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It was a sluggish, rainy, snowy, cold day of DII football on the final weekend of the 2022 season. That didn’t stop some fantastic — and extremely impactful — play with a wild finish as we head into the selection show Sunday evening. You can watch it right here at 5:30 p.m. ET on NCAA.com.
DII TOURNEY PRIMER: How the DII football championship works: History and FAQ
Between conference championships and meaningful matchups with huge implications for the bracket, let’s get right to it. (NOTE: As a reminder, any references to bracket rankings/seedings are MY predictions and mine alone.)
This wasn’t just a big game for the PSAC, but it was huge for Super Region One. The Rams came into the game undefeated and No. 1 in the Super Region while IUP was No. 3. It wasn’t the prettiest game in wet conditions, but the Crimson Hawks were able to fend off a Shepherd come back and win the PSAC 24-21.
IUP built up a 10-7 lead at the half and looked as if it was about to put it away, winning the third quarter 14-0. But Shepherd came firing back with 14 of its own in the final stanza. With less than two minutes remaining and no time-outs, Adam Houser broke free and instead of scoring, wisely went down all but killing the final seconds of the game. Houser finished with 142 yards rushing while Mak Sexton threw for three scores. The IUP win certainly mixes things up atop the Super Region and leads to a new-look Power 10 rankings.
It’s DII football’s most unique rivalry. A five-minute walk or well-hit 3-iron separates Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State in distance, but on the field, there isn’t much that separates the two. The two teams did indeed battle, putting on a show for the fans in a 40-37 overtime win in favor of the Tigers.
A Henderson State win would have flipped Super Region Three, and late in the game, it looked to be heading that way. The Reddies led 34-20 with less than five minutes remaining, but TJ Cole and the Tigers rallied for two scores in the final three minutes of play. Cole, a Harlon Hill candidate, scored the game-tying and game-winning touchdowns to add to his remarkable season. The win should help Ouachita secure a home game next week.
DII FOOTBALL HUB: News, rankings, stats for 2022
Benedict came into the week as the No. 1-ranked team in Super Region Two and faced a Tuskegee team that needed a monumental upset to improve on its No. 9 ranking. Benedict ended those hopes at the end of the first 15 minutes, going on to win the SIAC championship game 58-21.
Benedict, now 11-0, was up 21-7 after one quarter and piled on 42 points in the first half. Quarterback Eric Phoenix had an absolute monster day, throwing for 313 yards, rushing for 91 more, and totaling three touchdowns. Benedict’s defense was spectacular in both halves, holding Tuskegee to just 242 yards and a mere 103 in the second half. The Tigers should hold on to their No. 1 ranking Sunday night.
The Wolves are the victors of the first-ever SAC championship game, defeating Mars Hill 27-24. It is a significant victory for Newberry as Mars Hill was No. 6 in the last regional rankings of the season. The loss could open up some doors for those on the outside looking in, including the Wolves themselves.
Once again, Mario Anderson had a monster game, rushing for 144 yards in the win. It was his sixth-straight game with at least 140 yards and at least one touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Mars Hill quarterback Jimmy Urzua finished strong, throwing for 300 yards and three scores. Newberry, which wasn’t even in the final regional rankings, keeps its hopes alive and finishes 9-2 as SAC champions, while Mars Hill needs some help to hear its name called Sunday evening.
In the game that decided the GLVC championship, UIndy won in stunning come-from-behind style, 28-14 over Truman. This has a major impact in Super Region Three as both teams were ranked at the cut-off line with UIndy coming in at No. 7 and Truman at No. 6.
Truman came out hot, running up a 14-0 lead on two Nolan Hair touchdown runs. But UIndy completely flipped the script in the second half, shutting out the Bulldogs’ offense and running up 28 unanswered points. The final two scores — a 51-yard touchdown pass and a 75-yard pick-six — capped off a thrilling fourth quarter. The win should keep UIndy’s season rolling while Truman waits to hear its fate.
What sounds like it should be a WWE event was actually a fun day of DII football. Here are some quick hits on games that greatly impacted the last regional rankings.
No. 1 Grand Valley State | Previous: 1: As I said above, it is tough to imagine anyone beating this team right now. You would be hard-pressed to find a team that is as deep everywhere on the field and is highly talented in all three aspects of the game. I’m going to go out on a whim and lock in the Lakers as the No. 1 seed in Super Region Three.
No. 2 Angelo State | Previous: 2: I mentioned earlier this season that I felt the Rams were playing so well because they were playing with purpose. Angelo State was not happy with how its 2021 season ended and made sure to leave no doubt that it was on a mission to get back, have another shot at Colorado School of Mines, and advance to the semifinals. With a 37-19 win over Midwestern State, the Rams finish the season 11-0 and are a lock for the No. 1 spot in Super Region Four.
No. 3 Ferris State | Previous: 3: The Bulldogs have one loss by one point to the best team in the nation. Yeah, the defending champs are doing just fine. They finish up the season 9-1 and you can make the argument that for the second season in a row, the Bulldogs had the DII football breakout quarterback of the year. Carson Gulker threw for 197 yards and ran for 189 yards, totaling four touchdowns and finished with 22 rushing touchdowns on the season. Ferris State should be hosting a game next weekend.
No. 4 Ouachita Baptist | Previous: 5: Doesn’t matter how you win this time of year, just as long as you do. The Tigers did just that in the gritty come-from-behind win over Henderson State. With the teams ranked No. 5 and No. 6 in Super Region Three losing, the Tigers are likely hosting a first-round playoff game after finishing the season 11-0.
No. 5 Pittsburg State| Previous: 6: Imagine going 11-0 and not being assured a first-round bye or even No. 2 seed in the bracket. This is life in Super Region Three, but the Gorillas are something special. An undefeated run through the MIAA and the conference title was theirs after a commanding 35-14 win over Fort Hays State. As always, scoring came through the air and on the ground with five different players scoring. The Gorillas wait to see who comes to The Jungle next week.
No. 6 Colorado School of Mines| Previous: 9: The Orediggers put an exclamation point on an undefeated run through the RMAC, winning 80-0 in its regular-season finale. All three stars, quarterback John Matocha (281 passing yards, three touchdowns), running back Michael Zeman (133 rushing yards, three touchdowns), and Josh Johnston (83 receiving yards, one touchdown), played huge roles. Mines should be hosting a home game and are a dangerous threat to repeat as Super Region Four winners.
No. 7 West Florida | Previous: 8: David Durden is really good at football, reeling in 173 more yards and two more touchdowns this week as West Florida piled on another 56 points. This offense has been a steamroller the entire season though scoring nearly 44 points per game. The Argos should be hosting a game next week.
No. 8 Shepherd | Previous: 3: That was a tough loss for the Rams, but it was to a very good Indiana (PA) team. Shepherd may have lost its first-round bye but is still a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. Tyson Bagent seems to play his best in November and December, so let’s see what he and that Rams offense has in store next week.
No. 9 Delta State | Previous: 9: See Ouachita Baptist above. It doesn’t matter the final score this time of year, just as long as you win. Delta State beat West Alabama for the second time in a month 17-7. It was a pretty remarkable season for the Statesmen, not only coming out of nowhere but doing it as the Road Warriors, going 7-0 away from home. They shouldn’t have to worry about traveling next week.
No. 10 Benedict| Previous: First five out: Welcome to the Power 10, Tigers. This is the first appearance in the brief history of the DII football Power 10 rankings for a SIAC team. Benedict is well deserving, with big wins over regionally ranked teams in Fort Valley State and Tuskegee and a big win against Albany State (GA) earlier in the season. It would be an utter surprise to see the Tigers not on a bye next week.
Since the preseason, I have tracked the 30-40 players that I felt were leading candidates for the 2022 Harlon Hill Trophy. As the postseason approaches, it is time to really whittle down the list.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: The essential guide to the Harlon Hill Trophy
This week, you get my final 15 (by position and in alphabetical order) and we’ll cut it in half next week, and then one more time after that. Keep in mind, these are not the official Harlon Hill Trophy candidates. That list will be released at a later date.
Honorable mentions (a quick shoutout to a few players who were on the list from the preseason to the finish): Brandon Alt, Bemidji State; Duane Brown, Indiana (PA); Ronnie Brown, Shepherd; TJ Davis, Nebraska-Kearney; Ivory Durham, Valdosta State; David Durden, West Florida; Braden Gleason, Emporia State; Jayden Johannsen, South Dakota Mines
Here is a quick look at what I expect will be the top four seeds for the bracket. Remember, the final three teams in each Super Region (traditionally seeds 5-7 in the bracket) are unranked and will be on the road for the playoffs. Hence why I am only guessing at the actual “ranked” teams.
Wayne Cavadi has covered all things Division II sports for NCAA.com since 2016. He hosts the weekly DII Nation Podcast available on Spotify and YouTube. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, MLB.com, AJC.com, SB Nation and FoxSports.com and in publications like The Advocate and Lindy’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneCavadi_D2.
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📊 Andy Katz's first men's hoops rankings of 2023