Here we go with The Semifinals:
#5 Appalachian State @ #1 Montana
Stadium: Washington Grizzly Stadium
Surface: Sprint Turf
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.20 points
Montana is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 4 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Montana leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Appalachian 16, Montana 19, December 9, 2000
The semifinals of the FCS playoffs are unlike any other championship contest that the NCAA offers. In the other major sports, You advance to a Final Four, a Frozen Four or a College World Series. Those sports include a group of teams. In FCS football, in order to get to the championship, you have to be one of two teams. That’s why the semifinals are so special. It is almost like the championship game before the championship game. You are one win away from a title game, but also just one loss before ending your season. This semifinal will not only decide who gets to play next week in Chattanooga, it also may decide who the team of the decade is in FCS football. Both Appalachian and Montana have won 18 games in the playoffs in the last ten years. They have also combined for 18 playoff appearances. Montana won their second National Championship in 2001 and has appeared in four championship games. Appalachian’s three National Championships from 2005-07 are also well documented. The winner will get bragging rights until 2012 and 2013, when the two schools are scheduled for a home and home series. Until then a chance to play in the National Championship is on the line.
Despite being perennial FCS powers, Appalachian and Montana will meet for only the second time this weekend. Fans of both schools remember how the previous game ended and a very similar finish is also expected this weekend. Montana lofted a pass over the head of Appalachian All-American safety Corey Hall that was caught for the game winning score in overtime in Missoula. Montana had dominated that game throughout in the cold and snow. However, when they snow stopped around halftime, Appalachian founds its groove and fought to tie the game in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. That game has been on the minds of Appalachian fans since. There have been several occasions where Montana and Appalachian were paired in the same bracket of the playoffs, but they have not met again until now.
Montana is currently undefeated but there season has not come without many close games. The Grizzlies nearly exited in the first round of the playoffs before staging a comeback for the ages against South Dakota State. Montana trailed 48-21 with just over 20 minutes of regulation remaining. Montana rang off 40 straight points to win by 61-48, in what be one of the greatest playoff comebacks in Montana history. Montana also struggled against winless Idaho State before kicking a field goal as time expired to win 12-10. The Grizzlies have also won three other game by seven points, against UC-Davis, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington.
The Grizzlies are lead at quarterback by Andrew Selle, who has been magnificent of late. Selle has thrown three touchdown passes in three straight games and has completed 66% of his passes in that stretch. On the season, Selle has thrown for 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Oregon transfer Justin Roper will relieve Selle at times in order to change the pace of the game. Roper has thrown eight touchdown passes and three interceptions while averaging 73 yards per game passing.
Montana has a very underrated tandem of running backs in Chase Reynolds and Thomas Brooks-Fletcher. Chase Reynolds has run for 1246 yards and 20 touchdowns this year. Reynolds ran for over 100 yards on six occasions, but has only averaged 50 yards on 3.6 yards per carry in his last three games. Brooks-Fletcher ran for 89 yards against Stephen F. Austin on 14 carries. It was only the third time of the season that Brooks-Fletcher received double digit carries in a game. Both backs are great coming out of the backfield as they combined for 41 catches for 287 yards on the year.
Speaking of catching passes, Marc Mariani has been the go to receiver for whoever is lined up under center for the Grizzlies. Mariani has 69 catches for 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns. In five games this season, Mariani has gone over the 100 yard receiving mark, including both playoff wins. Half of Mariani’s touchdown receptions have come in the last three games. Mariani also handles most punt return duties as he averages 16.4 yards per punt return and has returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown this season.
For Appalachian, they are lead by Armanti Edwards, whose resume speaks for itself. Edwards engineered three touchdown drives in the last nine minutes against Richmond to overcome a ten point deficit and lifted the Mountaineers to the next round of the FCS playoffs. Edwards was able to run with some efficiency against Richmond, despite a sloppy field. Edwards ran for 51 yards and two touchdowns on twelve carries. In the passing game, Edwards averaged over ten yards per completion and his only touchdown pass came with ten seconds remaining to Matt Cline for the winning score.
Appalachian balanced the offense against Richmond, as they accumulated 216 yards in the air and 228 on the ground against the nation’s twentieth ranked defense. It was the most yards and points Richmond had surrendered all season long. Devon Moore helped pave the way on the ground for the Mountaineers. Moore carried for 175 yards on 22 carries, including two touchdowns. It was the sixth time this season Moore had eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark. Moore also has run for multiple touchdowns six times this season. Moore has completed 17 touchdowns on the season.
Matt Cline has been the Mountaineers main receiving threat all season and the Richmond game was no different. Cline caught nine passes for 87 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown. Cline, who has been tagged as a possession receiver has 78 catches for 880 yards on the season. Brian Quick is the deep threat for the Mountaineers. A former high school basketball player, at 6’5” Quick can out jump any defender and is an easy target in the red zone and in the middle of the field. Quick has 51 catches for 847 yards and four touchdowns. In the absence of CoCo Hillary, Blake Elder has added 9 catches for 121 yards in the playoffs.
This game should be a classic. A game between two of the premier programs in the division is something fans of both schools have been waiting on for years. Both teams have dynamic offenses that can score points in bunches. The team that scores last, might punch their ticket to Chattanooga. However, the similarities do not carry over to the defensive side of the ball. Montana plays very soft coverage in the secondary, while ASU will play mostly man coverage. The Montana defense gives up 247 yards a game through the air, which ranks 104th nationally. Montana has also given up 20 passing touchdowns to its opponents, which also ranks near the bottom of the division. Montana is also in the bottom third of the division in sacks per game. Appalachian fans know the best way to defend the Appalachian passing game is to get in Armanti Edward’s face and force him to throw on his back foot. If Montana gives Edwards time to throw, he will take everything the Montana defense gives him. That could make for a long day for Montana, who has not faced a multiple spread offense all season long. Montana will have to keep up with Appalachian on the scoreboard. Montana has plenty of playmakers that can make that happen. Montana will need more then Marc Mariani catching passes. Appalachian cornerback Cortez Gilbert is one of the best cover corners in the nation and he is backed up by strong safety Mark Legree, who has 17 career interceptions. Montana needs to get their running backs active in the passing game early and see if they can work in some deep throws later in the game. Montana must sustain drives and keep the Appalachian offense off the field, which has been effective at times. Montana has had two very odd games in a row and they can not rest their laurels on a potential 40 point comeback or being given the football ten times. Appalachian will simply not let that happen. Montana has had the easier schedule of the two schools and I think that will pay off big time for Appalachian in the late stages of the game. Appalachian will get a lead and protect it with the running game. Montana has only faced an average of 30 rushing attempts a game this season, while Appalachian will hand it off close to 42 times per contest. This one will be won in the fourth quarter and Appalachian will advance to its fourth title game in five years.
The First Pick:
Care Bears 30