It was nearly impossible to catch your breath Saturday in the second round of the 2023 DII football championship. Underdogs rose to the top, come-from-behind wins stole the headlines, and fantastic finishes occurred in nearly every game as many went right down to the final whistle.
This has turned out to be a wild tournament thus far — one of the wildest in recent memory as a matter of fact. Two Super Regions are left without their No. 1 or No. 2 seed when just a year ago three Super Region finals were a matchup of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 seed. You have to go back to 2017 to find a quarterfinals that didn't have at least three No. 1 seeds in it. Before we move on to next week's great eight, let's see how we got here.
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Super Region One
Don't call it a comeback. Kutztown made program history, reeling off 15 unanswered points in the closing five minutes with touchdown runs by Darryl Davis-McNeil and Judd Novak to down No. 2 Charleston (WV) 32-31. It is the Golden Bears' 11th-straight victory and ties the program record for wins in the season. This one literally came down to the wire as the Golden Eagles lined up for a 51-yard field goal as time expired but simply couldn't connect in what is an instant Super Region One classic. The win puts Kutztown back in the quarterfinals after its most recent 2021 trip and sets up a rematch of the PSAC championship game.
Like two heavyweights, Slippery Rock and Tiffin dance around, feeling each other out in a scoreless first quarter before these two high-powered offenses exploded in the second quarter. The two teams exchanged four touchdowns in a three-minute span to open the second quarter, including a dandy of a 90-yard kickoff return by Slippery Rock to even the score at 14. The Slippery Rock offense built enough of a cushion to hold on and win 45-35 in a game most thought it would be. Both teams combined for 80 points and more than 1,300 yards. We now have a Super Region One final set up like last year: Shepherd lost to Indiana (PA) in the PSAC championship and avenged that loss in the quarterfinals to advance. Can Slippery Rock do the exact same thing and return to its first semifinals since 2019?
FB: TOUCHDOWN! Kylon Wilson breaks off a 90-yard kickoff return on the next play and we're tied at 14-14 with 10:27 to play in the 2nd. That's 4 touchdowns in less than 3 minutes. pic.twitter.com/5TwfOGtbAp— Rock Athletics (@Rock_Athletics) November 25, 2023
|333 pass, 2 TD, 33 rush
|102 rush, 1 TD, 13 receiving
|109 receiving, 1 TD
Super Region Two
Super Region Two has become a part of the bracket where No. 1 seeds are seemingly doomed. This is the case once again as Lenoir-Rhyne dominated one of the best statistical defenses in DII football, downing No. 1 Benedict 35-25. The Bears offense, which has been rolling pretty much all season, racked up 560 total yards of offense on a defense that was letting up right around 200 yards per game and now has 1,177 total yards and 98 points scored through two rounds in the 2023 tournament. Facing off against Valdosta State next week — a team that can score by the boatload but allows plenty of points defensively — should be another showcase for this high-powered offense.
Valdosta State is back in the quarterfinals for the third time in five years after taking down the No. 2-seeded Delta State Statesmen in a 38-31 thriller. This was another one that came down to the wire as quarterback Sammy Edwards led a 47-yard game-winning drive, connecting with B.K. Smith for the go-ahead score with just nine seconds left on the clock. The Blazers' defense was key, keeping all-universe quarterback Patrick Shegog in check, as he was strong on the ground (122 yards rushing and a touchdown) but only threw for 106 yards. This defense — one that is allowing 370.2 yards and 23.5 points per game — will have to execute next week to slow down the mighty Bears' offense but it should be one of the most fun games of the weekend — one that should come down to the final drive.
|347 pass, 50 rush, 3 total TD
|216 rush, 1 TD
|230 receiving, 3 TD
Super Region Three
We almost had just one No. 1 seed standing in the tournament as Central Missouri took No. 1 Harding the distance, with the Bisons prevailing 35-34. Mules' quarterback Zach Zebrowski connected with his favorite target all season, Arkell Smith, to make it 35-34 with just 22 seconds left, but Harding's Gage Price got his hand in the right spot and blocked the game-tying extra point, sealing the game and allowing Harding to advance. Both teams did exactly what they are known to do — Harding ran for 384 total yards and scored five rushing touchdowns, while Zebrowski went off once again, throwing for 425 yards and five touchdowns. Central Missouri ends its season 11-2 with both losses coming to top-five teams on failed extra-point conversions (Pittsburg State earlier in the season). Harding now has the longest winning streak in DII football at 16 games.
This sets up the only No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in this year's tournament as Grand Valley State prevailed against Pittsburg State, 24-21. Despite 45 points being scored, both defenses played very well and were the key to the game. Grand Valley State could have run away with this game with its defense forcing four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble), but the Gorillas defense didn't allow it to happen. Tariq Reid did most of the damage for the Lakers, rushing in two scores but it was Avery Moore's 5-yard scramble with 35 seconds left that punched the Lakers' ticket to the quarterfinals.
|425 pass, 5 TD, 94 rush
|154 rush, 2 TD
|150 receiving, 3 TD
Super Region Four
While Colorado School of Mines offense did what it is known to do, the defense was outstanding in its 56-10 victory over Augustana (SD). It held Jarod Epperson — a top 20 running back in DII football statistically speaking — to just eight yards and the Vikings to just six total yards rushing. On the offensive side of the ball, the dynamic duo of John Matocha and Max McLeod were locked in, as Matocha threw for 328 yards and three scores with McLeod catching 215 of those yards and two touchdowns. This team looks quite unstoppable and delivered the only unquestioned victory in a day of intense action.
Welcome to the ball, Central Washington. The Wildcats are the Cinderella of the 2023 tournament — the lone unseeded team still standing after its 21-17 victory over Bemidji State. It is Central Washington's first quarterfinals appearance since 2009. In yet another closely decided game, this one looked like it was going to be all Beavers, as Bemidji jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. From there, the Wildcats' defense clamped down, blanking the Beavers' offense for the final 47 minutes of play as quarterback Kennedy McGill took over to lead the charge. The Wildcats will have to hope their luck on the road continues against the Orediggers next week in what would be arguably the upset of the decade in DII football.
|Colorado School of Mines
|328 pass, 11 rush, 4 total TD
|88 rush, 135 pass, 2 total TD
|Colorado School of Mines
|215 receiving, 2 TD