By James Jones/The Sun Herald (MCT)
CLEVELAND - Delta State is just two victories away from winning its second NCAA championship in football.
The Statesmen (10-3) will entertain Shepherd (12-1) in a Division II semifinal contest today at 1 p.m. at Parker Field. Where available, the game will be seen on the CBS College Sports network.
Delta State won the Super Regional II title last weekend by beating Albany State 28-7; Shepherd captured the Super Regional I crown with a 49-14 victory over Mercyhurst.
"Playing at home is a great opportunity for us and gives great exposure for the university," Statesmen coach Ron Roberts said. "We're very excited to be representing Delta State."
The Rams present a tough challenge for Delta State. Shepherd is led by running back Nate Hoyte, who ran for 109 yards and four touchdowns against Mercyhurst in their quarterfinal contest.
"They're the best team we've faced this season," Roberts said. "They're very well-coached and a talented team."
Delta State has won four straight games since getting hammered 31-7 by North Alabama at home two months ago. The Statesmen avenged one of their three regular-season losses with a 47-24 victory over the Lions in the quarterfinals.
The Gulf South Conference co-champions are led by running back Trevar Deed, who stands only 22 yards away from becoming the first 2,000-yard rusher, 2,000-yard receiver in league history. Quarterback Micah Davis has thrown for more than 3,600 yards.
"We're tickled to death being this close to winning it all," Davis said.
Roberts has an easy formula for the Statesmen to reach the finals.
"It all comes down to simple football," Roberts said. "We've got to protect the football and win the turnover battle. We must run the football and keep them from running the football. We've got to rush their quarterback."
DSU junior cornerback Dominique Davenport, from Baldwyn, is the Statesmen's 11th-leading tackler with 41 (27 solo). He has five interceptions this fall.
Jacob Sesma, a junior from Walnut, starts at tight end for the Statesmen. Other players with Northeast Mississippi ties include backup fullback Clint Farrar, a senior from Kossuth, and linebacker Bill Hawkins, a junior from Booneville.
Today's winner will face either defending national champ Northwest Missouri State (12-1) or Minnesota-Duluth (13-0) on Dec. 18 at Braly Stadium in Florence, Ala. Today's other semifinal kicks off at 5 p.m. in Duluth.
The last time Delta State hosted a semifinal contest, the Statesmen won their only national title. Coach Steve Campbell, now at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and QB Josh Bright led Delta State past North Datoka State 34-16 in the 2000 finals.
Delta State has a 11-4 all-time playoff record. The Statesmen's last semifinal appearance came in 2006, falling 49-30 to eventual national champion Grand Valley State.