CI Week 12 Highlights

In recognition of the Mora Family getting back into coaching, let's take a minute to talk about playoffs. On Saturday, the Division II playoffs could not have started any better for the CI Family as all three coaches with first round games advanced to the second round. Congratulations to Nebraska-Kearney Head Coach Josh Lynn, Bowie State Defensive Coordinator Antone' Sewell and Shepherd Special Teams Coor./DB Luke Wright! On Sunday, the good news continued to pour in as 11 CI coaches were selected to the FCS playoffs. Highlighting the field is #1 overall seed, Sam Houston State. Congratulations to Bearkats Special Teams Coor./CB Gary McGraw, RB Coach Chris Buckner and DL Coach Joe Morris, who followed up their national championship in the spring with a perfect 10-0 record this fall to claim the WAC championship and accompanying automatic bid. Also earning an automatic bid were Villanova and Defensive Coordinator/DB Ola Adams, who claimed the #5 seed and CAA title after posting a 9-2 record with one of the losses coming against Penn State. Among the at-large bids, Florida A&M Head Coach Willie Simmons and Co-Offensive Coor./OL Ryan Stanchek guided the Rattlers to becoming the first HBCU to be selected to the FCS playoffs since 2016, after beating Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic. Congratulations are also in order for South Dakota Defensive Coordinator Travis Johansen and DL Coach Corey Brown, Northern Iowa Defensive Coordinator Jeremiah Johnson, Stephen F. Austin WR Coach Myles White, and Southern Illinois WR Coach Mark Watson on their at-large selections. At the FBS level, Cincinnati and RB Coach Darren Paige improved their prospects for a playoff bid with a 48-14 win over SMU, while 11 CI coaches earned bowl eligibility by picking up their sixth win including: Louisville RB Coach De'Rail Sims; Miami (FL) (RB Coach Eric Hickson and Offensive Analyst Ronnie Regula); Miami (OH) (WR Coach Israel Woolfork, RB Coach Lamar Conard and OL Coach James Patton); Missouri Special Teams Coor. Erik Link; North Carolina Special Teams Coor./OLB Jovan Dewitt; South Carolina DB Coach Torrian Gray; and Tennessee (Offensive Analyst Matt Merritt and Offensive Analyst Kelsey Pope). Keep reading for more highlights from Week 12.

Last-minute Lopers strike again for a playoff win
For just the second time in program history, Nebraska-Kearney is headed to the second round of the Division II Playoffs. To do so, the Lopers overcame a host of challenges, not the least of which was navigating a 600-mile bus trip through the Rocky Mountains. Once they finally arrived in Gunnison, CO at the campus of #13 Western Colorado, UNK got to work. The Lopers jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead thanks to a field goal from Junior Gonzalez and led by as many as 14 points at the end of the third quarter. But two touchdown drives by the Mountaineers tied the game at 24-24 late in the fourth quarter. Needing a spark, UNK Head Coach Josh Lynn (@CoachJoshLynn) went deep into his playbook. After not showing the look all game, the Lopers went to their counter option game multiple times on their final offensive drive. The result was a nine-play, 74-yard drive capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by QB TJ Davis to put the visitors back up by seven with 1:52 to play. Western Colorado advanced to the UNK 3-yard line but no further before time expired to send the Lopers into the second round. For the game, Davis led the UNK offense with 183 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. On defense, Jacey Nutter led the Lopers with seven tackles. With the win, UNK will travel to face Angelo State on Saturday. Congratulations to Lynn on the historic win! Since taking over in 2017, Lynn has rebuilt the Lopers from a one-win team in 2016 to this year's Sweet 16. After winning three games in 2017, UNK won five in 2018 before adding another two wins to the tally in 2019 with seven. The Lopers won both of their contests in 2020 and went 9-2 this regular season.  A specialist at rebuilding projects, Lynn spent five seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, Eastern New Mexico, from 2012-16. The Greyhounds went 3-7 in 2012, but turned things around the following season, winning the 2013 Lone Star Conference Championship with an 8-3 record while Lynn was named a finalist for national coach of the year. In 2011, he engineered a similar turnaround in one season as the head coach at New Mexico Military Institute, as the team improved upon a 3-8 record in 2010 to go 9-2 and finish the season ranked sixth in the nation.

Bowie State advances in DII playoffs by beating Lenoir-Rhyne
All season long, Bowie State has boasted one of the top defenses in the nation. The Bulldog defense is stout from top to bottom, ranking in the top 6 nationally in both Total Defense (236.1) and Scoring Defense (12.92), but where it particularly excels is in disruptive, game-changing plays. No team finished the regular season with more defensive touchdowns (7) or tackles-for-loss (10.3 per game) than Bowie State. On an individual level, DL Jonathan Ross ranked second in the nation in forced fumbles (5) and third in tackles-for-loss (23). Despite these achievements, as a member of the CIAA, gaining respect on a national level is always a difficult task for the Bulldogs, especially when playing a perennial power in Lenoir-Rhyne that reached the National Championship Game as recently as 2013. Respect or not, Bowie State went about its business as it has all fall. Points Allowed? Check. The Bulldogs only gave up 10 points to a LR offense that entered the game ranked ninth in the nation with over 41 points per game. Tackles-for-loss? Check. BSU Jonathan Ross led the way with 2.5 of the team's 10 TFLs. Defensive TD? Check. BSU DB Tevin Singleton returned an interception 70 yards for a score to give the Bulldogs a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Ross forced fumble? Check. The redshirt sophomore recorded his sixth forced fumble on a strip sack in the second quarter after the Bears had advanced to the BSU 4-yard line. Add it all up and you get a 31-10 win for Bowie that looked a whole lot like one of the team's regular season wins. The win marked the program's second-ever playoff win and sets up a second round matchup for the Bulldogs versus Newberry. Congratulations and good luck to Bowie State Defensive Coordinator Antone' Sewell (@CoachSewell_BSU)!

Wilson, Roberto lead Furman past Samford, 41-34
Furman put the finishing touches on a winning season (6-5, 4-4) with a commanding 41-34 victory over Samford. RB Dominic Roberto put on a show, totaling 216 rushing yards while the defense held their own against a powerful Samford passing attack. Samford came out the gates hot, driving 75 yards on the first possession of the game to go up 7-0. But the Paladin defense fought back, not allowing a single point on Samford’s next six drives. Furman QB Jace Wilson was quick to capitalize, tossing a 50-yard touchdown bomb to TE Ryan Miller. The Paladin defense went back to work, picking off Samford QB Liam Welsh and returning the ball all the way to Bulldog two-yard line. Three plays later, Wilson called his own number with a two-yard touchdown scramble. Two possessions later, Wilson struck again with a 31-yard touchdown pass to RB Chase Abshier. Up 21-10 with under a minute left to play in the half and the ball at their own 25, the Paladins appeared set to take an 11-point lead into halftime. That was until Roberto broke off a 73-yard run to Samford’s two-yard line. Devin Wynn punched in a 2-yard touchdown run on the next play to stun the Bulldogs and go up 28-10 at halftime. The Paladin defense made key stops in the second half to preserve the lead, including two sacks from NT Parker Stokes and five tackles from LB Braden Gilby. Congratulations to the Paladins on a great season and to DL coach Kevin Lewis (@CoachKLewDL)! Lewis has led the Furman defensive line since 2019, following one season at Army West Point. Prior to his stint at Army, he served as defensive line coach at William & Mary for five years, where he mentored All-CAA selections each year, including All-American DE Mike Reilly. Lewis started for three years as defensive tackle at Virginia Tech, where he helped lead his team to the 2004 ACC championship and reach four bowl games.

Price, Purple Swarm lift Demons to streak-busting win at McNeese
The last time that Northwestern State went into Lake Charles and left victorious, the year was 1988 and Def Leppard had the top song on Billboard's Hot 100. On Saturday, McNeese jumped out to a 7-0 lead on its first drive but then the Northwestern State's defense, the Purple Swarm, buckled down and its offense got going. Kendrick Price caught one of his two touchdown receptions on NSU's ensuing drive as the Demons went on a 17-0 run to take a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter. The Northwestern State offense cooled in the second quarter, gaining just 17 yards, but the Demon defense made the 10-point lead stand up going into halftime with a dominant effort. Thanks in large part of excellent pass coverage, the Demon defense set a new season-high with 11 sacks, four of which came in the second quarter. The Cowboys pulled to within three in the third quarter, but Price's second touchdown restored the 10-point lead as the Demons held on for a 24-20 victory. NSU LB Jared Pedraza led the way with four sacks and was one of three Demons to record multiple sacks on the day. On the backend, DB Shemar Bartholomew had two tackles to go along with one pass breakup. Congratulations to NSU Safeties Coach Josh Jones (@Coach_JonesNSU) on the win and strong finish to the season! Jones completed his first season in Natchitoches after spending last spring as the defensive passing game coordinator at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, where he helped guide the Golden Lions to a SWAC West Division crown. He spent the previous three seasons as the cornerbacks coach at South Alabama, where he mentored two all-conference selections. Before arriving in Mobile, he held the same role at Central Arkansas, where he helped the Bears go 20-4 overall and 17-1 in Southland Conference games.

Bryant closes 2021 with 58-14 victory over Merrimack
On Saturday versus Merrimack, Bryant capped off one of its best seasons in program history with one of its best games in program history. In an all-around dominant effort, the Bulldogs scored their most points in a single game with a 58-14 victory over the Warriors. Bryant’s offense filled up the stat sheet to the tune of 30 first downs, 535 total yards, 0 turnovers and over 35 minutes of possession. Credit goes to every offense’s unsung heroes: the offensive line. Bryant Run Game Coor./OL coach Steven Ciocci (@CoachCiocci) had his guys ready to perform in their season finale. All game long, they opened massive holes for RB Fabrice Mukendi, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry. They also gave QB Zevi Eckhaus plenty of time in the pocket, as he racked up 317 passing yards and a career-high four passing touchdowns. On the Bulldogs' second drive, the offensive line had perhaps its signature moment as the offense finished a touchdown drive with seven straight rushes. Mukendi capped off the drive with a two-yard run to put Bryant up 14-0 early in the second quarter. Bryant poured it on from there, scoring 21 more points in the second quarter and taking a 35-7 lead into halftime. Running backs Daniel Adeboboye, Ishod Finger and Mukendi all scored touchdowns in the second half, plus the defense threw in a safety to surpass the team’s previous record of 56 points in a game. Saturday also marked the first time in program history that the Bulldogs went back-to-back games with over 500 yards of total offense and over 50 points. With a final NEC record of 5-2, this marks the best conference winning percentage in program history. Congratulations to Ciocci on the win, an historic season, and his excellent work with the run game! Now in his third year in Smithfield, Ciocci has a background in the NEC as a player for Wagner, where he earned All-NEC first team honors in 2012. Ciocci spent the 2015 season as the offensive line coach at Pace University before returning to Wagner as the Seahawks' defensive line coach and co-special teams coordinator from 2016-17. Ciocci boasts FBS experience from a stint as the assistant offensive line coach at FIU in 2018, helping guide the Panthers to a program-record nine wins. In the spring of 2021, he mentored a Bulldog offensive line that paved the way for Adeboboye to become the first Bryant running back to average 100 yards per game since 2015.

Quick Hits
  • Air Force moved into a three-way tie for first place in the MWC Mountain Division with a wild, triple overtime win over Nevada, 41-39. Congratulations to Falcons WR Coach Ari Confesor (@CoachAC3)!
  • On the other side of the MWC, San Diego State remained atop the West Division with a 28-20 win over UNLV to improve to 10-1. Congratulations to Aztec Senior Defensive Analyst Kevin Wolthausen (@kwolthausen)!
  • Tulane OLB Darius Hodges had five tackles and one sack to bolster his lead in tackles-for-loss among AAC defenders. Congratulations to OLB Coach Josh Christian-Young (@CoachJCY) on the Green Wave's win and Hodges' performance!
  • Southeast Missouri State QB CJ Ogbonna accounted for four touchdowns as the Redhawks ended their season with an upset win over #8 UT Martin. Congratulations to Offensive Coordinator/QB Jeromy McDowell (@CoachJMcdowell)!

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