(SportsNetwork.com) - The two best teams in the regular season and two teams that never felt they were getting enough respect.
There's a fascinating pair of FCS semifinals on tap next weekend following a wild weekend of quarterfinals in which all eight teams scored over 30 points.
In one semifinal, Sam Houston State at North Dakota State will match the competitors from the 2011 and '12 national championship games, both won by NDSU.
Many people consider the three-time defending champion Bison to be the best team in the playoffs despite having the No. 2 seed. Sam Houston, though, wasn't on a lot of people's minds considering the Southland Conference co-champion was 1-3 to start the season.
Top-seeded New Hampshire from CAA Football is in the semifinals for the second consecutive season and will host Illinois State as both teams seek a championship berth for the first time. Illinois State will be a tough out considering the Redbirds shared the Missouri Valley Conference title with NDSU, though they always seemed to live in their shadow in the regular season.
After the semifinals, there will be a three-week break until the FCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas.
Sam Houston State (11-4) 34, No. 6 seed Villanova (11-3) 31
Villanova, PA - They have the same Sam Houston State players who opened the season by losing three of their first four games.
But realistically, the Bearkats are a much different team today.
They are headed back to the FCS semifinals for the third time in four seasons after beating sixth-seeded Villanova, 34-31, in the quarterfinals Saturday while the Wildcats played without star quarterback John Robertson because of symptoms from a concussion.
Unseeded Sam Houston State (11-4), which has won three playoff games, will play at second-seeded North Dakota State (13-1) in the semifinals next weekend. The Bearkats lost to the Bison in both the 2011 and '12 national championship games.
Sam Houston has few key players from those recent powers and even a first-year coach in K.C. Keeler, but the Bearkats has put it all together at the right time of the season.
"That was a well-played football game by two pretty good teams," said Keeler, who coached against Villanova for 11 seasons in CAA Football from 2002-12 at Delaware. "It is great to get the win and great to be in the final four. I don't care who or where we play because it will be exciting no matter what."
The Bearkats had prepared to face Robertson in the teams' first-ever meeting, but that changed Saturday after he awoke with a headache from the concussion he suffered in last weekend's playoff win over Liberty.
Robertson, a redshirt junior who was the CAA Football offensive player of the year, went through concussion protocols during the week and was cleared to play against Sam Houston State, but he was scratched by the team's medical staff following an examination Saturday morning.
Jalen Overstreet's 1-yard touchdown run with 4:03 left to play gave Sam Houston its 34-31 lead. Villanova (11-3), behind Robertson's replacement, senior Chris Polony, moved the ball down to the Bearkats' 29, but drew an ill-timed delay- of-game penalty while setting up for a potential, game-tying 46-yard field goal attempt. That made it a 51-yard attempt for Chris Gough and he missed wide to the left with 32 seconds left.
Polony played well in relief of Robertson. He completed 13-of-24 pass attempts for 228 yards and one touchdown, and carried the 13 times for 87 yards and two touchdown. Very Robertson-esque, in fact.
Sam Houston seems so different because it has jelled with a team that has eight FBS transfers and 18 starters who didn't start in Keeler's first spring game. New quarterback Jared Johnson, last year's backup behind four-year starter Brian Bell, was 22-for-27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Leading 17-16 at halftime, Sam Houston scored on the first play of the third quarter when Johnson threw a 66-yard bomb to LaDarius Brown for their second touchdown connection.
But Villanova tailback Kevin Monangai (27 carries, 166 yards) scored on a 58- yard run with 9:36 left in the third quarter and Kevin Gulyas caught the two- point conversation from Polony to tie the game 24-24.
Luc Swimberghe's 30-yard field goal with 10:54 left in the fourth quarter put Sam Houston back in front, 27-24.
But Villanova answered with a nine-play, 67-yard drive, which was capped by Polony rolling out from a shotgun for a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 31-27 Wildcats with 7:15 left.
Sam Houston had an answer as well, moving 75 yards in 10 plays and going ahead 34-31 on Overstreet's 1-yrd run up the middle at the 4:03 mark.
Polony had originally beaten out Robertson for the No. 1 job in 2012, but Robertson had made 35 straight starts for the Wildcats before Saturday's game.
Polony accounted for two touchdowns in the first quarter. He connected with wide receiver Poppy Livers for a 54-yard touchdown pass to pull Villanova within 7-6 before the extra point was missed. He later scored on a 36-yard keeper to give the Wildcats a 13-7 lead.
But Sam Houston answered that score with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, moving back ahead 14-13 after Johnson's second touchdown pass, a 4-yarder to Gerald Thomas with 9:54 remaining in the second quarter.
Swimberghe extended Sam Houston's lead with a 32-yard field goal, but Gough, who missed the earlier extra point, closed the half with a 46-yard field goal to pull the Wildcats within 17-16.
No. 5 seed Illinois State (12-1) 59, No. 4 seed Eastern Washington (11-3) 46
Cheney, WA - As usual Saturday, red ruled at Eastern Washington's Roof Field, home of the red "Inferno" turf.
This time, however, it was the Illinois State Redbirds, not host Eastern Washington, that kept changing the scoreboard the most as the fifth-seeded visitors stunned the fourth-seeded Eagles, 59-46, in the FCS quarterfinals.
Illinois State (12-1) will next play on the other side of the country, going to top-seeded New Hampshire (12-1) for the semifinals next weekend.
Sophomore Marshaun Coprich rushed for 258 yards and four touchdowns and the Redbirds kept Eastern Washington star Vernon Adams Jr. in check for the first three quarters while they prevented the Eagles (11-3) from reaching the national semifinals for a fourth time in five seasons. Two of Coprich's scores came in the third quarter when Illinois State extended a 24-17 halftime lead to 45-20.
In the decisive third quarter, Coprich rushed for a 21-yard touchdown on the Redbirds' first possession to give them a 31-17 lead. After Tyler McNannay kicked a 36-yard field goal to close Eastern Washington's deficit to 11 points, Coprich capped Illinois State's next drive with a 2-yard touchdown run at the 4:24 mark, making it 38-20.
Alex Donnelly then intercepted Adams deep in Eagles territory, which set up a short 23-yard touchdown drive capped by quarterback Tre Roberson's 5-yard TD run with nine seconds left to make it 45-20.
Adams' 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter pulled Eastern Washington within 45-27, but Roberson's 31-yard touchdown pass to Lechein Neblett extended the Redbirds' lead to 52-27.
Adams sandwiched a pair of touchdown passes to Cooper Kupp (10 receptions, 185 yards) around a successful onside kick and Eastern Washington closed with two touchdowns, but Coprich's 74-yard touchdown burst made it 59-39 and gave the Redbirds a touchdown on their first five possessions of the second half.
Coprich, the Missouri Valley Conference offensive player of the year, has rushed for over 100 yards in all 13 Illinois State games this season.
Adams added a third touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Shaq Hill, finishing 25-for-44 for 425 yards with two interceptions. For three quarters, he was outperformed by Roberson, who 19-for-24 for 206 yards and two touchdowns with 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The two teams combined for 1,065 yards.
The game was delayed with 1:40 remaining while a fan in the stands, said to be the parent of an Eastern Washington, went into cardiac arrest before being attended to and then taken to an area hospital.
Illinois State scored on its first four possessions to take a 24-10 lead midway through the second quarter. After Nick Aussieker opened the scoring with a field goal, Coprich scored on a touchdown run set up by a Mike Banks fumble recovery, Brady Tibbits added a scoring run and Roberson passed for a touchdown to Cameron Meredith.
But Eastern Washington gained late momentum by pulling within 24-17 on Jabari Wilson's 1-yard TD run with just 36 seconds remaining in the first half.
Quincy Forte had scored on a 9-yard run and McNannay kicked a field goal for the Eagles earlier in the half.
Illinois State's last trip to the playoffs in 2012 ended on the red turf with a 51-35 loss to Eastern Washington. This time, the host Eagles were left seeing red.
No. 1 seed North Dakota State (13-1) 39,
No. 7 seed Coastal Carolina (12-2) 32
Fargo, ND - North Dakota State trailing in the fourth quarter has been a rarity during its three-year reign as the FCS champion, but the Bison have come from behind to win two consecutive playoff games in eight days.
Indeed, they continue to have the collective heart of a champion even as teams get closer in the rear-view mirror.
Running back John Crockett rushed for a school playoff-record 227 yards and two touchdowns and became the Bison's new single-season rushing leader while second-seeded North Dakota State held off seventh-seeded Coastal Carolina, 39-32, Saturday for the second consecutive year in the national quarterfinals.
The game was far different from North Dakota State's 48-14 playoff rout of Coastal last season, but the Bison (13-1) will host Sam Houston State (11-4) in the national semifinals next weekend. The Bison defeated Sam Houston in both the 2011 and '12 national championship games.
A week ago, the Bison rallied past Missouri Valley Conference rival South Dakota State in the final minute of their second-round game. On Saturday, they fell behind for the first time, 32-31, on Coastal running back De'Angelo Henderson's 2-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter. The Chanticleers, however, failed on a two-point attempt after a second straight score, keeping their lead at one point.
North Dakota State then retook the lead two possessions later when Crockett found running room along the Coastal sideline and scored on a 45-yard dash with 9:28 remaining to play. Quarterback Carson Wentz ran up the middle to score a two-point conversion and lift the Bison advantage to 39-32.
On Coastal's next drive, the Chanticleers converted a fake punt just inside their territory, but didn't gain another first down on the drive. After NDSU's Adam Keller missed a 49-yard field goal that could have put the win away, Bison safety Colten Heagle (team-high 12 tackles) stymied the Chants' final drive with an interception of Alex Ross just inside Bison territory with 53 seconds remaining.
Crockett, who's gained three 1,000-yard seasons, has 1,754 this season on a school-record 320 carries, including 26 on Saturday. He's scored 17 of his 18 touchdowns on the ground.
Wentz accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in the win. But Big South co-champion Coastal Carolina (12-2) was nearly up to the challenge, scoring the most points against NDSU during the Bison's playoff win streak.
Henderson had 143 rushing yards and the touchdown, Ross rushed for two touchdowns and All-American Quinn Backus finished with eight tackles to end his illustrious career with 441 stops, 14th on the FCS all-time list.
North Dakota State, which had won 22 straight home games and 14 consecutive playoff games, had hoped to assert itself in the second half after clinging to a 24-20 halftime advantage.
After Coastal's offense went three-and-out to begin the third quarter, the Bison completed a nine-play, 69-yard drive with Wentz's 2-yard scoring run around right end providing a 31-20 lead.
But Ross capped the Chanticleers' following possession by diving into the North Dakota State for a 4-yard touchdown and they pulled within 31-26 at the 3:29 mark.
Henderson's go-ahead touchdown capped a quick-strike, four-play drive which went 95 yards when Ross had a 48-yard pass to John Israel, Henderson a 32-yard run and Ross a 13-yard pass to Osharmar Abercrombie.
The first half featured offensive firepower as North Dakota State took a 24-20 lead at halftime.
Crockett opened the scoring with a 70-yard touchdown and Wentz fired touchdowns to Kevin Vaadeland and Luke Albers. But Coastal moved the chains and Devin Brown returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, tying the game at 17-17.
Alex Catron's 25-yard field goal on the final play of the half pulled Coastal within 24-20.
Friday, Dec. 12
No. 1 seed New Hampshire (12-1) 35, No. 8 seed Chattanooga (10-4) 30
Durham, NH - All-American wide receiver R.J. Harris is noted as being New Hampshire's hardest worker.
No doubt he's the Wildcats' best player.
Harris caught two touchdowns, including on a 61-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter that helped put away top-seeded New Hampshire's 35-30 victory over eighth-seeded Chattanooga in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs Friday night.
The win gives the Wildcats (12-1) a semifinal-round date at home next weekend against either fourth-seeded Eastern Washington or fifth-seeded Illinois State, who face each other in another quarterfinal on Saturday.
New Hampshire, making its 11th straight playoff appearance under coach Sean McDonnell, has captured 12 straight wins and 14 straight home games, both program records.
Harris' decisive second touchdown was electrifying. New Hampshire clung to a 28-24 lead in a back-and-forth game when it took possession of the ball at its 39 following a Chattanooga punt early in the fourth quarter.
On first down, Harris went in motion and took a handoff from quarterback Sean Goldrich. Harris lateraled the ball to fellow wide receiver Jimmy Giansante, who then flipped it back to Goldrich. The senior signal caller lofted a screen pass to Harris in the backfield at the 30, who immediately picked up blocks and blew past Chattanooga defenders along the sideline to give the Wildcats the game's first double-digit lead, 35-24, with 11:04 remaining to play.
Nick Cefalo then intercepted Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman on the Mocs' ensuing drive and New Hampshire begin milking game clock from there. Huesman had dominated the first half before the Wildcats had defensive answers after halftime.
But on Chattanooga's next possession, running back Derraine Craine scored on an 8-yard pass from Huesman with 1:32 left to pull the Mocs with 35-30.
With no remaining timeouts, the Mocs needed to recover the ensuing onside kick, but New Hampshire's Keith Parkinson did. The Wildcats ran out the clock from there and advanced to the national semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Last year, they were eliminated at eventual national champion North Dakota State one step shy of the national championship game.
Harris finished with seven receptions for 172 yards. Until his second touchdown, the first-ever meeting between the two conference champions - New Hampshire in CAA Football and Chattanooga in the Southern Conference - was extremely tight.
Huesman had 428 total yards and accounted for three touchdowns in Chattanooga's loss, which ended a seven-game losing streak. Goldrich threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score for New Hampshire.
The Wildcats went ahead for good 28-24 on Nico Steriti's 6-yard draw with 13:23 left in the fourth quarter. But the play nearly didn't happen.
Chattanooga defensive back Trevor Knight intercepted Goldrich in the Mocs' end zone. But video replay confirmed Knight didn't re-establish himself in the end zone before catching the ball. On the next play, Steriti scored his second touchdown of the game to erase a 24-22 New Hampshire deficit. An attempt for a two-point conversion failed, however.
Trailing 22-21 after three quarters, Chattanooga (10-4) went ahead when Henrique Ribeiro kicked a 27-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter. The kick stopped a string of four straight missed field goal attempts by Ribeiro during the playoffs.
New Hampshire had kept seven of its previous opponents to under 20 points, but Chattanooga took a 21-15 lead into halftime after Huesman scored from 1 yard out with 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It completed a huge first half in which he was 15-for-17 for 167 yards and rushed for another 64 yards and two touchdowns.
His second touchdown erased a 15-14 Mocs' deficit. Goldrich threw a 49-yard scoring pass to Harris with 4:47 left and then holder Andy Vailas ran in a faked extra point for the two-point conversion.