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Division II Football Playoffs reach Final 4

This weekends televised match-ups for the D2 Football Playoffs feature one must-see-TV game and an intriguing match-up between two programs who have made it just a little further than expected this year.  LiveBall Sports’ previews of the games are below.

Shepherd Rams vs. Delta State Statesmen

This game is not exactly a marquee matchup for the D-II football playoffs, in fact, any number of games from the prior two rounds have paired more dynamic teams.  Delta State beat the highest seeded team in their region, the Albany State Rams, to reach this level.  Shepherd beat a likely over-seeded Mercyhurst college by a resounding score of 49-14.

Delta State has been at this level once recently, losing to National Champion Grand Valley 49-30 on the road in 2006.  They were also the national champions of this level in 2000, beating Bloomsburg of PA.  It’s been a long road back for the Statesmen.

Shepherd can light up a scoreboard.  Just this year, they’ve put up: 56, 55, 53, 49, 46, and 41 points.  Two of those results have come in the D2 playoffs, and on the road no less.  It took a lot longer for Delta State’s offense to get going, but a 47-24 decision over North Alabama counts as a quality victory.  Shepherd has done it big on the road this year, but for a team from West Virginia, it’s a big difference going “on the road” to Pennsylvania to knock off teams ranked in the 10-20 range, which they’ve done the last two weeks, and going to southern Mississippi to play an established program in Delta State.

It seems that Delta State would be heavily underdogged had they drawn the short end of the travel stick, but seeding is a big determinant of success in the D2 Football playoffs, and it makes sense to pick Delta State to advance to the Championship Round.

Northwest Missouri State Bearcats vs. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

It’s kind of amazing what head coach Mel Tjeerdsma has done with the Maryville Teacher’s College Northwest Missouri State Football Team. This is perhaps one of the greatest coaching pieces, ever.  In any sport.  Another 12-1 record, another appearance among the final four teams in Division II college football.  With a win, the Bearcats will head to Florence, Alabama to play in the D2 title game for a sixth consecutive season.  When he took over this program 17 years ago, they didn’t even win a game.

Their opponent, Minnesota-Duluth, was the number one seed in the entire nation coming into this playoff field, and they’ve done little to dispel the perception that they should be the favorite.  This is the best team in the field.  Against possibly the toughest non-GLIAC schedule in division II football, this team’s average margin of victory: 4 TDs.  They may be ripe for the picking: their playoff results included a three point survival in overtime over St. Cloud State.  Of course, they then went in and held an Augustana team to 13 points one week after they put up 38 points against Grand Valley.

Northwest Missouri has a couple of problems.  Their average margin of victory is under two touchdowns in a conference they typically dominate.  The culprit is their defense.  Quarterback Blake Bolles (pictured above) is a legitimate pro prospect, and the best chance that Tjeerdsma’s team has of overcoming Minnesota-Duluth.  However, Saturday’s win over Central Missouri at home was the first comfortable win for the Bearcats since the end of October.  No one is better suited to win a close game than the Bearcats, but it’s difficult to expect Minnesota-Duluth not to win by a comfortable margin and head into the NCAA D2 Championship Game a heavy, heavy favorite.

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