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CSN West: It Will Happen Again -- An All West Final
By Kent Schmidt, CSN West Columnist
My dream of two teams west of the Mississippi River meeting in the Division I national championship game is a real possibility. Both Montana and Northern Iowa, with wins this weekend, will advance to Chattanooga. It would be only the second time in NCAA Division I football history that two West teams meet for the championship, the first being in 1984 when Montana State beat Louisiana Tech.
Of course, both teams have significant challenges to overcome in order to make the dream a reality. Coincidentally, each of them faces a high-ranked Colonial Athletic Association team.
But both teams have already met some significant challenges just to get to this semi-final round and I feel both have good chance of meeting in the FCS national title game.
WHO HAVE THE TWO “WEST” TEAMS DEFEATED TO GET TO THIS ROUND?
Northern Iowa has already defeated two CAA teams in Maine and New Hampshire to get to the semi-final round. UNI last week won a thrilling matchup with UNH in the UNI Dome. The Panthers triumphed in a turnover plagued game. UNI turned the ball over three times but took it away six times in a 36-34 victory.
UNI was led by quarterback Pat Grace’s 84 yards rushing and 255 passing yards, along with two rushing touchdowns to help produce the Panther victory.
Montana won its rematch with Weber State after falling to their Big Sky Conference co-champion mates, 45-28 in the regular season in Ogden. The Grizzlies won the playoff game, however, in Missoula 24-13 in front of their massive homefield advantage at Washington-Griz .
Montana was paced by running back Chase Reynolds, who ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
WHO IS NEXT FOR THESE TWO TEAMS?
UNI, who is the third national seed, gets to host Saturday Richmond, who knocked off three time defending national champion and second seeded Appalachian State 33-13 in Boone. The Spiders will be a touch challenge as they have won by virtue of producing seven Mountaineer turnovers. This is the first ever matchup between the Spiders and Panthers.
Fourth seeded Montana has to travel Friday to top seeded James Madison, who was a narrow winner over fellow CAA foe Villanova last week 31-27 in a see-saw match. The Dukes intercepted the Wildcats final drive attempt to secure the win. Montana gets a chance to avenge the 2004 national championship loss to the Dukes, who won 31-21.
WHAT WILL THE TWO “WEST” TEAMS NEED TO DO TO WIN TO SET UP THE DREAM MATCHUP?
Both will need to win the turnover margin to come out victorious. As was seen last week when top teams play each other, there is a small margin of difference between them.
Turnovers were the margin of victory for each of the four teams that won last week. That will likely determine our two finalists this week. Both Northern Iowa and Montana have won their turnover matchups this season.
Montana forced 32 and committed 18 turnovers this season. Northern Iowa, likewise, has forced 39 and committed 18 turnovers.
I will be hoping for my dream matchup this weekend in what should both be close games. I have a feeling that my dream just might come true.
CSN WEST GAMES OF THE WEEK
No. 4 Montana (13-1) @ No. 1 James Madison (12-1)
As I mentioned above, the Grizzlies will need to win the turnover matchup to take this game. Montana will likely use the running game to control the clock and come out with a close, hard fought victory on the road. I like the Grizzlies to advance by a field goal margin. Montana 31, James Madison 28
Richmond (11-3) @ No. 3 Northern Iowa (12-2)
As mentioned, the Spiders are the third straight CAA team to visit the UNI-Dome. The Panthers seem to have an edge as not many visiting teams, especially those from out East (with exceptions) have seen such an atmosphere. Richmond will be awestruck by the atmosphere to begin the game and it will result in the Panthers getting an early lead. UNI will be able to hold on with a late Spider surge to come out with the win. Northern Iowa 38, Richmond 28
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CSN WEST NEWS & NOTES
-Montana has gained their thirteenth win for just the fifth time in school history. The other four are as follows: 13-2 in 1995/national champion; 14-1in 1996/runner-up; 13-2 in 2000/runnerup; 15-1 in 2001/national champion.
-Northern Iowa’s Corey Lewis became the third player in UNI history to eclipse 5,000 all-purpose yards (Lewis has 5,011 all-purpose yards).
-This year is the third semifinal for UNI head coach Mark Farley - the Panthers reached the semifinals in 2001 and 2005.
- Montana will be playing in its 42nd playoff game. This is the 16th year in a row for the Grizzlies in the playoffs, a record, and their 19th overall (which ties Eastern Kentucky for most playoff appearances).