FCS Playoff Preview: South Dakota State Hosts New Hampshire
For the second straight year, South Dakota State is in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. But this year there's no trip to Fargo on the horizon, playing underdog against North Dakota State, a team that has ended SDSU's post season runs three of the last five years.
Instead, the Jackrabbits (10-2) are home for the quarterfinals in 2017, and are heavy favorites against New Hampshire.
But they'll be facing a Wildcat (9-4) team that knows about playing in the post season and winning as road underdogs.
New Hampshire is in the FCS Playoff field for the 14th straight year - the longest current streak in the nation.
All they did in round two was go to fourth-seeded Central Arkansas and win 21-15, despite losing starting Trevor Knight to a concussion in the second quarter. Without him, they turned to redshirt freshman Christian Lupoli to run the offense, which focused on the run after Knight went down. UNH's 46 rushing attempts were the second-most they've had in a game all year.
Running back Evan Gray carried the brunt of the load with 24 carries, the most he's had all season, for 85 yards.
When the Wildcats do go to the air, receivers Neil O'Connor and Malik Love have combined for 2,045 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017.
New Hampshire's defense has been carrying them throughout the post season.
The Wildcats have forced eight turnovers and recorded eight sacks in wins over Central Connecticut and Central Arkansas.
The UNH defense is in the Top 25 in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed (118 per game), points allowed (18 per game), and turnover margin (+9).
Sophomore linebacker Qunilen Dean leads the way with 118 tackles. Senior lineman Rick Holt has nine sacks. Junior lineman Jae'Wuan Horton has 13 tackles for loss. Sophomore cornerback Isiah Perkins has five interceptions.
Kickoff is 2:00 PM, Saturday in Brookings.
South Dakota State has won six straight, but New Hampshire has been very good at stopping streaks in 2017. The Wildcats snapped Central Arkansas' 10-game winning streak, as well as eight-game streaks from both Central Connecticut and Elon.
The Jackrabbits got to the quarterfinals with a resounding 37-22 win over fellow Missouri Valley Conference member Northern Iowa, last Saturday (December 2). The victory avenged a 38-18 Panther win in Brookings back in October.
Unlike the first meeting, where SDSU trailed 17-0 after a quarter and played catch up the rest of the way, the Jackrabbits were the aggressor last weekend, scoring on their first five possessions, tallying 34 of the game's first 41 points.
South Dakota State played with confidence in the rematch, converting on all three fourth down attempts in the game and forcing a pair of turnovers on defense.
The special teams chipped in with a career-long 55-yard field goal from Chase Vinatieri and a 70-yard punt return from Cade Johnson.
I talked with Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier about the Northern Iowa win and the quarterfinal match-up with New Hampshire: