We waited nine long months for the first Saturday of the DII football season. And that wait certainly paid off as six DII football teams took down FCS opponents in stunning upset fashion.
Kentucky State started a trend on Saturday. The Thorobreds knocked off their FCS opponent Robert Morris 13-7, coming back from an early 7-0 deficit to shut the Colonials down for nearly three and a half quarters. They controlled the tempo with the run game and the defense stuffed the holes as Kentucky State picked up its first win since 2017.
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Let’s take a look at how the other five DII football upsets went down on the opening Saturday of 2019.
Truman pulled off the win without scoring an offensive touchdown. In fact, the Bulldogs totaled just 181 yards, nearly 60 yards less than their FCS foe. A stout defensive effort led by Jake Floyd and Sam Reeves — who combined for 3.5 sacks — stymied Drake’s offense.
Lawrence Woods was the hero of the day. The junior defensive back led the tough Truman defense with eight tackles, but it was his 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half that won the day.
We turn from a defensive battle to an offensive explosion. Before Northwestern State could find the end zone, it found itself down 19-0 to the Mustangs. Quarterback Zach Purcell had a monster 2019 debut, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for one more score to pace the Mustangs offense.
He spread the ball around and Juwan Johnson, who could very well be an All-American come December, caught four passes for 65 yards and his first touchdown of the year. All three of Purcell’s touchdown went to a different receiver as Johnson, Tyrique Edwards and Kylan Harris all scored.
It’s a new era in Warriors football. Head coach Denny Douds —who coached more games than any DII football coach in history — stepped down at the end of 2018 and handed the reigns to his former Harlon Hill Award-winning quarterback Jimmy Terwilliger as the new leader of the Warriors.
And he’s off to a perfect start.
East Stroudsburg trailed for only about four minutes in this game. Wagner struck first, but the Warriors quickly countered with Devante Robinson’s first touchdown of the day. The tailback would score all three East Stroudsburg touchdowns, two on the ground and one in the air. Wagner actually outgained the Warriors in total yards, but ESU’s defense clamped down when it mattered most, leading to the double-digit victory.
Hampton opened its season last weekend by defeating DII football’s Elizabeth City State 65-7. The Panthers weren’t going to let them go perfect against the division, not allowing Hampton to score for the entire second half picking up the school’s first win over a DI program.
The Panthers were our sleeper team for 2019, boldly predicted to be a top 25 team this season. One of the big reasons was their beast of a running back Tabyus Taylor, who delivered on opening night rushing for over 150 yards. But it was freshman quarterback Khalid Morris who stole the show, throwing for four touchdowns (three to Charles Hall), including an 80-yard bomb for his first career score. He’ll need to improve, completing under 35 percent of his passes, but this is an impressive start.
Virginia Union played one shaky quarter. The Panthers blanked Hampton 14-0 in the first before the Pirates exploded for a 17-0 second quarter. The Panthers shut down Hampton in the second half, outscoring the Pirates 22-0. All-American Sterling Hammond had a huge day with seven tackles and a pick while linebacker Taj Conway paced the Panthers with double-digit tackles.
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Big plays. That was the key to the Texans’ FCS upset. In fact, one was of DII record-tying proportions as Daniel McCants ran for a 99-yard touchdown which tied him for the longest touchdown run in history. The offense put up a school record 667 yards as head coach Todd Whitten took down his alma mater once again.
McCants had a monster day, running for 179 yards on just 11 carries, a whopping 16.3 yards per carry. The bulk of those yards came on his two touchdown runs, the record-tying 99-yard scamper and a 48-yard touchdown to start the scoring.
Not to be outdone, Tarleton quarterback Ben Holmes had a big play or two in him as well. Holmes threw for 372 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns went to J.F. Thomas, one of which was a 63-yard bomb. Thomas was Holmes favorite target, pulling in seven receptions for 193 yards.