Matchup: On Saturday at 3:o0 P.M. Eastern Time, the Minnesota State Mavericks will welcome the Concord University Mountain Lions to Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato, MN for their semifinal match in the NCAA Division-II playoffs. The Mavericks enter the contest as the No. 1 team in the final regular season D2Football poll, while Concord finished No. 12.
Minnesota State went 11-0 in the regular season, winning the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. They had a bye in the first round of the playoffs. In the second round they won in overtime over Pittsburgh State 24-21, before dominating Minnesota-Duluth 44-17 last weekend.
Concord also finished 11-0, winning the Mountain East Conference title. They, too, had a first round bye, and in the second round they defeated West Chester University in a shootout 51-36. Last weekend they narrowly won over Bloomsburg University 32-26 to advance to the semifinals.
Minnesota State Offense vs. Concord Defense
Minnesota State Offense: 42.5 points per game, 250.2 yards rushing per game, 206.8 yards passing per game.
Concord Defense: 21.1 points allowed per game, 129.6 yards rushing allowed per game, 239.1 yards passing allowed per game.
Nick Pieruccini began the season as the team’s quarterback, but this is Ricky Lloyd’s team now. Both will see action however. Each of these young men can make plays with their arm and with their legs. Lloyd has passed for 1452 yards with 16 touchdowns and has a 59.6 percent completion rating. Pieruccini has passed for 1192 yards and 12 TDs and has completed 64.6 percent of his passes. On the ground Pieruccini rushed for 527 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Lloyd adds 258 and four scores.
Junior tailback Connor Thomas leads the Mavericks attack. The 5-11, 205 pound junior has rushed for 1262 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He has an outstanding 5.8 yards per carry average as well. Thomas is very quick, and runs well between the tackles. Backing him up is Andy Pfeiffer. The 6-1, 210 pound senior has 666 yards rushing this season and 8 touchdowns.
Seven players had at least 11 catches on this team, led by Dorian Buford with 53 receptions for 908 yards and 15 touchdowns. At 6-1, 190, the senior is quick and has good size on jump balls. He has an outstanding 17.1 yards per catch average. This is also true of Austin Reider, whose 18.3 yards per catch average leads the team. He has 32 catches this season for 585 yards and 7 touchdowns. TE Bryce Duncan is a smart player who knows how to get open. He has 6 touchdown receptions this season.
The Mavericks have an experienced offensive line that has great size and speed. Seven or eight guys could start on this line with no drop-off. They are all very talented.
Linebacker Nick Ortiz leads a very talented Mountain Lions defense. The junior leads the team in tackles (82) and sacks (6). He is incredibly quick and reacts well to plays. Derrick Johnson is incredibly difficult to throw against, and will match up against Buford for most of the afternoon. He leads the team with 7 interceptions and has 23 pass breakups/defenses. On the other side is CB Jeremiah Johnson who has 4 interceptions and 38 pass breakups/defenses. Add in Mike Carey (4 picks, 22 pass defenses/breakups), and it is easy to see that this is a secondary that does not give up a lot of yards. Junior defensive lineman Ervin Moore is tied for the team lead in sacks, and senior Anthony Pyle adds 5 more.
Overall, this is a very opportunistic defense. They get great pressure (32 sacks), tackle well and force teams to make mistakes. Concord has 22 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries so far this season.
Concord Offense vs. Minnesota State Defense
Concord Offense: 44.6 points per game, 211.3 yards per game rushing, 278.8 yards per game passing.
Minnesota State Defense: 12.8 points allowed per game, 111.8 yards rushing allowed per game, 188.8 yards passing allowed per game.
The Concord Mountain Lions have an absolutely incredible offense, led by running back Calvinaugh Jones. The 5-9, 200 pound junior is fifth in the country in rushing with 1736 yards and has scored 12 times. He is also very difficult to tackle as his 6.7 yards per carry average attests. Jamal Petty backs up Jones and does it quite well. The freshman has rushed for 665 yards and 6 touchdowns on 113 carries.
Sophomore Brian Novak is quickly establishing himself as one of the most dominant quarterbacks in Division-II. With 3511 yards passing he ranks in the top 15, and he has thrown 33 touchdowns passes. His 177.7 passer efficiency is No. 1, but he has thrown 12 interceptions. He simply cannot afford mistakes in this contest.
Seven different Mountain Lions caught at least 11 passes, led by T.J. Smith. The freshman wide out has clicked with Novak quickly, leading the team with 49 receptions for 13 touchdowns. Paired with Ryan Stewart (640 yards receiving and 12 TDs) the two are incredible deep threats. Smith has a yards per catch average of 23.3 and Stewart is at 22.9. These two are very tough to defend, have great speed, and are great route runners.
Concord has a smaller offensive line compared to the Mavericks, but they are very quick and have great technique. It is also a young line, with only one senior and two juniors, but they have matured well, and are a unit that works well together.
Minnesota State has a very opportunistic defense. They are relentless in the way they pursue the quarterback (38 sacks) and make things happen. They have 23 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries.
DE Josh Gordon is a high-motor lineman who is only 6-2, 250 but plays like he is Reggie White. The junior has 16.5 sacks this season, and is second on the team with 73 tackles. He has also forced five fumbles, recovering three of them, and has batted down 10 passes. He is a complete beast along the defensive line.
LB Tyler Henderson can do it all. He has 4.5 sacks, 9 pass defenses and leads the team in tackles with 110. Nathan Hancock, Rob Myers, Cory Brent, Justin Otto, and Rumeal Harris form one of the best secondaries in the country. Hancock leads the team with 5 interceptions, Harris has four and 26 pass defenses/breakups, and Myers, and Otto each have 3 interceptions.
Coaches: Todd Hoffner vs. Garin Justice
Todd Hoffner is in his fifth season as the head coach at Minnesota State. He has a 47-13 career record, and this is his third trip to the post-season. The Mavericks were floundering before his arrival, and he has turned this team into one of the most formidable in Division-II.
Coach Justice is in his fourth season as the head coach at Concord University and has had a winning record every year. His career record is 35-11, and this year the Mavericks won their first playoff game in school history.
Outlook: Concord University has an outstanding offense, and they are doing it with a lot of younger players. They have an outstanding defense and know how to take advantage of the mistakes that opponents make. Minnesota State has one of the best defenses in the country, and their offense is a quality group. While the Mavericks are at home, Concord simply looks like the better team, as long as they can contain Gordon. I believe they will in this contest. Take the Mountain Lions 31-27.
By Robert Pannier