Numbers Never Lie: SDSU's Zenner steals opening round
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Associate
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The game was all knotted up at halftime, 7-7 between South Dakota State and Northern Arizona before SDSU running back Zach Zenner shifted into high gear.
Each team's star running back - Zenner of South Dakota State and Zach Bauman of Northern Arizona - had already eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the game by the midway point of Saturday night's FCS first-round playoff game.
But it seemed like only Zenner returned to the field for the second half. He finished the game with 249 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. South Dakota State won, 26-7.
The junior Jackrabbits rusher, who finished the regular season second in the nation in rushing yards behind Towson's Terrance West, scored a touchdown in the third quarter and more than doubled his first-half production.
He scored on running plays of 87 yards (second quarter) and 34 yards (third quarter). His 249 yards on the ground accounted for more than half of the team's total offensive production.
Meanwhile, Bauman, who had 104 yards at halftime, went backwards in the second frame. He finished the day with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown, but also was tackled in his own end zone for a safety. The senior finished his career as one of nine players in FCS history to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons.
The Jackrabbits will move on to face another Big Sky Conference opponent next Saturday - the Big Sky champion Eastern Washington and "Big Play VA," Vernon Adams.
Here are some other numbers that stood out in the first round of the FCS playoffs:
This In the FCS Huddle writer correctly predicted the winner of all eight first-round playoff matchups, and additionally the winners of the annual Turkey Day Classic between Alabama State and Stillman, and the Bayou Classic featuring Southern and Grambling State.
DEFENSE DOMINATES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
The Wildcats routed Patriot League champion Lafayette, 45-7, but not by means of an overwhelming offense.
Always known as a powerful offensive team, New Hampshire sacked Lafayette quarterbacks 10 times in Durham for a total of 75 sack yards. In all, the Wildcats recorded 14 tackles for loss against the Leopards for 87 yards.
New Hampshire will face Maine for the second time in three weeks next weekend.
On the Lafayette side, the Leopards attempted 38 rushes against New Hampshire and finished with a 1.9 yards-per-carry average. The total was weighted down a bit, as freshman quarterback Drew Reed was credited with 15 carries for minus-60 yards - a minus-4 per-carry average - due to the sacks.
TIME OF POSSESSION IS NO CONCERN
Coastal Carolina defeated Bethune-Cookman in the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row, and the Chanticleers didn't do it this year by possessing the football.
The Chants had the ball for just 22 minutes, 14 seconds, but still managed to rattle off 48 points on one of the nation's top total defenses. Bethune- Cookman, on the other hand, had control of the ball for 37:46. For Coastal, it helped that the shortest scoring play on the day was an 8-yard Lorenzo Taliaferro run. All other scoring plays came from at least 17 yards out.
The Wildcats had their best day passing on the season, but not an overly spectacular one running the ball. In a run-first offense, Bethune-Cookman quarterbacks Quentin Williams and Brodrick Waters combined to throw for 304 yards - the most passing yards the team has accumulated in a game this season.
DEFENSE IS NO SURPRISE FOR TENNESSEE STATE
Tennessee State defensive back Daniel Fitzpatrick recorded two interceptions in his team's win over Pioneer Football League's Butler Saturday - one of which he returned for a touchdown. The Tigers beat up on the Bulldogs, 31-0.
Fitzpatrick leads the nation with eight interceptions this season - three of which have been returned for touchdowns by the junior. He's totaled 140 interception return yards on the season.
Representing the Pioneer Football League for the first time in FCS history, Butler struggled to gain any momentum against a very strong Ohio Valley Conference opponent. The Bulldogs gained just 14 first downs and went 0-for-4 on fourth-down conversion tries. Last season's PFL Offensive Player of the Year Matt Lancaster threw three interceptions in Butler's loss.
WITH NEBRICH? NO PROBLEM
Fordham junior quarterback Michael Nebrich is a Walter Payton Award candidate for very good reason: he's an extremely talented quarterback. Once again Saturday, he proved that fact.
Nebrich completed 32-of-51 pass attempts for 413 yards and three touchdowns while adding a fourth score on the ground. Five of the six Rams players who caught a Nebrich pass hauled in at least four receptions Saturday, with three of them (Sam Ajala, Brian Wetzel and Dan Light) catching at least seven passes.
The Rams ended Sacred Heart's stellar season, though there is certainly hope in years to come for the Pioneers. Junior running back Keshaudas Spence finished Saturday's game with 194 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, which marks the sixth time in Sacred Heart's last seven games Spence has rushed for over 100 yards.
HOLLOMAN SAVES THE DAY
Furman, the Southern Conference automatic bid qualifier, only accounted for 12 first downs against a tough South Carolina State defense, but still pulled out a 30-20 victory.
That's thanks in large part to sophomore cornerback Jairus Holloman, who returned a punt 90 yards in the first quarter for a touchdown, and then a 34- yard interception return for a score in the third.
The Bulldogs held Furman to 2-of-10 on third down attempts and to 67 passing yards on the day, but couldn't generate enough offense to keep up.
RUSHING ATTACK GROUNDS THUNDERBIRDS
Sam Houston State proved it deserves to be back in the FCS playoffs seeking a third straight run at the national championship game with a 51-20 drubbing of Southern Utah.
The Bearkats accumulated 355 rushing yards and scored five rushing touchdowns against the Thunderbirds. That included a lot of Timothy Flanders, who rushed for 176 yards and two scores on 22 carries. Keshawn Hill also scored twice on the ground, and quarterback Brian Bell went over 100 rushing yards with a touchdown run.
It was a tough day for Southern Utah, especially when receiver Chris Robinson notably returned six kickoffs for 117 yards. The Bearkats got on the board so early and often that Robinson was asked to do a lot in the return game. He averaged 19.5 yards per return.
JACKSONVILLE STATE GETS GOING EARLY
Jacksonville State was merciless against Samford as the Gamecocks pulled off the most lopsided win of the first round, 55-14.
The Gamecocks jumped out ahead 38-0 as teams finished the first half, and a Telvin Brown 67-yard run to start the third quarter made it 45-0. How does a team come back from that? Jacksonville State's offense accounted for 367 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns against Samford.
Bulldogs quarterback Andy Summerlin, who was named the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year by SoCon media members, struggled mightily. He completed just 7-of-24 passes (29.2 percent). Only two of the seven pass catchers had more than one reception for the Bulldogs.
TURNOVERS TOPPLE LUMBERJACKS
With Zenner's help, South Dakota State gained 343 of the team's 399 total offensive yards on the ground in the win over Northern Arizona. Quarterback Austin Sumner was barely needed, as the junior signal caller threw for just 56 yards on four completions.
But it was turnovers that killed Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks turned the ball over four times - three of which were interceptions thrown by quarterback Kyren Poe. And Bauman's safety gave the Jackrabbits a 9-7 lead in the third quarter - one they did not relinquish.
South Dakota State's defense has 32 turnovers gained in 13 games this season.
12/01 12:37:40 ET