Western Illinois has made a remarkable turnaround, going from one win to eight in just a single season to reach the second round of the playoffs against Appalachian State
By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
Not many schools can boast about winning one game in one season and then making the playoffs and even winning a playoff game the next, but that's the claim Western Illinois can make.
The Leathernecks finished 2009 just 1-10, but claimed their eighth victory last week on the road against Big South tri-champion Coastal Carolina.
WIU narrowly got into the playoff field following its triumph over Missouri Valley champion Northern Iowa in its final regular-season contest. The Leathernecks were likely one of the last teams selected for one of the 10 at-large bids.
Western Illinois not only finished with a single victory in 2009, but it finished with 10 straight losses so expectations were low entering this season for first-year head coach Mark Hendrickson.
He spent two years as the interim head coach before this year in the wake of Don Patterson's cancer treatment and when Patterson was dismissed last season, tallying a 5-10 mark during that time.
Western Illinois is in the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2003 when it made the second of back-to-back quarterfinal appearances.
Now, the Leathernecks get a chance to play No. 1 seed Appalachian State on the road again in the Carolinas.
What has been the reason for the big turnaround for WIU?
The biggest reasons can be found on both sides of the ball as the Leathernecks boast two All-Missouri Valley players of the year in senior quarterback Matt Barr and senior linebacker Matt Glazier.
Barr, who missed the final seven games of his junior year due to an injury, has to date set 12 Leatherneck game/season/career records. He is tied for fifth in the nation in total offense (313.7 yards per game) and second in passing efficiency (158.10).
Barr broke the Western Illinois career record after accounting for 278 yards in the 17-10 triumph over Coastal Carolina, giving him 7,882 career total offensive yards. Barr moved past Paul Singer (7,816: 8,257 pass/-441 rush) for the all-time record.
Glazier moved up a spot from third to second place nationally averaging 12.8 tackles per contest following his 17-tackle performance at Coastal Carolina.
Glazier, who joins a fine tradition of WIU linebackers, also leads the Leatherneck defense with 12.5 tackles for a loss and stands second with four sacks. He is ninth nationally among the NCAA active career leaders in total tackles (378).
While those two get the top spotlight, Barr has two outstanding receivers to help him put up the numbers on offense in senior Lito Senatus and junior Terriun Crump.
Senatus stands ninth nationally in receiving yards per game, averaging a MVFC-leading 93.3 yards and is 39th in the country with 5.2 receptions per game. Senatus is the season receiving yards leader following the Coastal Carolina game, with 1,120 yards.
Crump has accounted for 102 yards on five catches. He had a personal-high 83-yard catch that tied a WIU playoff record. He has totaled 54 catches totaling 876 yards.
What will the Leathernecks need to do to defeat Appalachian State?
Western Illinois will need to play its best game of the year and win the turnover battle. Last week, WIU's defense forced five turnovers in the victory over Coastal Carolina and likely a similar number will be needed — against a team that doesn't turn the ball over very much (15 times in 11 games) — to win in Boone.
The Mountaineers are seventh in scoring offense and ninth in passing efficiency so the Leatherneck defense must hold App State down and try to win a low-scoring game to pull off the upset.
While winning in Boone might be a tall order, WIU has already surpassed most of the expectations it had coming into the season. Just having the chance to play in December is something it could only have dreamed about entering the season.
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Western Illinois (8-4, 5-3 MVFC) at No. 1 Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1 SoCon), Noon, Eastern
The Leathernecks will need to win the turnover margin and will need to ride the strength of quarterback Matt Barr to keep the Mountaineer offense off the field to have a chance to spring the upset.
This could come down to a battle between two of the three remaining Walter Payton Award finalists at quarterback, Barr and ASU's DeAndre Presley.
But Western Illinois isn't likely to pull off the win. WIU is 0-2 all-time vs. the Southern Conference opponents and ASU has fared well against MVFC teams during past playoff runs, beating better teams from Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa in the 2005 national championship season.
WIU might be able to keep the game close, but ASU has too much firepower. Appalachian State 31, Western Illinois 21.
North Dakota State (8-4, 4-4 MVFC) at No. 4 Montana State (9-2, 7-1 Big Sky), 2 p.m. Eastern
The Bison won their first D-I postseason game last week over Robert Morris, 43-17, with a strong second half.
NDSU trailed 7-6 at halftime and RMU cut an NDSU lead to 20-17 with just 12 minutes to play before the Bison erupted for 23 points in a four-an-a-half-minute span.
This Saturday's game is a rematch of the two teams' regular-season game in Bozeman from 2005, where Montana State won, 20-17.
These two have met in the playoffs before — the last time being in 1976 when MSU won in Fargo in the D-II playoffs 10-3 en route to its national title at that level.
The Bobcats are led by Big Sky co-offensive player of the year, redshirt freshman quarterback Denarius McGhee. He has thrown for a 275.2 passing yard average this season.
McGhee will face a Bison defense that led the Missouri Valley Football Conference and is tied for 11th in the country in takeaways (28), having intercepted 14 passes and recovered 14 fumbles.
This game will be close in what should feature decent December weather for these parts. Temperatures should be in the mid-to upper 20s, but fans could see some snow showers per the latest forecast.
This could develop into a defensive struggle, with No. 4-seeded Montana State likely to win a close game by a field goal. Montana State 23, North Dakota State 20.
Southeast Missouri State (9-2, 7-1 Ohio Valley) @ No. 5 Eastern Washington (9-2, 7-1 Big Sky), 4 p.m. Eastern
This game has two of FCS's best running backs in EWU's Taiwan Jones and SEMO's Henry Harris.
Harris leads the FCS in all-purpose yards (219.8 per game) and Jones is right behind (195.1 per game). Harris is second nationally in rushing (147.9) and has 18 total touchdowns. Jones is fourth in rushing (134.4) and has 14 total touchdowns.
SEMO is making its first trip to the FCS playoffs, but had two weeks to prepare for this game.
The Redhawks — much like Western Illinois — have turned their program around under coach Tony Samuel after winning just two games a season ago. Southeast Missouri State won its first Ohio Valley crown by virtue of Jacksonville State losing its last regular-season game.
One stat that can't be overlooked is the fact that the Eagles have won seven of their nine games by seven or less. The Redhawks should keep this game close, but it's a tough road-trip to Cheney, Wa. and it will be tough to play on the red turf. Eastern Washington should win by a touchdown. Eastern Washington 38, Southeast Missouri State 31.