The 2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoffs are down to the final four teams. Northwest Missouri State, Shepherd, North Alabama, and Ferris State are the four teams standing. Both games will be played on Saturday, December 10 to determine the National Championship participants and can be seen on ESPN3. An updated bracket can be found here.
The NCAA reseeded the teams after the quarterfinals to rank the teams one through four. The two higher-seeded teams will play at home for the semifinal round. The rankings are below.
1. Northwest Missouri State (13-0)
2. Shepherd (13-0)
3. North Alabama (10-1)
4. Ferris State (12-2)
After going 10-2 with our first round predictions, we regressed to 5-3 in the second round, however, we went 4-0 in the quarterfinals to give us a record of 19-5 after the first three rounds. Below are the predictions for the two semifinal games in order of when they start.
#3 North Alabama (10-1) at #2 Shepherd (13-0)
Game Time: 12 PM Eastern
North Alabama has played two games in the Division 2 Playoffs after getting a bye in the first round and they have two big wins. They defeated UNC Pembroke 41-17 in the second round after they pulled away with the final 31 points of the game. Jacob Tucker had 337 total yards and 4 touchdowns in the win. Their quarterfinal game was far easier as they held North Greenville to 181 yards of offense and forced 5 turnovers. Tucker had 296 total yards and 3 touchdowns on offense in the 38-0 win.
Shepherd has played three games and the offense has been strong in each one. In the first round, they defeated Assumption 48-31 at home after 317 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions from Jeff Ziemba. In the second-round game at LIU Post, Shepherd won 40-21 after keeping the Pioneers at bay for most of the game. Ziemba threw for 375 yards with 4 touchdowns (no picks) while Brandon Hlavach had 177 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing.
Shepherd’s quarterfinal game was also on the road and they were close to being run out of the building. They trailed 17-0 less than midway through the first quarter but responded with 21 straight points. They fell behind again at 30-21 but scored another 20 straight points to win 41-30. Ziemba threw for 200 yards with 3 touchdowns (1 pick) while Hlavach ran for 159 yards and a touchdown.
There are no surprises here. North Alabama will be led by Tucker on offense and their defense. Shepherd will be led by Ziemba passing and Hlavach running the ball. Ziemba did take a big hit late in the game so keep an eye on him to see how he plays early on. Shepherd averages 40.6 points and 328.3 passing yards per game while North Alabama allows 13.4 points 186.9 yards passing per game. That will be the matchup to watch.
Shepherd’s defense allows 18.6 points and 295.1 yards per game, but those numbers have been higher in the playoffs. The Rams have allowed 27.3 points and 340 yards per game in their three playoff contests. North Alabama should have success with Tucker.
This is such an intriguing game. Has North Alabama faced an offense like this since their season opener against FCS Jacksonville State? Can Shepherd get the defensive stops they need to win this game? Remember, Shepherd made the National Championship last year though it did not end very well for them.
We like Shepherd, with that playoff experience, to win a close game over North Alabama. The Rams win 34-31 to play in their second straight national championship.
#4 Ferris State (12-2) at #1 Northwest Missouri State (13-0)
Game Time: 3:30 PM Eastern
Ferris State started the first round at home against Midwestern State. They ran wild with 362 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground (5 by Trevor Bermingham alone) in their 65-34 win. In the second round, it was Bermingham again leading the way with 392 yards and 2 touchdowns passing along with 3 rushing touchdowns to a 38-17 win. In the quarterfinal, Ferris State defeated rival Grand Valley State on the road 47-32. Once again, Bermingham had a big day with 4 rushing touchdowns.
Northwest Missouri State had a bye in the first round and easily won their second-round game at home against Emporia State. They allowed negative 30 yards rushing that day in their 44-13 win. Their quarterfinal matchup was against run happy Harding and the Bearcats handled that quite well. Harding came into the game averaging 381.5 yards per game, but the Bearcats held them to 119 yards on 43 carries. Harding attempted only 6 passes all game, completed zero of those, and were picked off twice.
Ferris State will easily be the most challenging opponent Northwest Missouri State has faced in the playoffs. The Bulldogs average 493.3 yards per game (263.9 rushing and 229.4 passing) and put up 38.8 points per game. Their lowest output of the season was 410 yards against Findlay (242 yards rushing and 168 yards passing) when they won 20-17. Northwest Missouri State’s highest total yards allowed were 360 to Northeastern State. The Bearcats easily won 74-29 when they had 662 yards of offense themselves.
The Bearcats will be led by Kyle Zimmerman, who has 3,582 yards (69%) with 36 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions through the air. Phil Jackson (800 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Cameron Wilcox (583 yards and 11 touchdowns) will lead the rushing attack. Zimmerman also has 263 yards and 7 touchdowns rushing this year.
The Bearcats will focus on stopping the run. They allow 68.2 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs average 263.9 yards per game on the ground and have no shortage of options. Quarterback Reggie Bell has 1,156 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing (also 5 fumbles lost), Jahaan Brown has 952 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Bermingham has 405 yards and 18 touchdowns are all a threat.
We like Northwest Missouri State to win this game. If they can stop the run, they can feast on the Ferris State passing offense. However, if Ferris State can get the rushing attack going, this game may be close. The Bearcats win this game 31-17 and play for their third national championship in the past four seasons.
Check back next week for a preview of the 2016 Division 2 National Championship.