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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.

Northwest Missouri State Dominates Shepherd For Title

Northwest Missouri State dominated Shepherd 34-7 to win their 5th Division 2 Football National Championship (Brian Davidson/Kansas City Star)
Northwest Missouri State dominated Shepherd 34-7 to win their 5th Division 2 Football National Championship (Brian Davidson/Kansas City Star)

Northwest Missouri State Dominates Shepherd For Title

The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats have won their fifth Division 2 National Championship after crushing the Shepherd Rams 34-7. The defense recorded 10 sacks against Jeff Ziemba and stifled the Rams offensively.

The game could not have started any worse for Shepherd and any better for Northwest Missouri State. The first play from scrimmage for Shepherd resulted in a high snap over Ziemba’s head and was recovered by Northwest Missouri State’s Cass Weitl. Two plays later, Jordan Grove had an easy 1 yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 just 47 seconds into the game.

The Rams had a nice start to their next drive with Ziemba connecting on a 37 yard pass to Billy Brown, but the drive stalled after that big play. The Bearcats would lose a fumble on the next drive, but Shepherd could not take advantage going three and out. The next drive for Shepherd had promise with the Rams driving to the Northwest Missouri State 35 yard line. However, one of the Bearcats’ 10 sacks, this one by Collin Bevins, forced a punt.

The Rams had great field position again on the following drive after forcing the Bearcats to punt from their own four yard line. Once again, Bevins sacked Ziemba for a loss and led to a punt. The Bearcats offense would finally get the big play with Brady Bolles finding Jordan Grove wide open beyond the safety for a 76 yard pass play. Bolles would finish the drive with a play action pass to Shane Williams from a yard out for a 14-0 lead.

The Bearcats got the ball back with over 4 minutes remaining in the first half and were able to drive for a field goal to make it 17-0. The Bearcats would have been content with that lead, but a big return on the ensuing kickoff by Ben Trewyn gave Shepherd a good opportunity for points. That ended quickly as Ziemba’s pass was picked off by Bryce Enyard and returned 59 yards for a touchdown. The Bearcats led 24-0 at half and they did not let off the gas in the second half.

Northwest Missouri State marched down the field to start the second half, but missed a 39 yard field goal. That gave some momentum to Shepherd, which turned that miss into a touchdown with Ziemba and Brown connecting on a 21 yard score. That made it 24-7, but the Bearcats put together a 5 minute drive that resulted in a 22 yard field goal by Simon Mathiesen to make it 27-7. The defense came up with another third down sack to prevent any chance of the Shepherd offense scoring on back-to-back possessions.

The Northwest Missouri State offense salted the game away and went up 34-7 thanks to another 1 yard touchdown by Jordan Grove. Grove had 3 rushes on the game for only 2 yards, but two of those carries went for touchdowns. He also had a 45 yard pass completion to Dre Washington to set up the field position that led to the 22 yard field goal. Then there was his receiving stats, which were 5 catches for 104 yards.

The duo of Phil Jackson (21 carries for 109 yards) and Cameron Wilcox (12 carries for 58 yards) led the rushing attack for the Bearcats. Brady Bolles went 20 of 27 for 233 yards and a touchdown while Shawn Bane was the second leading receiver with 6 grabs for 64 yards. Northwest Missouri State had 462 yards of offense and went 7 of 14 on third down.

Shepherd could not get much going on offense as noted by their 97 total yards of offense. They had 136 yards passing from Jeff Ziemba, who was playing through an injured AC joint, but finished with negative 39 yards rushing thanks to all the sacks. Allen Cross was the top rusher for the Rams with 11 carries for 27 yards while Billy Brown was easily the top receiver with 6 catches for 95 yards and the lone Shepherd touchdown. The Rams went 3 of 12 on third down and finished with only 7 first downs for the entire game.

The Bearcats had 10 total sacks in the game with Collin Bevins leading the way with 4 of his own. Brock Sherman and Jacob Vollstedt each had two while Brandon Yost and Nicholas Turner had one apiece.

This was the first appearance in the Division 2 National Championship game for Shepherd while Northwest Missouri State was making their ninth appearance. The Bearcats have won 3 of the last 7 Division 2 National Titles after also winning in 2009 and 2013. They are currently the winningest team in Division 2 in terms of National Championships while North Dakota State also has five but play at the FCS level. Head coach Adam Dorrel was in charge of the 2013 squad and has now won two National Titles.

2015 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview

NCAA Football logo

2015 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview

Just two teams remain standing in the 2015 NCAA Division 2 football season. Shepherd and Northwest Missouri State both enter this game undefeated and one of them will come up just short of their goal for the 2015 season. This game will be played at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas at 4 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN2 Saturday, December 19. An updated bracket can be found here.

We have made predictions for every round of the 2015 NCAA Division 2 Playoffs and have been slightly above .500. The record in round one was 6-6, the second round produced a 6-2 record, the Quarterfinals provided a 2-2 record, and we went 1-1 in the Semifinals. The overall record is 15-11 heading into the Division 2 National Championship.

Below is the 2015 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview as well as a prediction for the game.

Shepherd Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Indiana (PA) 17-13 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Slippery Rock 28-16 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Grand Valley State 34-32 at home

Shepherd Rams Preview

As noted above, each team had a bye before playing three straight home games. Shepherd had the tougher time in the three games with all games relatively close. They had to survive against Grand Valley State after leading 34-19 with 6 minutes left to play. A tip by the defensive lineman on the two point pass allowed the Rams to hang on for the win.

Shepherd enters this game 13-0 on the season while averaging nearly 40 points and 417 yards per game on offense. The Rams have scored at least 40 points on 9 different occasions in 2015, but they have not scored more than 35 points in their three playoff contests. The offense converts on 48% of their third down attempts (86 of 179) and have converted on 52 of their 59 red zone trips (88%).

The quarterback situation is a bit uncertain for Shepherd. Jeff Ziemba is the usual starter, but he was hurt on the Rams’ first possession in the Semifinals and did not return. In his absence, Connor Jessop came in and went 15 of 20 for 173 yards with 2 touchdowns and no picks. The running game will be led by the duo of Allen Cross and Jabre Lolley. Cross has ran for 989 yards with 10 touchdowns while Lolley has 670 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Those two may be leaned on again if Ziemba cannot start.

The top receiving threat for the Rams is Billy Brown who has 83 catches for 1,397 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2015. The second leading receiver, Tony Squirewell, has a steep drop off in production with 49 catches for 659 yards and 6 touchdowns. Dalton Boyd has only 4 catches for 52 yards in the Playoffs, but has shown the ability to pop up with a solid game during the season.

The defense gives up an average of 17.7 points per game as they have allowed 17 points or less in 8 different games. They have intercepted 16 passes and recovered 10 fumbles, which is 2 turnovers forced per game. The defense allows just under 300 yards per game at 298.4 yards and does a great job on third down allowing only a 29% conversion rate. The red zone defense has been decent allowing only 30 trips, but giving up 19 touchdowns on those trips.

The leading tackler for Shepherd has been Keon Robinson with 79 total tackles, but a trio of other players could wreak havoc. Shanell Jenkins leads the team with 22 tackles for loss including 12.5 sacks. Myles Humphrey (5 sacks) and Isaiah Ross (6.5 sacks) both have 12 tackles for loss apiece. Adam Coles is the top defensive back with 5 interceptions and is third on the team in pass breakups with 10.

Shepherd gave up a season high in passing yardage last week with 334 yards and 3 touchdowns to Grand Valley State. Their third highest total was also in the Playoffs in the Quarterfinal game against Slippery Rock with 253 yards and one touchdown through the air.

The special teams will be led by kicker Ryan Earls who is 18 of 23 on the season with a long of 41 yards. He has had only 1 kick blocked and also performs the kick off duties.

Northwest Missouri State Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Humboldt State 54-7 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Emporia State 38-17 at home

Semifinals: Defeated West Georgia 38-23 at home

Northwest Missouri State Bearcats Preview

Northwest Missouri State had easy wins in the first two games, but nearly blew a 24-6 halftime lead against West Georgia. They lead 24-23 with 4:30 left in the game before a quick strike on offense and a pick six on defense sealed their trip to Kansas City.

Northwest Missouri State is 14-0 heading into the National Championship with the offense putting up 42 points and 438 yards per game. The offense scored put up at least 38 points 9 times in 2015 including all three games in the playoffs. The offense converts 46% of their third downs (106 of 229) and has 75 trips inside the red zone. They have converted 69 of those 75 trips (92%) with 48 of those going for touchdowns.

The offense is headed by Brady Bolles at quarterback. He has thrown for 3,748 yards with 29 touchdowns, but also has been picked off 9 times. In the three playoff contests, Bolles has thrown for 840 yards with 7 touchdowns against one interception. Bolles can take off when need, as shown by his 100 rushing attempts for 235 yards and 7 touchdowns, but his first choice is to pass.

Phil Jackson leads the team in rushing on the season with 842 yards and 14 touchdowns on 170 carries, but has not been as effective in the Playoffs with 41 carries for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 3 games. Cameron Wilcox is the second leading rusher with 398 yards and 3 touchdowns. In the Playoffs, he has 29 carries for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns despite seeing less action than Jackson.

The top Bearcat receiver is Shawn Bane with 1,143 yards and 8 touchdowns on 76 receptions. The second third, and fourth leading receivers all have similar stats around 500 yards. George Sehl has 29 catches for 517 yards and 7 touchdowns, Shane Williams has 34 catches for 513 yards, and Jordan Grove has 42 grabs for 493 yards and 7 touchdowns. Even Clayton Wilson (32 catches for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Dre Washington (27 catches for 250 yards) can come off the sideline and be part of the passing game.

Northwest Missouri State’s strength is on defense as they have allowed less than 13 points per game including 8 games where they have surrendered 13 points or less. The rush defense is where the Bearcats are strongest giving up only 66 yards per game while the total defense allowed per game is at 233. The Bearcats allow opposing offenses to convert only 24% of their third downs and only 23 red zone trips the entire season. However, of those 23 trips, they have allowed scores on 21 of those 23 trips.

The Bearcats defense also likes to force turnovers. They have recorded 25 interceptions with three of those returned for touchdowns. Kevin Berg has 8 of those picks while he recorded six interceptions in a three game stretch in October. 15 fumbles have also been recovered by the Bearcats.

Jacob Vollstedt has been a tackling machine for the defense with 110 total tackles including 15 for loss and 11 sacks. Collin Bevins leads the team with 22.5 tackles for loss with 11.5 sacks, Brandon Yost has 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, and Brock Sherman has 13 tackles for loss with one sack. Cass Weitl has managed to record 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as well.

The Northwest Missouri State defense has allowed some passing yardage in the Playoffs in their last two games. Against Emporia State in the Quarterfinals, they gave up 324 yards and a touchdown as well as 93 yards and a score on the ground. Against West Georgia last week, they allowed 289 yards and 2 touchdowns and 104 yards on the ground. The majority of West Georgia’s yardage came in the second half after trailing by three scores.

Simon Mathiesen has connected on 23 of 28 field goals for Northwest Missouri State with a long of 46 yards and no field goals blocked.

Prediction

There are stark differences between these two programs in the National Championship. Shepherd has never made the Championship Game prior to this year with their best finish being in the Semifinals back in 2010. However, Shepherd has only been in Division 2 Football since 1994.

Northwest Missouri State has won 4 National Championships in 1998, 1999, 2009, and 2013. They have also played in four other National Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) but lost each of those four contests by a touchdown or less.

What makes this game interesting is that Shepherd may or may not have their starting quarterback. If Shepherd tries to rely on their run game to open up the passing lanes, then Northwest Missouri State could have strong success. However, Shepherd may be able to pass the ball even without Ziemba. The offense for Northwest Missouri State should be able to have success as well led by their passing game and Brady Bolles. The run game, while not the best, could come in handy on short yardage plays.

We will take Northwest Missouri State to win the 2015 NCAA Division 2 National Championship by a score of 34-21.