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2016 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview

Northwest Missouri State had a challenge against Ferris State in the Semifinals, but came through. They have one last test to pass to become back-to-back National Champions. (Dougal Brownlie/The St. Joseph News – Press via AP)

2016 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview

Just 60 minutes remain for the final two teams standing in the 2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoffs. North Alabama will meet Northwest Missouri State in the Championship Game on Saturday, December 17. This game will be played at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas with a kickoff time of 4 PM Eastern and can be seen on ESPN2.

Through four rounds, our predictions have gone 20-6. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (10-2)

Second Round Predictions (5-3)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Semifinal Predictions (1-1)

Below is the 2016 Division 2 National Championship Game preview and we will also provide a prediction for this matchup.

North Alabama Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated UNC Pembroke 41-17 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated North Greenville 38-0 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Shepherd 23-13 on the road

North Alabama Lions Preview

After an 8-1 regular season, North Alabama was given the top seed in their Super Regional. Their first game was against UNC Pembroke in the second round and they actually trailed 17-10 midway through the second quarter. They reeled off 31 straight points as Jacob Tucker accounted for 4 touchdowns (2 passing and 2 rushing). They had a much easier game in the Quarterfinals as they shut out North Greenville 38-0 with Tucker registering three more touchdowns (2 passing and 1 rushing).

Their semifinal game against Shepherd was impressive. They fell behind 7-0 after Shepherd’s first drive, but responded with the next 17 points. After two late first half field goals, North Alabama held a 20-10 halftime lead. The teams again traded field goals in the second half with North Alabama’s defense holding Shepherd to 105 yards of total offense in the final 30 minutes.

The Lions average 38.8 points and 437.8 yards per game on offense. The offense will go through Jacob Tucker who can pass or throw. He has thrown for 2,661 yards (61.1%) with 21 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Tucker has also ran for 902 yards and 16 touchdowns. Tucker has accounted for two-thirds of North Alabama’s offense and he will be the focal point for the Northwest Missouri State defense.

For all the praise Tucker gets, and he deserves much of it, there are other options on offense. Running backs Damon Cox (517 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Ray Beasley (431 yards and 4 touchdowns) will get some carries. The receiving duo of Dre Hall (75 catches for 1,132 and 9 touchdowns) and Julius Jones ( 44 catches for 686 yards) will be the top two targets for Tucker. UNA has 59 red zone trips on offense converting 49 of those into scores (42 touchdowns and 7 field goals).

The Lions’ defense has been very good this season. They allow 13.3 points and 309.9 yards per game (129.3 rushing and 180.7 passing). They have allowed opponents 31 trips inside the red zone and given up 25 scores. The silver lining in that is they have allowed only 11 touchdowns on those 31 red zone opportunities.

The defense will need to get penetration with the likes of E.J. Parnell (12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks), Sheldon Lewis (8 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks), and Darius Wright (7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks). If these guys are not getting pressure, then North Alabama will probably not have much of a chance to win this game.

In the secondary, Philbert Martial is a ballhawk with 6 picks along with 6 pass breakups. Dorsey Norris and James Rivers both have 3 interceptions while Maurice Carnell leads the team with 12 pass breakups.

Jeb Millender averages 37.7 yards per punt (45 on the season) with 16 ending inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. He will need to be in top form for the Lions. Kevin Henke had a solid season going 14 of 17 on field goals with a long of 50 yards.

Northwest Missouri State Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Emporia State 44-13 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Harding 35-0 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Ferris State 35-20 at home

Northwest Missouri State Bearcats Preview

Northwest Missouri State went 11-0 in the regular season and they dominated those 11 games. They won every game by double digits with the “closest” game being a 28-7 win over Fort Hays State. The Bearcats won their second round matchup against Emporia State where they allowed negative 30 yards rushing in a 44-13 win. Their Quarterfinal game was against run heavy Harding when they shut them out 35-0. They allowed 119 yards on the ground and of the six passes thrown by Harding, they picked off 2 of the passes.

The Semifinal game versus Ferris State was their toughest test yet. The Bulldogs made things very uneasy the entire game, but never reclaimed a lead after losing a 13-7 advantage midway through the second quarter. Ferris State came into the game averaging 493.3 yards per game, but were held to 284 yards by the Bearcats. Meanwhile, the Bearcats put up 415 yards despite an injury to starting quarterback Kyle Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was in a sling during the game and his loss would be devastating. The offense averages 41.4 points and 439.7 yards per game (286.9 passing and 152.8 rushing), but Zimmerman, a first year starters as a senior, has thrown for 3,663 yards (68.9%) with 36 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. The offense has had 74 red zone trips with 61 touchdowns and 10 field goals.

If Zimmerman cannot go, it will be down to Jonathan Baker (139 yards and 1 touchdown versus Ferris State) and Randy Schmidt to quarterback the offense. Schmidt is more of a wildcat type quarterback, which could give the Bearcats some change of pace in the backfield between their quarterbacks. Schmidt went 4 of 5 passing for 26 yards, but also ran for 71 yards and a score on 13 carries against Ferris State.

The rushing attack may see an increase in the amount of carries if Zimmerman is out. Along with Schmidt, Phil Jackson (845 yards and 9 touchdowns), and Cameron Wilcox (624 yards and 13 touchdowns) will need to step up to help out Baker.

The receivers for the Bearcats are Shawn Bane Jr. (31 catches for 707 yards and 10 touchdowns), Jordan Grove (54 catches for 587 yards and 5 touchdowns), and Dre Washington (42 catches for 582 yards and 4 touchdowns). They will be the options for whoever is behind center. George Sehl (32 catches for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns) was injured against Ferris State as well, which may give players like Shane Williams (35 catches for 420 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Bishop (23 catches for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns) a chance to see snaps.

The Bearcats defense is the strength of this team. They allow 12.7 points and 243.8 yards per game (172.8 passing and 71 rushing). The rush defense allows just 2.1 yards per carry, which will come in handy against a dual-threat quarterback like Jacob Tucker. They have allowed 28 red zone trips all year and have given up 19 scores (14 touchdowns and 5 field goals).

The defense is led by linebacker Jacob Vollstedt, who is be a beast. He has 130 tackles, which is 57 more than the second leading tackler (Cass Weitl). Not surprisingly, he leads the team with 24 tackles for loss and has 6 sacks (third most on the team). The sack leader is Collin Bevins at 8 while Weitl is just behind him with 7.5. The front four is menacing, but when you include Vollstedt, this group is imposing for any offense.

The secondary saw a loss against Ferris State when starting cornerback Marcus Jones went out. Jack Young leads the team with 6 interceptions while Kevin Berg has four and Jarrod Bishop has three. Anthony Lane has 18 pass breakups with Edward Richey at 11 and Berg at 8.

Matt Thorman averages 38.2 yards per punt (55 punts) and has put 16 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. Simon Mathiesen has converted 18 of his 21 field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards. The Bearcats will feel pretty comfortable with him at anything 40 yards or less if the weather is cold.

Prediction

This game provides us an interesting story line. In 2015, the Bearcats faced a team that had an injury at quarterback coming into the National Championship. The Bearcats easily won that game and have won two of the previous three Division 2 National Championships. Overall, Northwest Missouri State is 5-4 in National Championship games and all 10 appearances have happened since 1998.

As for North Alabama, they have been here before, it has just been a while. They played in, and won, three straight title games between 1993 and 1995. They are 3-1 overall in the National Championship game (lost in 1985 to North Dakota State).

This game will come down to Jacob Tucker against the tough Northwest Missouri State defense. He will need to have success with the run, which will not be easy. As of posting, both Kyle Zimmerman and Collin Bevins are questionable for this game. Even if Zimmerman does not play, we like Northwest Missouri State here because the defense will overwhelming. The Bearcats take this game 23-10 to win their third title in the last four years and sixth National Championship in school history.

2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoff Quarterfinal Predictions

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2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoff Quarterfinal Predictions

Eight teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 NCAA Division 2 National Championship including all the top seeds in each Super Region. An updated bracket can be found here via the NCAA’s website.

After going 10-2 with our first round predictions, we regressed to 5-3 in the second round. Below are the predictions for the each of Quarterfinal games.

Super Regional One (California, PA)

#3 Shepherd (12-0) at #1 California (PA)

Game Time: 1 PM Eastern

Shepherd won their opening round game over Assumption 48-31 by building a solid halftime lead of 28-16. They did the same thing in round 2 against LIU Post (26-7 at half), but their offense was unstoppable with 591 yards (375 passing and 216 rushing). Jeff Ziemba threw for all 375 yards with 4 touchdowns and no picks while Brandon Hlavach had 177 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.

California had a bye in the first round and they even fell behind 17-0 to Indiana (PA) after 7 seconds into the second quarter. That was no problem as they outscored the Hawks 44-6 the rest of the game to win 44-23. Michael Keir threw for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns with no picks to lead the Vulcans.

Both teams have potent offenses with California averaging 51.4 points and 458.5 yards per game while Shepherd averages 40.6 points and 480.4 yards per game. Both defenses give up less than 300 yards and 20 points per game.

We know that Shepherd’s chances go through quarterback Jeff Ziemba. He has only five interceptions on the season with 68.3% completions and when he is passing the ball well, the offense is very difficult to stop. Consider that Ziemba’s worst game last year was the National Championship against Northwest Missouri State. He played hurt, the Bearcats zoned in on him, and he just could not get much going. He finished 11 of 16 for 136 yards with a touchdown and a pick. In addition, if Brandon Hlavach can have another big rushing game, the offense will probably have 40+ points.

California will be led by quarterback Michael Keir. Keir has 2,953 yards (65.6%) with 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year. The offense was not overwhelming with 364 total yards, but they did not turn the ball over and converted all six of their red zone attempts against Indiana (PA).

This should be a good game and we will go with Shepherd on the strength of Ziemba and the team’s playoff experience. We will take the Rams to win 34-30.

Super Regional Two (North Alabama)

#6 North Greenville (9-4) at #1 North Alabama (9-1)

Game Time: 1 PM Eastern

North Greenville opened the playoffs with an impressive 27-13 win over Florida Tech on the road. They scored 24 points in the final 30 minutes and forced three interceptions. In round 2, the Crusaders had a 28 point first quarter and cruised to a 45-26 win over Tuskegee. Will Hunter threw for 272 yards with 3 touchdowns (1 pick) and the offense had 239 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground.

North Alabama had a bye in round one and last week took care of UNC Pembroke 41-17 at home. UNA actually trailed 17-10 midway through the second quarter after Pembroke defense recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Jacob Tucker had 284 yards with 2 touchdowns and a pick along with 53 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead the offense while Dre Hall had 9 catches for 135 yards and a score.

This is a rematch of the October 22nd game that North Alabama won 52-21. That game was close at halftime with UNA holding a 24-14 lead. Tucker ended up having a field day with 510 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns. Dre Hall had 10 catches for 162 yards and a score as well.

North Alabama has both the better offense and defense. The questions are can Greenville play defense well enough and can the offense score enough points? That is a tough task and we like North Alabama to win this game 45-28.

Super Regional Three (Northwest Missouri State)

#3 Harding (13-0) at #1 Northwest Missouri State (12-0)

Game Time: 2 PM Eastern

Harding opened the playoffs with a 48-31 over Central Missouri thanks to 355 rushing yards as a team. Park Parish accounted for 291 yards of total offense with 3 touchdowns. They needed overtime in the second round to defeat Sioux Falls 27-24. Harding erased a 10 point deficit in the final 5 minutes.

Northwest Missouri State had a bye in the first round and then easily dispatched Emporia State 44-13 in the second round. They held Emporia State to -30 yards rushing and gave up 327 yards through the air.

This game will come down to the Bearcats rush defense against Harding’s vaunted rush offense. Harding averages 381.5 yards per game on the ground while Northwest Missouri State allows only 63.9 yards per game. Only once all year have the Bearcats allowed more than 100 yards rushing and that came against Lindenwood. The Bearcats won that game 47-12.

It is not hard to envision how this will go. The Bearcats will load up the box to stop the run and it will force Harding to pass the ball. Harding has a grand total of 828 yards passing this year so it could be a disaster of a game if they have to throw a lot. Harding may hit 100 yards on the ground, but that will not be enough. The Harding defense will need to limit the Bearcats on offense and create turnovers resulting in short fields. The Bearcats have just 11 turnovers all season (7 lost fumbles and 4 interceptions).

We like Northwest Missouri State to win this contest rather easily. The Bearcats maul Harding 38-7 at home.

Super Regional Four (Grand Valley State)

#2 Ferris State (11-2) at #1 Grand Valley State (12-0)

Game Time: 1 PM Eastern

Ferris State opened the playoffs with a resounding 65-34 win over Midwestern State. Trevor Bermingham had 252 yards of total offense with five rushing touchdowns and there were two defensive interceptions returned for touchdowns as well. Round two was a more pedestrian game in a 38-17 victory. Colorado Mines was still within a touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, but a passing and rushing touchdown from Bermingham (392 yards passing, 44 yards rushing, and five total touchdowns) made it a flattering scoreline in the end.

Grand Valley State had a bye the opening round and then blew the doors off Texas A&M-Commerce in the second half to win 55-32 in the second round. The offense had 598 yards with 311 yards passing from Bart Williams (4 touchdowns and 1 pick) and 217 yards rushing by Marty Carter (1 touchdown).

Here we have yet another regular season rematch occurring in the playoffs. These two teams met on October 8 at Grand Valley State and the outcome was 35-23 in favor of GVSU. The Lakers took a 28-6 lead into halftime while Ferris State closed the deficit to 28-23 midway through the fourth quarter. A Williams to Nick Dodson 39 yard touchdown pass iced the game.

In that game, Ferris State dominated offensively. They had 29 first downs (21 for GVSU), 201 yards rushing (118 for GVSU), and 369 yards passing (232 for GVSU). Ferris State had five turnovers to 3 for the Lakers. It was the missed opportunities for Ferris State that proved to be the difference.

Ferris State missed a field goal, had two drives end inside the GVSU red zone (one due to a lost fumble and the other due to a turnover on downs), and had an interception result in a defensive touchdown for Grand Valley State.

Reggie Bell was at quarterback for Ferris State that day and he threw for 343 yards with 2 touchdowns, rushed for 140 yards, but also had 2 interceptions and 2 lost fumbles. Bell has been hampered by injuries, which has led to Bermingham taking over. No matter who is playing at quarterback, if Ferris State commits five turnovers again then it may be another bitter loss to their instate rival.

This could be a shootout. Yes the defenses are good, but there are playmakers on both offenses. Bell, Bermingham, or even Jahaan Brown (866 rushing yards with 7 touchdown) for Ferris State will be up against Bart Williams (3,024 yards passing with 30 touchdowns and 10 picks) and running back Marty Carter (1,807 yards with 19 touchdowns).

We like Ferris State to get revenge and win over their Michigan rivals. The Bulldogs will not turn the ball over as much and the offense will racking up yardage. In a close game, Ferris State wins 45-42.

Picks

The four predicted winners are Shepherd, North Alabama, Northwest Missouri State, and Ferris State.

Check back next week for the semifinal predictions for the 2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoffs.