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Furman, turnaround teams on playoff cusp

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It was just over three weeks ago that Furman was clearing the cobwebs from the 50 points that then-No. 1 Georgia Southern rung up on it.

With Furman sitting at 3-3 and facing a brutal stretch of upcoming games, Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries stood on more solid ground than the Paladins' FCS playoff chances.

Following Saturday's 20-10 upset of No. 3 Appalachian State - which built on wins over then-No. 5 Wofford on Oct. 22 and talented Chattanooga last weekend - it now would be more surprising if Furman doesn't make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Furman (6-3, 5-2) seemingly just needs to beat Elon at home in Southern Conference action next Saturday to cement its spot in the playoffs. The Paladins won't be winning their regular-season finale, Nov. 19 at the University of Florida.

Quarterback Chris Forcier has helped Furman beat Southern Conference powers Wofford and Appalachian State in their last three games.
In ending a six-game losing streak to App State, Furman built a 20-0 lead. Quarterback Chris Forcier passed for 224 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 64 yards. Cornerback Ryan Steed also kept fellow NFL prospect Brian Quick in check in a highly anticipated match-up and picked off an interception, giving him one in each game of the three-game winning streak.

"This was a total team victory, and I'm very proud of the effort of our players and coaches," Furman first-year head coach Bruce Fowler said. "We did some really nice things offensively early to get the lead, and defensively we played gritty, tough football, forced some turnovers, and made some big stops when we had to. That's what it took to win this football game."

Furman isn't the only team from a major conference whose playoff hope was left for dead, but has gotten red hot to move into the picture.

Eastern Kentucky (6-3, 5-1) has won five straight games and taken over first place in the Ohio Valley Conference. In that time, junior Matt Denham has rushed for over 200 yards four times, including Saturday's thrilling, 52-48 rally past fading preseason favorite Jacksonville State

The Colonels have home games against Tennessee Tech and UT Martin to nail down the OVC's automatic playoff bid.

Illinois State (7-3, 5-2) also has won five straight games, including 31-7 over Western Illinois on Saturday, to become the third-best team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Redbirds may not even need to beat Northern Iowa in its Nov. 19 finale to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

If Central Arkansas beats Texas State on Saturday, it will have a case to be an at-large selection out of the Southland Conference. The Bears (7-3, 6-1) made it six straight wins on Saturday as Nathan Dick threw three touchdowns in a 45-20 win over Northwestern State.

PERFECT SEASON WITHIN NO. 1 BISON'S REACH

Normally North Dakota State's D.J. McNorton being a game-leading rusher wouldn't be surprising. But in the new No. 1 Bison's 27-16 win at No. 21 Indiana State, the bigger news was Sycamores running back Shakir Bell being held to 79 yards on 16 carries.

The super soph had entered the game as the FCS's national rushing leader. But the Bison defense was at it again on Saturday.

McNorton finished with 100 yards and a touchdown for North Dakota State (9-0, 6-0 Missouri Valley Conference), which can complete a perfect regular season by beating visiting Youngstown State next Saturday and winning at Western Illinois on Nov. 19.

FIRST ONE IN THE POOL

Sam Houston State (9-0, 6-0) has wrapped up the Southland Conference's automatic playoff bid - the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

The Bearkats clinched at least a share of the conference title with a 38-9 win over Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State's 45-20 loss to Central Arkansas. The worst the Bearkats can do is share the title with Central Arkansas - with an unlikely loss to Northwestern State next Saturday - but they own the head-to-head win over the Bears.

UPSET FEELING AFTER THE FBS UPSET

At least North Dakota State and Sam Houston State continue to roll through unbeaten seasons. Included are wins over FBS programs Minnesota and New Mexico, respectively.

The other four FCS teams to beat FBS opponents haven't quite built on the big wins:

Sacramento State (3-6) is 2-6 since upsetting Oregon State.

Richmond (3-6) is 2-6 since winning at Duke.

Indiana State (5-4) is 3-3 since topping Western Kentucky.

Southern Utah (5-4) is 2-3 since defeating UNLV.

NOT EASY TO DO

Lafayette beat Colgate in overtime on Saturday - incredibly, by two touchdowns.

Andrew Shoop's 14-yard touchdown pass to Mark Ross in the first overtime possession gave the Leopards a 31-24 lead.

When Colgate attempted to tie the game on its possession, Darius Safford intercepted a Gavin McCarney pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, ending the Patriot League game at 37-24.

WHO NEEDS A PLAYOFF BID?

The Pioneer Football League schedule set up perfectly for Drake's bid to win its first title since 2004. To accomplish it, the Bulldogs would have to go through 2010 co-champions Jacksonville and Dayton to end its season.

They took the tougher step on Saturday by ending Jacksonville's record 16-game winning streak in league play, scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes for a 31-24 win.

It gave Drake (8-2, 6-1) a half-game lead over San Diego (7-2, 5-1) and Jacksonville (6-3, 5-1) and needing only a home win over rival Dayton in next Saturday's season finale to clinch at least a share of the league title.

Not bad for a team whose first competitive game this year was in May over 4,600 miles away in the first American football game to be played in Africa.

Patrick Cashmore's 4-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left provided the winning margin. Coach Chris Creighton's squad picked off Jacksonville quarterback Josh McGregor four times.

"It just goes to show the character of our guys," Creighton said. "They didn't stop believing because of all the time and the work that they've put in preparing for this moment."

The PFL has never had an FCS team, but San Diego also did its part to maintain a memorable title race by beating Dayton, 31-28, with a last-minute game- winning touchdown. Kenny James' 2-yard run with 47 seconds left completed a 184-yard, three-touchdown game.

Campbell (6-3, 5-2) also has slight title hopes after beating Morehead State, 41-31, for its fifth straight win.

AROUND THE NATION

Can you say Jerry Rice Award for Towson running back Terrance West? It seems he could win the inaugural award for FCS freshman of the year after he pushed his FCS-leading total of touchdowns to 21 with three more in Saturday's 40-30 win at Maine, which created a three-way tie for first place in CAA Football between those two teams and New Hampshire. The Rice Award is presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com ... West's presence has made it hard for Old Dominion freshman quarterback Taylor Heinicke to even challenge for CAA Rookie of the Year. He passed for a career-high 373 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 42-28 victory over Richmond ... Also in the CAA, James Pitts had the first three-interception game of the FCS season in Villanova's 35-17 win at Massachusetts ... Davidson and Morehead State aren't in the PFL title race, but no quarterbacks pass it quite like Davidson's Jonathan Carkhuff and Morehead's Zach Lewis. Carkhuff has attempted and completed (440 and 279) more passes than anybody in the FCS and Lewis is second (420 and 267) ... The ball that North Dakota sophomore Zeb Miller kicked for a game-ending, 29-yard field goal to beat Sioux Falls, 15-13, was signed by the team afterward. It will be sent to the Murphy family in Southern California in honor of former UND quarterback and coach Gene Murphy (1939-2011), who passed away last weekend ... Georgia Southern junior defensive tackle Brent Russell, a Buck Buchanan Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) nominee, missed a 14-12 SoCon win over The Citadel while he served a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. The Eagles (8-1) need a pair of blocked extra points to serve the scare ... Wofford rushed for 500 yards in a 42-24 win over Western Carolina ... Coach Doug Williams earned his biggest win in his return to Grambling State, a 26-23 triumph at No. 15 Jackson State fueled by Dawrence Roberts' 201 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Grambling State (5-4, 4-3) has won four straight games to move into a tie atop the SWAC West Division with Prairie View A&M ... In Georgetown's 30-13 win over Fordham, junior linebacker Robert McCabe forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and collected 13 tackles to set a Hoyas single- season record at 120 ... South Dakota State wide receivers Dale Moss and Aaron Rollin each caught two touchdown passes in leading South Dakota State past Southern Illinois, 45-34, in the 98th Hobo Day game between the Missouri Valley Conference rivals ... Northern Iowa won't be the same team if senior quarterback Tirrell Rennie, who sat out Saturday's 21-17 rally past Youngstown State, doesn't return strong from a right ankle injury ... In coach Nigel Burton's second season, Portland State is assured of its first winning record since 2006. A 29-20 Big Sky win over Sacramento State lifted the Vikings to 6-3 ... Brody McKnight kicked a school-record six field goals in Montana's 32-7 win over Western Oregon. The Grizzlies (8-2) have two weeks to prepare for their Nov. 19 trip to rival Montana State (9-1), which has clinched at least a share of its second straight Big Sky title ... Red-hot running back Zach Bauman tallied 245 total yards and three touchdowns in Northern Arizona's 34-14 romp past Northern Colorado ... Monmouth completed a perfect season on the road - 5-0 - by outlasting St. Francis (Pa.), 48-45. Now if the Hawks (5-4) only win next Saturday at home, where they are 0-4, they could throw Albany's bid for the Northeast Conference title for a loss ... Quarterback Jeff Sinclair suffered a knee injury in Robert Morris' 31-24 loss at Central Connecticut State, which ended a six-game losing streak ... Almost there: Chris Walley threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more as Norfolk State routed Savannah State, 45-3, and clinched a share of the MEAC title. A win over Morgan State next weekend will give the Spartans (8-2, 6-1) the conference's automatic playoff bid ... First-year MEAC member North Carolina Central earned its first conference win, 14-7 over Delaware State. Idreis Augustus rushed for 161 yards on 24 carries, but the touchdowns went to Andre Clarke on a pair of 1-yard runs ... Mark Kachmer's 95-yard touchdown run set a Yale Bowl record in Brown's 34-28 win over the Bulldogs. The senior tailback scored three touchdowns and rushed for 192 yards ... Senior Nick Schwieger set a Dartmouth single-game record with 257 rushing yards in a 33-24 win over Cornell. He also went over 1,000 yards for a second straight season ... Speaking of going over 1,000 yards, Stony Brook running backs Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski both did it for the second straight season as Stony Brook (6-3, 4-0) continued to stalk Big South leader Liberty with a 50-31 triumph over winless Charleston Southern ... Third-year program South Alabama (6-3) clinched another winning season with a 35-3 win over Mississippi Valley State this past Thursday. Coach Joey Jones' program, headed to the Sun Belt in 2013, is 23-3 all-time ... Another independent, Georgia State, played its third straight overtime game, suffering a surprising, 30-27 loss to St. Francis (Ill.).

A LOOK AHEAD

Next weekend's biggest game figures to be in the Southern Conference, where Georgia Southern visits Wofford. GSU will clinch the conference title and automatic playoff bid with a win.

But you might consider New Hampshire at Towson in CAA Football even bigger. Both teams share the conference lead with Maine.

An FCS playoff bid will be earned in the Patriot League when surprising Georgetown visits Lehigh in a championship battle.

Norfolk State could earn the MEAC bid when it visits Morgan State.

Eastern Kentucky hopes to clinch at least a share of the OVC crown against Tennessee Tech. Similarly, Harvard hopes to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title against two-time defending champion Penn.

Drake hosts Dayton with a chance to clinch at least a share of the PFL title.

Other important conference match-ups: Big South - Stony Brook at Gardner-Webb; CAA Football - Old Dominion at William & Mary and Massachusetts at Maine; Ivy League - Dartmouth at Brown; Missouri Valley Conference - Youngstown State at North Dakota State; Northeast Conference - Albany at Monmouth; Pioneer Football League - Butler at Jacksonville and Marist at San Diego; Southern Conference - Elon at Furman; Southland Conference - Northwestern State at Sam Houston State; and SWAC - Southern at Alabama State and Jackson State at Alabama A&M

Southern Utah will visit Northern Iowa in an interesting non-conference game.

Also, Bob Spoo will end a 50-year coaching career, including 25 years at Eastern Illinois, when the Panthers visit rival Southern Illinois. Both teams will finish with their second straight losing season.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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