Friday night marks a battle of two FCS powerhouses in James Madison University and North Dakota State University. NDSU is the No. 2 seed and has won eight FCS titles since 2010 and plays host to the No. 3 seed JMU which is the only team to beat NDSU at home during the playoffs, doing so in 2016. Both schools met in the championship game in 2017 and 2019.
This obviously isn't the first time these two have met, but it will be their last as JMU is transitioning to the FBS after this season. Leaving the FCS with a title would be a storybook ending to JMU season and time in the FCS. On the other hand, NDSU defeating another team moving up a subdivision, a level in which NDSU currently has no realistic path to, would be a bittersweet feeling.
The Bison rank second in rushing averaging 281.3 yards per game. However, after losing to South Dakota State (also in the semifinals), they have rushed for over 300 yards per game against their last four opponents. TaMerik Williams has settled into the main ball carrier for the Bison even though they spread the ball around in the backfield.
The Dukes are fourth in the FCS in stopping the run and rank seventh in scoring defenses only allowing 15.1 points per game. Helping JMU limit rushers to only 82.5 yards a game in their big defensive line. Mike Green who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 293 pounds is one of the top interior lineman in the FCS. Combined with their edge rushers Bryce Carter and Isaac Ukwu and linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey, NDSU's o-line could be in for a difficult battle in the trenches.
JMU ranks sixteenth in the FCS with 281.4 yards passing and will be matched up against a Bison defense that is ranked tenth in pass defense, allowing only 174.5 yards per game. The Dukes will need to rely on Cole Johnson to play at a high level again as he is done all season. He will have two huge weapons available to him at the wide receiver position in Antwane Wells Jr. (78 catches for 1,197 yards and 14 touchdowns) and Kris Thornton (77 catches for 1,050 yards and 13 touchdowns). This dynamic duo is the first to both reach 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
Cole Johnson and the JMU offense will look to exploit NDSU's young cornerbacks. This will be the first time all season they have faced elite receivers. Wells and Thornton are great route-runners, have great hands, and are dangerous after the catch. If JMU's o-line can hold up against NDSU and keep Johnson comfortable, look for them to take deep shots most of the game.