In the FCS Huddle: Defenses set to change playoff dynamic

Defense wins championships?

It hasn't been intimated through two rounds of the FCS playoffs.

The big boys arrived on the scene in the second round Saturday and all eight winning teams scored at least 26 points. In fact, through 12 playoff games, only one winner - James Madison in the first round - has failed to reach that total.

It's not surprising considering the offensive firepower across the FCS. Twelve of the 16 second-round teams entered their games ranked in the Top 25 for scoring offense.

Among those still standing are the nation's top-scoring team, No. 1-seeded Sam Houston State (39 ppg), Georgia Southern (37.5 ppg) and Lehigh (35.2).

But next weekend is when the storyline may change.

The quarterfinals have even better defensive teams than it does point machines. Unbeaten Sam Houston State (13.8 ppg) and North Dakota State (14.8) are 1-2 in scoring defense and Northern Iowa (16.6 ppg) is ranked fourth. They are run-first teams, as is Georgia Southern, whose defense also is highly regarded, although it wasn't indicative in Saturday's wild, 55-48 win over Old Dominion.

Lehigh can put up some defense, and Montana, Montana State have physical teams, so a lot of the action could slow down into grind-it-out games next weekend.


Montana State coach Rob Ash has never been so happy while his team was drawing a penalty.

The Bobcats was penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration a mere seconds after many on their sideline went onto the field near the end of their 26-25 second-round win over New Hampshire.

Steven Bethley deflected Mike MacArthur's extra-point attempt into the right upright after UNH quarterback Kevin Decker connected with Justin Mello with a 29-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining. The Bobcats then erupted in jubilation.

The exciting finish was one of a number of second-round thrillers.

Top-ranked Sam Houston State needed Tim Flanders' touchdown with 1:10 remaining for a 34-27 win over Stony Brook.

Georgia Southern also won by a touchdown, 55-48 over Old Dominion in a game that featured 1,167 yards of total offense. Northern Iowa's win was a little more comfortable against Wofford, although the final score also was a touchdown difference, 28-21.

Lehigh's point-fest against Towson was decided, ironically, by a safety, 40-38.


Appalachian State has been battered by CAA Football in each of the last two playoffs, 42-24 to Villanova in the national quarterfinals last year and then 34-12 to Maine on Saturday in Boone, N.C. It was the first time in seven years the Mountaineers failed to win their playoff opener.

Blame, of course, Maine, which also stopped the Mountaineers, 14-13, back in the first round in 2002.

But also blame a lower level of talent as well as the Mountaineers (8-4) saw their run of 10 or more wins in a season end at six.

They didn't warrant the lofty national rankings that they enjoyed all season. They started at No. 2 and never dropped out of the Top 10.

But their defense should be much-improved next season with a strong returning senior class, led by linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough and defensive backs Demetrius McCray and Troy Sanders. They have to improve against the pass.


Georgia Southern's Dominique Swope rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-48 second-round win over Old Dominion. But how about Nico Hickey, who scored on the 13-yard run that put the Eagles ahead for good, 41-35, and then recovered a Swope fumble in ODU's end zone to push their lead to 55-41 ... Maine powered past Appalachian State, 34-12, as senior quarterback Warren Smith threw for 250 yards and the Black Bears' first three touchdowns ... D.J. McNorton gained 154 yards on 19 carries and put away North Dakota State's 26-14 win over James Madison with a 60-yard touchdown run with 7:13 left ... Lehigh defensive tackle Tom Bianchi sacked Towson quarterback Grant Enders in the end zone for a safety with 5:14 left, the winning margin in the Mountain Hawks' 40-38 win ... Top-ranked Sam Houston State, the FCS' only unbeaten team at 12-0, survived Stony Brook, 34-27, as Brian Bell threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another in a second-half comeback ... Bethley got his hand on MacArthur's extra point attempt to force it to clang off the right upright with six seconds left and give Montana State a 26-25 win over New Hampshire ... Montana spread the wealth in a 41-14 rout of Central Arkansas, gaining two touchdown receptions from Jabin Sambrano ... Northern Iowa quarterback Tirrell Rennie threw two touchdowns to Jarred Herring and rushed for 95 yards as the Panthers overcame Wofford's 457 rushing yards in a 28-21 triumph.


Big Sky (Montana and Montana State: 2-0 (1.000)

Missouri Valley (North Dakota State and Northern Iowa): 2-0 (1.000)

Patriot (Lehigh): 1-0 (1.000)

Southland (Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas): 2-1 (.667)

Big South (Stony Brook): 1-1 (.500)

CAA Football (Towson, Old Dominion, New Hampshire, Maine and James Madison): 3-4 (.429)

Southern (Georgia Southern, Wofford and Appalachian State): 1-2 (.333)

MEAC (Norfolk State): 0-1 (.000)

Northeast (Albany): 0-1 (.000)

Ohio Valley (Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky): 0-2 (.000)


The team that has rushed for more yards has won 10 of the 12 playoff games.

The team that has won the turnover battle has nine wins and two losses (Lehigh and Towson both had one turnover in their game Saturday).

IF THIS WAS 2013 ....

We're down to eight playoff teams from an original 20-team field. Hopefully, the NCAA will expand the field to 24 by 2013, putting 16 in the first round and giving first-round byes to only eight teams instead of the 12 that did for a second straight season.

Had a 24-team field been in effect this season, it would have added Pioneer Football League co-champion San Diego (9-2, including a win over fellow co- champ Drake) and at-large selections Illinois State (7-4), Delaware (7-4) and probably either Jacksonville State (7-4), Liberty (7-4) or Bethune-Cookman (8-3). Delaware and Liberty would have had to get in with only six wins against Division I competition.

At-large selections Lehigh and Maine, both second-round winners, as well as New Hampshire and Wofford would not have had first-round byes, either.


This Weekend's Record: 5-3 (.625)

Season Record: 584-201 (.744)

X-Projected Winner

All Times ET

Friday, Dec. 9 or Saturday, Dec. 10

NCAA Division I Quarterfinals

X-Montana State (10-2) at No. 1 seed Sam Houston State (12-0) - Bobcats QB DeNarius McGhee seeks a winning return to his native Texas.

No. 5 Northern Iowa (10-2) at X-No. 4 Montana (10-2) - Since the clocks were turned back last month, the Grizzles program seemingly has stepped back in time.

Maine (9-3) at X-No. 3 Georgia Southern (10-2) - The Black Bears defense should consult Old Dominion about what to do, er, not to do against the Eagles' triple option.

Lehigh (11-1) at X-No. 2 North Dakota State (11-1) - The Bison defense is the best that Lehigh star QB Chris Lum has seen all season.

Saturday, Dec. 10

SWAC Championship Game

Alabama A&M (8-3) vs. X-Grambling State (7-4) at Birmingham, Ala., noon (ESPNU) - A&M has the defense, but the Tigers the momentum, six straight wins under head coach Doug Williams.