(Stats Perform) – The FCS playoffs got off to a high-scoring start last weekend, but the action figures to get more physical, defensive and heated in the second round on Saturday.
Or the round of 16, if that sounds sweeter in the trenches.
Eight seeded teams will come out of Thanksgiving byes, each hoping to feast on a first-round winner, but the visiting opponents must be loving their momentum.
Following are capsule previews of the second-round games (all times ET; games on ESPN+):
New Hampshire (9-3, 7-1 CAA) at No. 8 seed Holy Cross (11-0, 6-0 Patriot)
Kickoff – Noon at Fitton Field in Worcester, Massachusetts
Series – New Hampshire leads 8-7 (last meeting: Holy Cross won 13-10 at home on Sept. 7, 2019)
Coaches – New Hampshire: Rick Santos (15-8, second season); Holy Cross: Bob Chesney (36-16, fifth season; 103-41 overall)
3 Players to Watch – New Hampshire: QB Max Brosmer (242 of 384, 2,912 yards, 25 TDs, 5 INTs), RB Dylan Laube (1,153 rushing yards, 201.1 all-purpose yards per game, 19 TDs), DE Dylan Ruiz (55 tackles, 11 sacks, 7 QBH); Holy Cross: Matthew Sluka (2,301 passing yards, 25 TDs, 3 INTs; 918 rushing yards, 8 TDs), WR Jalen Coker (42 receptions, 838 yards, 10 TDs), LB Liam Anderson (70 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 2 takeaways)
Notable – Laube, the FCS leader in all-purpose yard average, is coming off a playoff-record 424 yards against Fordham (plus four touchdowns). Brosmer passed for a career-high 348 yards in the win, making UNH 13-3 in his career starts when he has at least 175 as opposed to 2-5 when he’s doesn’t reach that level. His counterpart, Sluka, has nine games of 100 or more rushing yards in his career, but he will face pressure from Ruiz and Josiah Silver (21 sacks in his last 21 games) on pass attempts. The Crusaders, making their fourth straight playoff appearance, have yet to lose a fumble and are plus-14 in turnover margin, which ranks third-best in the FCS. Derek Ng has rewritten the Crusaders’ record book, kicking 13 field goals this season and 46 in his career.
Up Next – The winner will play either Delaware or No. 1 South Dakota State in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – Holy Cross 27, New Hampshire 24
Gardner-Webb (7-5, 5-0 Big South) at No. 5 seed William & Mary (10-1, 7-1 CAA)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Virginia
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Gardner-Webb: Tre Lamb (13-14, third season); William & Mary: Mike London (22-15, fourth season; 84-75 overall)
3 Players to Watch – Gardner-Webb: QB Bailey Fisher (234 of 359, 2,873 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs; 234 rushing yards, 11 TDs), RB Narii Gaither (938 rushing yards, 7 TDs), DE Ty French (68 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 16 QBH); William & Mary: QB Darius Wilson (130 of 197, 1,950 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs; 433 rushing yards, 4 TDs), RB/KR Bronson Yoder (161 carries, 1,061 yards, 10 TDs), LB John Pius (69 tackles, 19 TFL, 11.5 sacks)
Notable – G-W is 4-4 on the road and will match Saint Francis for the FCS high with a ninth road game. Gaither rushed for a Big South playoff-record 245 yards in a first-round win at Eastern Kentucky, while Fisher scored three times on the ground and connected for a TD with go-to wide receiver T.J. Luther (1,134 receiving yards, eight TDs). W&M ranks third in the FCS in rushing yards per game (274). While French has set the Big South’s single-season sacks record and is a half sack shy of the school mark, W&M is fortified with a decisive edge in sacks (29) versus sacks allowed (seven). London is coaching the Tribe in the playoffs for the first time, but he led Richmond to the 2008 FCS title and the national quarterfinals a year later.
Up Next – The winner will play either Weber State or No. 4 seed Montana State in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – William & Mary 35, Gardner-Webb 20
Furman (10-2, 7-1 Southern) at No. 7 seed UIW (10-1, 5-1 Southland)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. at Benson Stadium in San Antonio
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Furman: Clay Hendrix (41-25, sixth season); UIW: G.J. Kinne (10-1, first season)
3 Players to Watch – Furman: QB Tyler Huff (183 of 264, 2,208 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs; 630 rushing yards, 6 TDs), RB Dominic Roberto (182 carries, 1,061 yards, 10 TDs), ILB Braden Gilby (83 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 4 sacks); UIW: QB Lindsey Scott Jr. (240 of 328, 3,791 yards, 50 TDs, 4 INTs; 342 rushing yards, 7 TDs); WR Taylor Grimes (59 receptions, 979 yards, 13 TDs); LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (88 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 takeaways)
Notable – Furman TE Ryan Miller has a TD catch in 15 of the Paladins’ last 18 games since last season. Kickers Axel Lepveau and Ian Williams have combined to go 17 of 20 on field goals. The Paladins are allowing 261.9 passing yards per game, which is the strength of UIW’s FCS-leading scoring offense (52.9 points per game). With Scott twice passing for seven TDs in the first half of a game, the Cardinals have a plus-255 scoring margin before halftime as part of an overall plus-372 edge, the FCS high. While Grimes has 28 TD catches in a 23-game UIW career, WR Darion Chafin caught five of his 13 TDs in the final two regular-season games. Often overlooked in the passing exploits is RB Marcus Cooper (1,044 yards, 10 TDs).
Up Next – The winner will play either Richmond or No. 2 seed Sacramento State in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – UIW 35, Furman 28
Delaware (8-4, 4-4 CAA) at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (10-1, 8-0 MVFC)
Kickoff – 3 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota
Series – Tied 1-1 (last meeting: South Dakota State won 33-3 in FCS playoff semifinals on May 8, 2021)
Coaches – Delaware: Ryan Carty (8-4, first season); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier 195-112, 26th season)
3 Players to Watch – Delaware: QB Nolan Henderson (282 of 437, 3,200 yards, 32 TDs, 9 INTs; 4 rushing TDs), LB Johnny Buchanan (136 tackles, 6 TFL), S Noah Plack (90 tackles, 2 PBU); South Dakota State: QB Mark Gronowski (185 of 285, 2,247 yards, 18 TDs, 5 INTs; 8 TD runs), RB Isaiah Davis (177 carries, 932 yards, 10 TDs; 18 receptions), DT Caleb Sanders (24 tackles, 5 sacks)
Notable – In the spring 2021 playoff semifinal, UD only scored a field goal despite possessing the ball for 37 minutes, 5 seconds. The two defenses are heavyweights: SDSU ranks second in the FCS in yards allowed per game (254.8) and third in points allowed per game (15.5), while UD is third (278.5) and fourth (16.3), respectively. UD’s 56 points in a first-round win over Saint Francis marked the program’s high in 41 all-time FCS playoff games. In the win, Henderson set the Blue Hens’ single-season record for TD passes (32). SDSU is on a program-record 10-game winning streak, but it will be playing for the first time since Nov. 12. The rest may allow for the return of LB Adam Bock, the team’s leading tackler, who has missed the last three games due to injury. Davis has 100 or more rushing yards in five of his eight career playoff games. The MVFC champion is plus-12 in turnover margin.
Up Next – The winner will play either New Hampshire or No. 8 seed Holy Cross in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – South Dakota State 31, Delaware 17
Weber State (10-2, 6-2 Big Sky) at No. 4 seed Montana State (10-1, 8-0 Big Sky)
Kickoff – 3 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana
Series – Montana State leads 17-13 (last meeting MSU won 43-38 at home on Oct. 22)
Coaches – Weber State: Jay Hill (68-38, ninth season); Montana State: Brent Vigen (22-4, second season)
3 Players to Watch – Weber State: QB Bronson Barron (195 of 331, 2,447 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs; 193 rushing yards, 2 TDs), LB Winston Reid (101 tackles, 11 TFL, 4 forced fumbles), CB Eddie Heckard (65 tackles, 2 INTs, 8 PBU); Montana State: QB Tommy Mellot (1,310 passing yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs; 846 rushing yards, 9 TDs), LB Callahan O’Reilly (72 tackles, 6 takeaways, 3 forced fumbles), S Ty Okada (57 tackles, 3 takeaways)
Notable – This is the first rematch of the playoffs: Montana State won 43-38 at home on Oct. 22, scoring an NCAA-record four safeties due to errant Weber State snaps on punts. The Big Sky co-champ has the FCS’ longest active home winning streak (18). Isaiah Ifanse (3,461 career rushing yards, MSU 17-0 when he scores a TD) is expected to make his season debut following an injury. Even in his absence, the Bobcats are ranked second in the FCS in rushing yards per game (325.7). Weber State also wants to run the ball, coming off a season-high 330 yards against North Dakota with Josh Davis (129) and Damon Bankston (122) leading the way. Abraham Williams has four kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, and another one was wiped out by a Wildcats penalty against UND.
Up Next – The winner will play either Gardner-Webb or No. 5 seed William & Mary in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – Montana State 35, Weber State 24
Southeastern Louisiana (9-3, 5-1 Southland) at No. 6 seed Samford (10-1, 8-0 Southern)
Kickoff – 3 p.m. at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
Series – Southeastern Louisiana (last meeting: SLU won 34-31 at Samford on Sept. 21, 2013)
Coaches – Southeastern Louisiana: Frank Scelfo (34-22, fifth season); Samford: Chris Hatcher (50-37, eighth season; 171-94 overall)
3 Players to Watch – Southeastern Louisiana: QB Cephus Johnson III (1,354 passing yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs; 488 rushing yards, 5 TDs), LB Donte’ Daniels (83 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 takeaways), S Zy Alexander (27 tackles, 3 INTs, 4 PBU); Samford: QB Michael Hiers (329 of 428, 3,290 yards, 35 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Jay Stanton (150 carries, 680 yards, 3 TDs; 31 receptions), LB Nathan East (63 tackles, INT, 6 PBU)
Notable – SLU is 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road in its FCS playoff history. The Lions spread the wealth to various offensive weapons, including WR Gage Larvadain (51 receptions, 637 yards, 5 TDs) and RBs Carlos Washington (627 rushing yards, 13 TDs) and Jessie Britt (three straight games of 90+ rushing yards). The Lions have 16 interceptions to tie for the third-most in the FCS, and they include three TD returns. Hiers enters with a 76.9 completion percentage, which is on pace for an FCS single-season record. He often targets WRs Chandler Smith (86 receptions, 892 yards, 10 TDs) and Kendall Watson (73-851-9). The SoCon champion has allowed 500-plus yards in three of their last five regular-season wins, including 695 to Mercer in a 50-44 overtime win to close the regular season.
Up Next – The winner will play either Montana or No. 3 seed North Dakota State in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – Samford 37, Southeastern Louisiana 35
Montana (8-4) at No. 3 seed North Dakota State (9-2, 7-1 MVFC)
Kickoff – 3:30 p.m. at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota
Series – North Dakota State leads 5-4 (last meeting: NDSU won 37-6 at home in FCS playoff second round on Dec. 5, 2015)
Coaches – Montana: Bobby Hauck (116-33, 12th season; 131-82 overall); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (46-6, fourth season)
3 Players to Watch – Montana: QB Lucas Johnson (179 of 291, 2,163 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INTs; 294 rushing yards, 7 TDs), LB Patrick O’Connell (72 tackles, 13 TFL, 8 sacks, 3 takeaways), S Robby Hauck (110 tackles, 5 TFL); North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (120 of 174, 1,458 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 263 rushing yards, 11 TDs), FB Hunter Luepke (621 rushing yards, 9 TDs; 196 receiving yards, 4 TDs), LB James Kaczor (69 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks)
Notable – NDSU is the defending national champion and has won nine of the last 11 titles, posting an absurd 31-1 record in FCS home playoff games. As is often the case with their opponent, the big question is whether the UM defense can handle the Bison in the trenches. NDSU is averaging 261.7 rushing yards per game, ranking fourth among 130 FCS teams with Luepke, TaMerik Williams (559) and Kobe Johnson (508) leading the way. The Griz allowed 439 rushing yards to Montana State on Nov. 19, but 11 other opponents have averaged only 101.4 per game. With an experienced secondary and DE Spencer Waege (seven sacks) on the pass rush, NDSU has not allowed 200 passing yards to an FCS opponent. Griz punter Patrick Rohrbach ranks second nationally with a 45.9-yard average.
Up Next – The winner will play either Southeastern Louisiana or No. 6 seed Samford in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – North Dakota State 30, Montana 17
Richmond (9-3, 6-2 CAA) at No. 2 seed Sacramento State (11-0, 8-0 Big Sky)
Kickoff – 5 p.m. at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Richmond: Russ Huesman (33-28, sixth season; 92-65 overall); Sacramento State: Troy Taylor (29-7, third season)
3 Players to Watch – Richmond: QB Reece Udinski (357 of 476, 3,398 yards, 26 TDs, 4 INTs), Jakob Herres (70 receptions, 900 yards, 6 TDs), LB Tristan Wheeler (105 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 INTs); Sacramento State: RB Cam Skattebo (169 carries, 1,251 yards, 5 TDs; 24 receptions, 281 yards, 3 TDs), TE Marshel Martin (43 receptions, 587 yards, 8 TDs, NB Marte Mapu (64 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4 PBU)
Notable – The Spiders will make the 2,782-mile cross-country trip for their program’s first game in California. In the first round against Davidson, Udinski was 28 of 31 to set an FCS single-game playoff record for completion percentage (90.3) with at least 15 attempts. Herres, who played with Udinski at VMI in the 2018-22 seasons, joins Jasiah Williams (80), Leroy Henley (66) and Nick DeGennaro (50) in the FCS’ only quartet of four 50-catch receivers. The Spiders’ big quarter is often the second, where they’ve outscored opponents 137-58. Sac State, one of three FCS unbeaten teams along with Holy Cross and Jackson State, ranks third in the FCS with a plus-217 scoring margin. The QB rotation of Jake Dunniway (1,872 passing yards, 16 TDs) and Asher O’Hara (797 rushing yards, 19 TDs) has been lethal. The Hornets are 0-2 in the FCS playoffs, losing at home in the second round in 2019 and last year.
Up Next – The winner will play either Furman or No. 7 seed UIW in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – Sacramento State 31, Richmond 21