who has one return for a touchdown.
While the loud, likely sold-out crowd at the Fargo Dome could prove to be a factor, Lehigh is a veteran team that won in Northern Iowa's UNI Dome last season. Whichever team can take an early lead and win the turnover battle, will be able to silence, or excite, the crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 24, Lehigh 21
12/07 10:48:46 ET