By Brice Burge
#1 Minnesota Duluth vs. #4 Nebraska Kearney
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Bulldogs were given the top seed after a 10-1 season and an undefeated Northern Sun schedule. The Lopers are 11-1 after a come from behind victory against SVSU to win their first playoff game in 29 years. Both teams one loss came from non conference opponents: UMD losing to Central Washington (11-0 top seed in SR 4) and UNK losing to Wayne State College (8-3 NSIC). This will be the first matchup between the two teams.
KEY MATCHUP: Loper O vs. Bulldog D- It may sound like a cop out to put one side of the team against the other, but when UNK is putting up 475 ypg for the eighth most yards in the country and the Bulldogs are ranked fourth in total defense giving up only 276 ypg. Seven players for Kearney are on the first or second all RMAC teams and Robbie Aurich, NSIC defensive POTY, leads six players on the first team NSIC North. The overall depth that both these programs have on these respective sides of the ball will be great to watch.
PREDICTION: The awesome O against the dependable D almost always ends up with the defensive team coming up with the win, and usually pretty comfortably. Being the defending NCAA D2 champions on your home turf just continues to spell problems for the Lopers. UMD 35 UNK 17
#2 Grand Valley vs. #6 Hillsdale
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Lakers were given the first round bye after a 10-1 overall record and the GLIAC championship. The Chargers won on a Petro field goal in overtime on the road against MN State-Mankato. GVSU’s only loss came on the road at the Chargers homecoming 27-24, giving GLIAC fans the rematch they’ve been itching for, especially the Hillsdale fans; they’ve already bought out the visiting seating areas and some on the home side as well.
KEY MATCHUP: Panizzi (Hillsdale RB) vs. Grand Valley D-Line – Panizzi is the best power running back in the GLIAC by far. His ability to grind out first downs (Hillsdale is #1 in GLIAC for third down conversion) helps the Chargers dictate their pace. However GVSU leads the GLIAC in sacks and opponents third down conversion.
PREDICTION: Not many teams can come into Allendale and play well, ask Ashland. But this Charger team, led by GLIAC Coach of the Year, Keith Otterbein, will have a strong second half to make this game exciting. Grand Valley 31 Hillsdale 27