Associated Press

Valdosta State wins fourth Division II national championship in thriller

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The best game you (probably) didn’t see on Saturday went down in McKinney, Texas, where Valdosta State (Ga.) took down Ferris State (Mich.) in a thrilling Division II National Championship.

In a back-and-forth game that saw the lead change hands seven times in the second and third quarters, Valdosta State seemingly seized control when Rogan Wells hit Travis Taylor for a 1-yard touchdown toss, handing the Blazers a 42-31 lead with 4:25 left in the third quarter.

Ferris State pulled back within 42-38 by the end of the third quarter, though, through this acrobatic touchdown grab by Keyondre Craig.

Wells’ fifth touchdown pass of the game put Valdosta State in front 49-38 with 11:36 to play, but a Ferris State field goal cut the lead back to single digits, and then a turnover on downs at the Ferris State 34 gave the Bulldogs a chance to send the game to overtime. A 5-play, 66-yard drive gave Ferris State the touchdown it needed with 40 seconds left, but the requisite 2-point try was no good.

“When I saw the ball high and wide, that was a great feeling,” Valdosta head coach Kerwin Bell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“This was the first one we pulled out (this season) — 0-for-1,” Ferris State head coach Tony Annese told the Detroit Free Press afterward. “In the end, I told them it was my fault we lost because we probably should have had a better two-point conversion play.”

Valdosta State’s defense held, and the 49-47 win gave the program its fourth Division II national championship.

Wells earned MVP honors for Valdosta State, hitting 19-of-31 passes for 349 yards and five touchdowns. Ferris State’s Jayru Campbell — winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II’s Heisman Trophy equivalent — completed 10-of-18 passes for 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception while posting a game-high 22 carries for 122 yards and a score.

Valdosta State, picked fifth in the Gulf South Conference in preseason, completed the first undefeated season in school history at 14-0. The national title is Valdosta’s first since 2012; the Blazers also won national titles in 2004 and 2007.

Florida to host Florida Atlantic in 2021

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Florida will host Florida Atlantic in 2021, FAU announced Tuesday. The game will take place on Sept. 4 and serve as the season-opener for both schools.

The schools have met three times previously, all of them in Gainesville. Florida won 59-20 on Nov. 17, 2007, 41-3 on Sept. 3, 2011, and 20-14 on Nov. 21, 2015.

The game will round out both schools’ non-conference schedules.

Florida will visit USF on Sept. 11, host Florida State on Nov. 27 and has a TBD home game against Samford, most likely on Nov. 20.

Today’s news means Florida has a future game on the schedule with every FBS program in the Sunshine State except UCF and Florida International. Florida beat Miami in Orlando to open this season and will play a home-and-home with the ‘Canes in 2024-25.

Florida Atlantic will follow its Gainesville trip with an excursion to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. After that, the Owls will host Fordham and Georgia Southern to round out September.

 

With Husky mascot retiring in 2021, Northern Illinois to introduce successor on Tuesday

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Northern Illinois’ husky mascot, Mission, is retiring in 2021, and on Tuesday the school will introduce his successor.

Mission II, born on July 6 and weighing a tender 14.5 ounces, will replace Mission two years from now, and the puppy will begin his official duties as NIU’s next official mascot on Tuesday.

“We have long been searching for the heir apparent to Mission, and there is no question that we have found the right Huskie,” NIU Alumni Association Executive Director Reggie Bustinza said. “Mission has set very high expectations, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mission II cannot only meet those demands, but surpass them.

“We are happy that Mission will have plenty of years to enjoy his retirement.”

Mission will turn 10 years old in 2021, and by that time Mission II will be fully versed in all the expectations placed upon the Official Northern Illinois Husky.

Mission II, a Siberian husky born in southern Wisconsin, will accompany Mission “to all eligible events for experiential learning and proofing,” which begins at a tasting for an NIU-branded beer on Tuesday evening in DeKalb.

The school has not revealed when Mission II will make his debut at a Husky football game, and in the meantime he’ll continue training with Lisa Boland while also attending daily puppy classes.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing Mission and Mission II do the job together during the training period,” Boland said. “It will be wonderful to watch ‘Mini-Mish’ learn from Mission, and see them work as a team. Mission has set a very high bar in mascotting, and Mission II will be working very hard to follow in his footsteps. I am so proud of Mission and the work that he’s done as the official NIU mascot.

“I am thrilled to have the privilege of guiding his successor to best represent Huskie Nation.”

Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Texas LB Caleb Johnson enters transfer portal

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Sitting at the quarter-pole of the 2019 regular season, and Texas is the latest FBS program to feel the pain of the portal.

Joe Cook of InsideTexas.com was the first to report that Caleb Johnson has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the initial report, writing that the junior linebacker “feels he has not fit in well since he arrived at Texas.”

247Sports provided further details as to the events leading up to Johnson’s decision.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Johnson met with the staff Monday morning to inform them of his intentions to enter the transfer portal. While the staff requested he think more about his decision, Johnson decided to enter his name into he NCAA Transfer Portal, and is listed in the portal as of Tuesday morning.

Johnson joined the Longhorns from the junior college level, enrolling early and taking part in spring practice this past offseason.  He was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 3 JUCO outside linebacker in this past year’s class.

Through three games, Johnson hadn’t yet taken the field for the Big 12 program.