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Wayne Cavadi | | September 11, 2023

DII football rundown: Huge upsets lead to three new Power 10 teams

Ferris State wins 2022 DII football championship over Colorado School of Mines

What a week! Three DII football Power 10 teams fell, opening the door for three new teams to enter the mix. There were three more DII over FCS upsets, while Grand Valley State and CSU Pueblo may have played the game of the year. Oh, and Central Missouri's Zach Zebrowski continued to light up the skies.

There is a lot to look at from the DII football week that was, so let's get to it. 

UPSET CITY: A party 29 years in the making — Emporia State football upsets No. 5 Northwest Missouri State

Emporia State stuns Northwest Missouri State

The last time Emporia State beat Northwest Missouri State, no one on the team was born. In fact, current Hornets’ head coach Garin Higgins was just four years removed from his quarterbacking days in Emporia, Kansas, and was getting his feet wet as a running backs and quarterbacks coach. That was 1994, and 29 years later, the Hornets pulled off a dominating upset, taking down the mighty Bearcats on their own turf 33-13. The Emporia State defense was the story here, forcing six interceptions, including one pick-six to start the scoring for the Hornets. Quarterback Braden Gleason threw three more touchdowns and now has eight on the season, without throwing an interception. The Hornets were impressive in all facets of the game.

Game of the Year? Grand Valley State ekes one out in double overtime

Last week, the Lakers fell behind 28-7 and made a ferocious comeback only to fall short on a game-winning field goal by Colorado School of Mines as time expired. This week, against CSU Pueblo, it was the Lakers that jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead... and it was suddenly their turn to stave off a remarkable comeback.

And come back the Thunderwolves, did multiple times.  This game had a little bit of everything. CSU Pueblo's quarterback Chance Fuller had his second big week since transferring in, throwing for 338 yards and five touchdowns to four different receivers. GVSU running back Tariq Reid shouldered the load by scoring four rushing touchdowns. CSU Pueblo scored a couple of special teams/defensive touchdowns while the Lakers returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score. It was a back-and-forth slugfest, with each team giving its best. Eventually, the Lakers prevailed 57-49 in double overtime to move to 1-1 on the season.

East Stroudsburg survives against Indiana (PA)

What a wild finish this PSAC battle gave us. Trailing 13-12 with just seconds remaining, IUP knelt on third down to set up the game-winning field goal, but without any timeouts remaining, failed to get the snap off, giving the Warriors the big upset. The win moves ESU to 2-0 and should see the Hornets crack the national top-25 rankings. It was the first time the Warriors defeated IUP since 1997 (seven tries) and first win against a ranked team in 22 chances dating back to 2008. While weather played a role (there was one of many lightning delays around college football this past weekend), the defense was the difference maker as the Warriors held the Crimson Hawks to just 52 yards rushing and sacked quarterback Karst Hunter four times. Preseason All-American Deshawn McCarthy had two of those sacks and a quarterback hit as well in helping take IUP out of its rhythm. 

WATCHLIST: 22 players that could be the DII football player of the year

Mars Hill upsets Wingate

The Lions made a statement in the SAC, taking down nationally-ranked Wingate 15-10. Weather was a factor, too, and there wasn’t a lot of offense from either team with just 559 total yards by the final whistle. Trailing 10-0 at the half, Mars Hill made an impressive comeback in the second half and clamped down defensively. The Lions scored 15 unanswered points with the go-ahead score coming on a 55-yard fumble return to the house by preseason All-American Tristan Rankin.

Three more DII football over FCS upsets makes six in 2023

The Barton Bulldogs improved to 2-0 on the season, going on the road to take down FCS Davidson 33-31 in a back-and-forth battle. All-American running back Jordan Terrell controlled the ground game with 140 yards and two scores, the second of which put the Bulldogs ahead for good late in the fourth quarter. Terrell is averaging a smooth 163 yards rushing per game thus far in 2023. Quarterback Jaquan Lynch added 330 total yards and three total touchdowns in helping control the Bulldogs attack. The Miles Golden Bears upended Alabama State 21-17, defeating the Hornets for the first time in program history. Running back Jonero Scott scored the final two touchdowns of the game, including the icer with five minutes left. The Golden Bears look to make it two in a row next week at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Colorado Mesa won a thriller, as Gavin Herberg connected with Trevin Edwards on a 25-yard touchdown to take down San Diego in overtime, 28-21. But it was freshman left tackle Cooper Mumford who got the scoring started in the second quarter with a play that caught much national attention. You've heard of "big-guy touchdowns" but not sure you have ever seen one quite like this. 

Elsewhere around DII football

How about Missouri Southern? The Lions took Northwest Missouri State to the wire last week and upset Washburn this weekend 30-23. I’m not sure that the Lions are playoff contenders in a loaded Super Region Three, but it’s time to make sure you keep your eyes on them. Southern Arkansas trailed 17-3 with just over a minute remaining… and won. It took overtime, but the Muleriders prevailed 24-17. Quarterback OB Jones had 304 yards passing and 92 yards rushing with three total touchdowns in the comeback. Notre Dame (OH) had three running backs — Krys Riley-Richardson, Keshawn Huguely, and Jay Sharp — break the century mark and scored nine total rushing touchdowns in putting up 87 points to move to 2-0. MSU Moorhead’s Jack Strand is one to watch. The quarterback threw for five touchdowns without an interception, and now has an 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the season. 

The DII football Power 10: Week 2

No. 1 Ferris State | Previous: 1

The Bulldogs were tested in this one, as Ashland led pretty much the whole way until the fourth quarter. An impressive 28-7 second half sealed the deal and moved the defending champs to 2-0 as it prepares for FCS Montana next week. Carson Gulker ran for two more touchdowns and threw for another three, and it's worth putting the single-season rushing touchdown record (37, by Northwest Missouri State's Xavier Omon in 2007) on watch the way this guy scores on a weekly basis. 

No. 2 Colorado School of Mines | Previous: 2

The Orediggers played their second top-five matchup in two weeks and came out ahead. Much like Ferris State, Colorado School of Mines trailed heading into the second half, but a 28-7 final two quarters (including a 21-0 final stanza) improved the Orediggers to 2-0. The competitive nature of their wins would likely make them No. 1 in any other season that the undefeated, two-time defending champions weren't ahead of them. John Matocha and Max McLeod are really fun two watch and may be the best QB/WR duo in the division. 

No. 3 Pittsburg State | Previous: 3

Brace yourself, ladies and gentlemen. The Gorillas were trailing at the half to Fort Hays State but used a 27-0 second half to propel themselves to victory (I think we're starting to see a theme here). The Gorillas did a nice job spreading the wealth on the ground as seven players combined for 193 yards, while conversely, the defense completely took away the FHSU rushing attack, holding it to 47 yards. The defense was sensational, allowing just 212 total yards and pitching that second-half shutout. Next up is the high-octane Central Missouri Mules that will really put this stout defense to the test.

No. 4 (tie) Grand Valley State, Minnesota State | Previous: 8 and 6, respectively

Grand Valley State has played a very tough schedule and is 1-1 to show for it. This is a lot like the Colorado School of Mines last season, which started 0-2 and never left the Power 10. Strength of schedule (SOS) means something in DII football, a big something if we’re being honest, and considering the Lakers lost at the final whistle to the defending national runners-up in Week 1 tells me this team is very good. The defense has let up quite a bit of points, which is somewhat surprising, but those RMAC offenses are known for stuffing the stat sheets.

The Mavericks leapfrogged their NSIC counterparts this week simply because of how I had Wayne State (Neb) rated. Minnesota State dominated the Wildcats, who I think are a pretty talented team. That slight SOS advantage gives the Mavericks the slight edge this week. Shen Butler Lawson Jr. also gives this team an edge. He seems pretty much unstoppable right now, rushing for 373 yards and five touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season.

No. 6 Bemidji State | Previous: 4

The Beavers are now 2-0 and completely dominated Southwest Minnesota State in its 34-14 victory. They are winning games a little differently, as a balanced rushing attack doesn't require All-American Brandon Alt to air it out all day. Alt has 414 yards passing in both games this year — by Week 3 last year, he was averaging more than 365 yards per game. Ali Mohamed has been a welcomed addition and the defense has been tough so far. Marcus Hansen had another two sacks on Saturday and now has 3.5 on the young season. Winona State is up next.

No. 7 Ouachita Baptist | Previous: 8

The Tigers haven't played the toughest schedule, but moving to 2-0 by outscoring their opponents by 90 points thus far is still very impressive. The 66 points scored on Saturday was the most since 2010 and the most in Cliff Harris Stadium history, which speaks volumes coming from one of the best-scoring offenses of the past five years. The defense was a big factor, allowing just 74 total yards on the day — they held their opponents to just 54 plays, 14 of which were negative yards or turnovers. Southern Arkansas, fueled by a thrilling comeback this week, is up next.

No. 8 West Florida | Previous: First five out

I had more questions than most entering the season, but so far, they have been answered. West Florida is 2-0 in its new era and has outscored its opponents 70-6. Peewee Jarrett and John Jiles have established a nice connection and are a deadly combo through the air. But as you can tell by the points allowed, this defense has been tough. West Florida has allowed just 303 yards and has 11 sacks in two games. John McMullen has been a sack machine with five already this season. The Argos have an FCS battle this week against Florida A&M.

No. 9 Delta State | Previous: First five out

Another Gulf South Conference team enters the mix. The Statesmen are a perfect 2-0 as they, too, head into an FCS matchup against a Mississippi Valley State team they defeated last year. Delta State trailed heading into the second half but used a 21-point third quarter to blow out Chowan 42-18 (sound familiar?). Patrick Shegog threw three of his four touchdowns in that third quarter and rushed for another. He may look better than last year, and that's remarkable. 

No. 10 Emporia State | Previous: First five out

I was higher than most on Emporia State last week, and I am propelling the Hornets into the top 10 this week. Braden Gleason is a star at quarterback and is the leader this team needs under center. Can the defense keep up its impressive play? That is the ultimate question to answer in a MIAA that gets no easier. But a win against Northwest Missouri State is a great way to start.

First (ish) five out (in alphabetical order)

  • Angelo State: The Rams are a tough team, but the loss bumps them right outside the top 10. They have to head to Washington to open LSC play, so let's see how they respond.
  • Benedict: The Tigers haven't allowed a point yet this season. I don't care who the competition is, that's impressive. 
  • Harding: The Bison have scored 102 points in two games while piling up 732 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Essentially, Harding is doing Harding things. 
  • Indiana (PA): That was a tough loss to East Stroudsburg, but the fact that the Crimson Hawks could have won shows this team is still very tough.
  • Northwest Missouri State: I'm not accustomed to having the Bearcats out of the top 10, but the Bearcats needed a very late score to beat Missouri Southern before this past weekend's upset. Let's see how they rebound on the road at Fort Hays State this week.
  • Virginia Union: The Panthers snuck away with a win, but Jada Byers left injured. The severity of that injury is a major factor in what this team does moving forward.

Week 2 box score stuffers: The DII football five stars

There were many deserving of player of the week honors, but for Week 2, we're staying in the MIAA. Central Missouri's Zach Zebrowski is giving some major Brook Bolles flashbacks, when the Mules had an explosive offense led by a gunslinging quarterback. The Mules are an impressive 2-0 and Zebrowski has thrown 10 touchdowns without an interception.

2023 DII football players of the week:

  • Week 1: Braden Gleason, Emporia State
  • Week 2: Zach Zebrowski, Central Missouri 

Each week, I’ll pick five stars of the week with some of the better passing, rushing and receiving performances. Here are some other players that stood out from Week 2.

Player Position School Stats
Christian Arrambide QB  Kentucky Wesleyan 499 pass, 15 rush, 5 TD
Preston Brown QB Catawba 372 pass, 34 rush, 6 TD
Jake Cady QB Assumption 334 pass, 32 rush, 6 total TD
Rudy Garcia QB West Liberty 414 pass, 14 rush, 4 total TD
Zach Zebrowksi QB Central Missouri 400 pass, 5 TD
Willy Camacho RB Upper Iowa 87 rush, 50 receiving, 3 total TD
Gage Porter QB Southern Nazarene 216 rush, 175 pass, 5 total TD
Tariq Reid  RB Grand Valley State  119 rush, 10 receiving, 4 TD
Jordan Terrell RB Barton 140 rush, 2 TD
Chavon Wright RB Charleston (WV) 158 rush, 1 TD
Jalen Abraham WR Henderson State  190 yards, 2 TD
Cameron Dorner WR Shepherd 201 yards, 1 TD
Malachi Langley WR Lincoln (PA) 197 yards,  3 TD
Arkell Smith WR Central Missouri 152 yards, 3 TD
Camden Williams WR Kentucky Wesleyan 254 yards, 2 TD

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