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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | September 17, 2023

DII football Sunday: The latest Power 10 rankings, upsets and stars of Week 3

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

What a wild weekend in DII football. Ferris State not only showed that it is an elite program, but that DII football is alive and well. The bottom of the national top 25s (whether it is the AFCA or D2Football poll you prefer) were rocked in losses. And one week after having the first DII football Power 10 rankings in history without the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats... we may see a national top 25 without them as well.

There were two schools that β€” in losing efforts β€” showed us how good they really are. While that may seem hard to comprehend, if you want upsets, triumphs, the new Power 10 rankings and Week 3 superstars β€” look no further.

FOOTBALL SUNDAYS: Former DII football players on 2023 NFL rosters

Grand Valley State dominates whistle to whistle

This is what Grand Valley State needed β€” the offense and defense clicking from opening kickoff to the final whistle. Cade Peterson was efficient in the passing game and strong in the ground game, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for two more, including a nifty 20-yard run that he sliced and diced through the defense. The Lakers are averaging 43 points per game, so there was no surprise they were going to score. However, coming into the game, the defense was allowing 40 points per game. Holding a 2022 playoff team to seven points was big, and they were in control the whole day, dictating the tempo for all but one drive. The Lakers now have a ton of momentum heading into the GLIAC opener against a very tough Saginaw Valley State team.

Pittsburg State survives Central Missouri in MIAA thriller

The Mules cracked my top 25 last week and showed why this week, despite the loss. Central Missouri, a surprise 2-0 team entering the game, held the lead at the half until Chad Dodson Jr. and company orchestrated a 14-0 third quarter for the Gorillas to take back control. This set up the exciting final stanza where the Mules and Gorillas exchanged touchdowns, combining for 34 points in the fourth quarter. A well-executed six-minute drive by Pittsburg State put the Gorillas up 38-31 with less than two minutes left, but breakout star β€” and last week's NCAA.com player of the week β€” Zach Zebrowski (316 yards passing, 117 yards rushing and three touchdowns) led the Mules back to make it 38-37 with just seconds left. The Mules didn't play for the tie and looked down the Gorillas defense to go for two, but Pittsburg State smothered those hopes quickly. The Gorillas run their MIAA winning streak to 15 games, while the Mules showed the conference they are ready to compete.

Western Colorado downs CSU Pueblo in top-25 showdown

No. 25 Western Colorado went into the ThunderBowl and took down No. 22 CSU Pueblo in a huge RMAC battle. The Mountaineers never trailed in this one, jumping out to an early 10-0 lead and never looking back. This defense held the red-hot Chance Fuller to just 151 yards passing, no touchdowns and an interception while he completed just 41 percent of his passes. In fact, the ThunderWolves only managed 218 total yards on the day. Western Colorado should move up the rankings and have another winnable week ahead, while CSU Pueblo has to prepare for its third top-25 matchup β€” and second top-5 matchup β€” in the past three weeks with Colorado School of Mines.

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

Fort Hays hands Northwest Missouri State second upset in two weeks

Last week, Emporia State ended a 29-year losing streak to the Bearcats. This week, Fort Hays State won for the first time on its home turf against the Bearcats since 1977. The Tigers defense held Northwest Missouri State to just 291 total yards and sacked the quarterback four times while allowing just a pair of field goals. That said, there was still no answer for Northwest's Jay Harris, who broke the century mark on the ground for the third week in a row. For the Bearcats, it is the first time they have lost back-to-back games since 2017 and their first 1-2 start since 2003. They have a big bounce-back opportunity next week against Lincoln (MO).

Central Washington upends No. 9 Angelo State

The Wildcats needed a win badly, and got just what the doctor ordered, upsetting top-10 Angelo State 27-24. The defense and special teams came up big for the Wildcats, as they had two blocked kicks and Tanner Volk had two interceptions, including the pick-six that iced it. Angelo State made it a ball game, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before one of those timely blocks ended the Rams hopes of tying the game. The Rams are now 1-2 for the first time since 2016 and look to rebound quickly and keep their spot in the top 25 against Western New Mexico.

Delta State makes win No. 7 against the FCS in 2023

We'll get to Delta State's win in a moment, but first Ferris State. In my years covering DII football, no loss ever meant more. The Bulldogs went into a raucous Washington-Grizzly Stadium and lost 17-10 to Montana, the 11th-ranked team in the FCS. Minus the fourth quarter, Ferris State's speed and size was winning plays on defense, and one could argue the defense controlled much of the game. The Bulldogs even had several opportunities to come out on top, with two fourth downs in scoring position and a missed field goal. This was as impressive a loss as you'll ever see.

That said, Delta State was the only team to come out ahead against the FCS this week. And they utterly dominated Mississippi Valley State. The biggest takeaway is that Patrick Shegog is a special, game-changing player that can do it all and is the true leader of this team, and perhaps the brightest leader in the Gulf South. Elsewhere, Miles missed an extra point to tie the game and fell to Arkansas-Pine Bluff 21-20 and West Florida was simply overpowered by FAMU. The Argos defense looked good in the first half but were gassed toward the end as the offense couldn't get anything going consistently.

Elsewhere around DII football

Shepherd defeated Cal (PA) 44-34 is an offensive explosion of quarterback play. The Rams' Seth Morgan threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for one more. The Vulcans' Davis Black three for 411 yards, ran for 43 and tossed four touchdowns. Truman State is an impressive 3-0, dominating Saginaw Valley State 21-7 en route to another victory. The defense allowed just 266 total yards and held SVSU to 1-for-11 on third downs. Texas A&M-Kingsville enters my top 25 this week, now 3-0 to start the season. An impressive victory over nationally-ranked West Georgia last week caught my attention and this week's route in the Javelinas LSC opener made it stick. The Javs have a solid defense and with Angelo State's slow start, looks like the team to beat in the Lone Star. Last week I mentioned MSU Moorhead's quarterback Jack Strand as a surprising player to watch. He did it again this week, going for 387 yards and four touchdowns. Newberry defeated Emory & Henry in eight overtimes (8!) which is the second-most in NCAA history since the rules were emended in 1996. Lastly, North Greenville now has a pair of nice victories under its belt, defeating Newberry last week and West Alabama this week. A big showdown against Valdosta State awaits, but this is a team to watch. 

The DII football preseason Power 10

No. 1 Ferris State | Previous: 1

Before we get to the ranking, remember, my Power 10 combines the eye test and selection committee metrics. The Ferris loss to Montana is not necessarily a season killer as it has no bearing on the DII football playoff picture or landscape. And as I mentioned above, this was the most impressive loss you'll ever see. The Bulldogs return home in two weeks to what should be an absolutely amped up homecoming game β€” poor Northern Michigan probably has no idea what's coming. 

No. 2 Colorado School of Mines | Previous: 2

The Orediggers utterly dominated both sides of the ball in a 70-7 victory. The defense was impressive, allowing just 91 total yards, while all-world quarterback John Matocha continued to do Harlon Hill Award things. Like I said last week, any other year that No. 1 isn't the two-time defending champions, the Orediggers are No. 1 by a large margin. This team is really good and appears to be ready to run the RMAC for the third time in four years. We'll find out next week when they head to Pueblo to face a ThunderWolves team that has dropped two top-25 matchups in a row.

No. 3 (tied) Pittsburg State, Grand Valley State | Previous: 3 and 4 (tied) respectively

Not every win is going to be dominantly beautiful: Sometimes it's just about getting the win. The Gorillas did just that and haven't lost a game in the MIAA since late 2021. And again, this Central Missouri team is better than many think, so it is a quality win at that. The Gorillas now have to prepare for dual-threat quarterback T.J. Davis and Nebraska-Kearney next week. 

The Lakers have played three 2022 playoff teams with a combined 6-3 record and survived with a 2-1 mark. The lone loss was on a last-second field goal to No. 2 Colorado School of Mines. It’s arguably the toughest schedule any school has opened with this season. That’s all you need to know.

No. 5 Minnesota State | Previous: 4 (tied)

The Mavericks have yet to have anyone come close to threatening them and that streak should continue this coming week against Concordia-St. Paul. They are averaging 46 points and 537.7 yards per game, so the fact that the defense allows a few points is a-OK. Shen Butler-Lawson scored three more times and the single-season touchdown record now needs to be put on watch with seven on the ground through three weeks, and an additional score through the air. 

No. 6 Bemidji State | Previous: 6

Like the Mavericks, the Beavers really haven't had an issue with their NSIC schedule so far. Now, 3-0 β€” and with 0-3 UMary on deck β€” Bemidji State is cruising thus far, averaging 40 points per game and winning games by a 28-point scoring margin. Brandon Alt β€” the two-time Harlon Hill finalist β€” had his first real Brandon Alt game of the season, throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns. The matchup in two weeks against the Mavericks will be monumental. 

No. 7 Ouachita Baptist | Previous: 7

The Tigers are an offensive juggernaut β€” scoring 52 points per week β€” and star running back Kendel Givens helped keep the train rolling this week. The running back totaled 115 yards and four touchdowns, and now has nine scores on the year. Another very winnable game against Arkansas-Monticello is on deck. 

No. 8 Delta State | Previous: 9

The two Gulf South powers flip flop this week. Typically, an FCS loss wouldn't affect a team, but the Statesmen defeated an FCS team and slightly edge out their Gulf South counterparts. Delta State is a much different team than the breakout squad they had last year. Shegog's experience has them looking unbeatable, but it's important to note that the toughest part of the GSC schedule β€” they have a sneaky good North Greenville, West Florida and West Georgia in a three-week October span β€” awaits.  

No. 9 West Florida | Previous: 8

There was plenty of good that came out of the Florida A&M loss. This defense held the Rattlers scoreless in the first quarter and helped enter the first half in a 3-3 tie. FAMU simply overpowered the Argos offensive line in the second half, and the offense couldn't find its rhythm, leading to a 21-point third quarter and the game getting away from them. As I said, losses aren't always losses β€” this defense learned a lot about itself and should be proud no matter what the scoreboard said.

No. 10 Emporia State | Previous: 10

The Hornets just keep doing things they haven't done in a while. Last week, the upset Northwest Missouri State for the first time in 29 years, this week they posted their first shutout β€” a 38-0 thumping β€” since 2018. Braden Gleason had three more touchdowns and has now thrown for 905 yards and 11 scores without an interception this year. All this equates to a special season, and the Hornets look to keep it going hosting Central Oklahoma next week. 

First five out (in alphabetical order)

  • Benedict: Well, the defense finally allowed some points: A whopping seven in a 44-point victory. Zaire Scotland ran for two touchdowns, his third-straight week rushing for multiple touchdowns.
  • Lenoir-Rhyne: The Bears are rolling and running back Dwayne McGee looks like the back he was as a freshman in 2021. With the defense playing the way it is, and the running game controlling the clock, this team should keep rattling off wins. 
  • Harding: Ho hum. The Bison scored a massive number of points and allowed very little. This has been one of the most consistent programs in doing just that for the past decade. It's just what the Bison do. 
  • Slippery Rock: Kyle Sheets has 333 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks. The Rock has another elite wide receiver, which means that high-powered offense is alive and well.
  • Virginia Union: I'll admit it. I'm a tad bit higher on the Panthers than most, and while the wins haven't been pretty, they are 3-0. That was impressive with Jada Byers on the shelf and running back Rashard Jackson erupting for 185 yards and two touchdowns behind this veteran o-line.

Week 3 box score stuffers: The DII football five stars

For the first time this season, I’ll go outside the MIAA for the player of the week. Running back Jordan Terrell ran amok for 256 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Barton Bulldogs to victory. It is the first time the program β€” which started up in 2020 β€” has begun the season 3-0, and Terrell is a big reason why, having rushed for at least 140 yards in every game and scoring two touchdowns in consecutive weeks. 

  • Week 1: Braden Gleason, Emporia State
  • Week 2: Zach Zebrowski, Central Missouri 
  • Week 3: Jordan Terrell, Barton

Each week, I’ll pick five stars of the week for the passing, rushing and receiving performances that stood out. There was a lot of stat-sheet stuffing this week, so below I tried to focus on names not mentioned in the recaps or rankings above and deserve some of the spotlight. Here is the Week 3 team.

Player School Position Stats
Davis Black Cal (PA) QB 411 pass, 43 rush, 4 TD
Nick Bohn Wayne State (Neb) QB 356 pass, 30 rush, 5 total TDs
Sammy Edwards Valdosta State QB 479 pass, 4 TD
Brayden Long Slippery Rock QB 390 pass, 6 total TD
Kyle Walljasper Minnesota Duluth QB 270 pass, 136 rush, 4 TD
Austin Bacher Western Oregon RB 167 rush, 3 TD
Jon Gullette Mars Hill RB 206 rush, 1 TD
Dominique Loggins Western Oregon RB 209 rush, 1 TD
Gage Porter Southern Nazarene QB 177 rush, 169 pass, 4 total TD
Jordan Terrell Barton RB 256 rush, 2 TD
Kris Copeland Concord (WV) WR 170 yards, 2 TD
Kolbe Katsis Pittsburg State WR 200 yards, 1 TD
Kyle Sheets Slippery Rock WR 210 yards, 3 TD
Hasaan Williams Black Hills State WR 183 yards, 3 TD
Eric Willis III Cal (PA) WR 274 yards, 2 TD

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