FCS Playoffs: South Dakota State at North Dakota State
FCS Semifinal-Round Playoff
The Matchup -- No. 5 seed South Dakota State (10-2) at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (13-0)
Kickoff -- 8 p.m. ET Friday at the Fargodome (19,000) in Fargo, North Dakota
Coverage -- ESPN2
Series -- North Dakota State leads 61-42-5 (last meeting: North Dakota State won 21-17 in Fargo on Sept. 29)
Coaches -- South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (158-99, 22 seasons); North Dakota State: Chris Klieman (67-6, five seasons)
3 Players to Watch -- South Dakota State: QB Taryn Christion (187 of 314, 2,840 yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs; 301 rushing yards, 6 TDs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (97 carries, 981 yards, 10.1-yard average, 10 TDs), LB Christian Rozeboom (94 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 takeaways); North Dakota State: QB Easton Stick (150 of 247, 2,385 yards, 409 rushing yards, 11 TDs), RB/KR Bruce Anderson (115 carries, 845 yards, 7 TDs; 111.1 all-purpose yards per game), LB Jabril Cox (84 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 INTs)
The Skinny -- Border rivals from the Missouri Valley Football Conference meet for the 109th time in the 14th most-played series among current FCS programs. North Dakota State eliminated South Dakota State from the playoffs in 2012, '14 and '16, but this is their first meeting in the semifinals. In the regular-season matchup, Stick accounted for all three NDSU touchdowns. Strong, SDSU's leading rusher, did not play in the game. SDSU ranks third in the FCS in scoring offense (44.3 ppg) and NDSU sixth (41.5), while NDSU is second in scoring defense (11.1) and SDSU 13th (20.5), which is up from 47th in 2017. No player commands NDSU's respect quite like Christion, who's played well in their previous matchups, including regular-season wins in 2016 and '17. He directs an offense that has scored in 25 straight quarters and 44 of 48 quarters -- plus an overtime session -- this season. His top targets are WRs Cade Johnson (64 receptions, 1,243 yards, 16 TDs) and Adam Anderson (46-702-7). Rozeboom had a 14-tackle performance in the quarterfinals at Kennesaw State, but left the game banged up. CB Jordan Brown figures to flank NDSU No. 1 WR Darrius Shepherd. NDSU is coming off its first playoff shutout since 2011 -- 35-0 over Colgate -- and 19th straight victory, moving within two wins of a record seventh FCS title in eight years. Fifth-year coach Chris Klieman is remaining on the sideline through the end of the Bison's playoff run although he accepted the Kansas State head coaching position Monday night. Their program appears to have done well to work around that distraction. The defense has 41 sacks, led by DE Greg Menard (8) and DT Cole Karcz (7½), but the Bison have to be prepared for Christion stepping out of trouble and getting upfield. The Bison have at least one interception in 12 straight games, including SS Robbie Grimsley with five. Stick fuels the offense as the second-most efficient QB in the FCS (171.2). His offensive line is second-to-none with C Tanner Volson (6-4, 306) and RT Zack Johnson (6-6, 316) earning first-team All-MVFC honors and LT Dillon Radunz (6-6, 299) named to the second team. Both teams have excellent kickers.
Up Next -- The winner will play No. 7 seed Maine (10-3) or No. 3 seed Eastern Washington (11-2) in the national championship game Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
Prediction -- The Jackrabbits are capable of pulling an upset, but the Bison are on a mission and playing their best football of the season. North Dakota State, 28-20.
Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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