By ANDY WOLF
Sixteen football teams remain.
The winner of University of Findlay and Assumption College’s Saturday-afternoon gridiron battle will go where neither team has gone before — the regional final.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at the Multi-Sport Stadium in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Both are relatively new to the Division II playoff scene
Assumption (10-1), the No. 3 seed, is making its third straight playoff appearance after having never been there before.
The Greyhounds had one previous playoff victory prior to beating California (Pa.) 40-31 in last Saturday’s Super Region One opener.
Their recent success gave them an optimistic outlook in the preseason. Fifth-year Assumption coach Bob Chesney knows the teams that turn out to have good seasons are ones that as he put it remain the most intact.
“I’m sure we all have hopes and dreams but in the end what does it all amount to?” Chesney said. “It’s based on what last men are standing and are they good enough to beat the other team and their last men standing?”
Findlay (10-2), the last team in as the No. 7 seed, stunned No. 2 Shepherd 29-17 in its first Division II playoff game.
Here are more five things to know for Saturday’s game.
MOTIVATION NATION: Both teams used Week 11 losses to light a fire as they approached their playoff openers.
Assumption lost its perfect season when Bentley came into Worcester and dealt them a 35-31 loss.
Chesney decided to rest a few key players in that game in hopes to preserve them and be at better strength for the playoffs.
The Greyhounds steamrolled its previous eight Northeast-10 Conference opponents by 42.6 points per game.
“What’s the lesson that you learn when you win 68-0?” Chesney said of their win over Stonehill. “It’s going to come down to something that’s a hard lesson that really defines your team and also sets you up for any success you might have moving forward.
“Our ability to win that game last week was only possible because we lost the week before.”
Findlay’s playoff fate was less certain as it saw a GMAC title slip away in a 49-24 loss at Ohio Dominican.
MAKING ADJUSTMENTS: Keys found two big areas to improve upon from the Shepherd win — a fast offensive start and allowing big plays.
Both could’ve buried the Oilers who fell behind 17-9 at halftime.
They had to settle for three first-half field goals in the red zone despite totaling 285 yards. Scoring on Assumption could be tricky as it yields only 13.5 points per game. Only two teams have allowed fewer red zone trips (26) and only one team sports a better red zone defense (57.7 percent).
Meanwhile, Shepherd had four plays over 20 yards in the first half but none in the second half.
“If you look at our losses against Ferris State (48-27) and Ohio Dominican, big plays were very present against us in those games,” UF coach Rob Keys said.
Findlay lost starting corner Tyler Lee to injury late in the first quarter in the ODU game.
The Panthers capitalized and threw for 339 yards and six touchdowns.
“(Against ODU) We had to scramble and had to move guys in some positions that haven’t practiced there all week,” said senior defensive back Aaron Ivory, who had to move from safety to corner.
“With this (past) week of prep knowing that Tyler wasn’t playing, guys stepped up and filled those shoes such as myself moving to corner and inserting Terrence (Smith).”
Smith, a true freshman, started and played well against Shepherd, making seven tackles and two pass breakups.
ASSUMPTION OFFENSE: The Greyhounds average 45.2 points per game while remaining balanced in attack (414 yards per game). They’ve used three quarterbacks but not fully out of necessity.
Marc Monks missed a few recent games to injury but leads the team with 1,574 yards, 15 TDs and four interceptions. He threw only two incompletions last week.
“Marc just really wasn’t 100 percent the last four weeks,” Chesney said.
Brendan Tobey has completed 54.3 percent (57 of 105) for 810 yards with six touchdowns and four picks. Chesney threw in athletic junior Cody Williams into a two-quarterback system and he has completed all 11 pass attempts.
Senior running back Dylan Oxsen (814 yards, 8 TDs) sees the bulk of the carries with sophomore Khaleed Exum-Strong mixes in 7.6 yards per carry on his 71 attempts.
MIRROR DEFENSES: Findlay and Assumption rank 32nd (312.1 ypg) and 34th (315.3), nationally, in yards allowed.
The similarities go even deeper.
Assumption allows 130.0 rushing yards per Findlay’s 133.4.
Findlay yields 178.7 ypg through the air to Assumption’s 185.3.
Both teams thrive off turnovers.
The Oilers are plus-18 in turnover margin; the Greyhounds are plus-17 — the top two marks in Division II.
Assumption picked off California (Pa.) quarterback Michael Keir five times last week. Keir only threw six in 11 prior games.
Senior defensive back Andrew Benson, the NE-10 Defensive Player of the Year, has eight picks this season and 16 in his career.
Ivory leads UF with five interceptions while Lee and Chewy Chukwuneke each have four.
SPECIAL TEAMS: For a classic battle of “something’s gotta give” look no further than the idea of Findlay punting to Assumption.
Even though the Oilers have punted the fewest times in the country (26), odds are they’ll have to at least once.
They are the top team nationally in total punt return yards allowed in minus-16.
On the flip side, Assumption averages 24.18 yards per punt return — the best mark in the country.
Junior Deonte Harris has six return touchdowns this year, five from punt returns.
The distances of his punt-return scores covered 60, 87, 78, 76 and 77 yards.
He went 97 yards to the house on his only kick return touchdown.
“His vision is really good. His strength is really good,” Harris said. “His ability to get to full speed in two or three steps is really good.”
In Saturday’s win over Shepherd, UF allowed kick returns of 30 and 50 yards that set the Rams up for short touchdown drives of 51 and 47 yards.
Meanwhile, Findlay’s Jacob Hill has two kickoff return touchdowns this season.
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