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Five best games of the 2018 FCS playoffs

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - While the FCS playoffs have been the North Dakota State Invitational throughout the decade, the thrills garnered by the other 23 programs start with the selection show and continue on for weeks with great expectations.

The 2018 field included former champions not named Bison (Delaware, Eastern Washington, James Madison and Montana State), first-time qualifiers (UC Davis, Incarnate Word and Lamar) and the best postseason format, ahem, in Division I.

These were the five best games of the 2018 FCS playoffs:

1. Eastern Washington 34, UC Davis 29 (Quarterfinal, Dec. 8)

The two Big Sky tri-champs left you breathless with an epic fourth quarter. Eastern Washington trailed 21-14 after the third, but went ahead 28-21 behind quarterback Eric Barriere. After UC Davis running back Ulonzo Gilliam scored his third touchdown with 1:13 remaining, the visiting Aggies went for a two-point conversion and converted when Namane Modise scored off a pitch to make it 29-28. The third-seeded Eagles answered with Sam McPherson's game-winning 35-yard run with 26 seconds left.

2. Colgate 23, James Madison 20 (Second Round, Dec. 1)

In a close, physical game that matched expectations, Colgate eliminated James Madison, the 2016 FCS champ and 2017 national runner-up, on Chris Puzzi's 38-yard field goal as time expired. The Raiders' record-setting defense intercepted JMU's Ben DiNucci five times, but DiNucci came back to score on a 7-yard run with 8:22 left, tying the game at 20. His Colgate counterpart, Grant Breneman, had both a touchdown pass and run.

3. North Dakota State 38, Eastern Washington 24 (Championship Game, Jan. 5)

It's not as though NDSU was seriously threatened after scoring on its first three possessions en route to a second straight and a record seventh FCS national title in eight years, but Eastern Washington was competitive, even pulling within 17-10 on a fake field goal late in the first half. Bison quarterback Easton Stick accounted for 319 yards of total offense and five touchdowns, including 23- and 78-yard scoring strikes to Darrius Shepherd within a 1-minute, 8-span early in the third quarter. Toyota Stadium rocked in appreciation of a terrific ending to the season.

4. Jacksonville State 34, ETSU 27 (First Round, Nov. 24)

Jacksonville State ended a three-game playoff losing streak since the 2015 national championship game and sidestepped an upset with 24 unanswered points in the second half. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper and wide receiver Shaq Davidson connected for three touchdown passes in the win, while Southern Conference upstart ETSU fumbled in the Gamecocks' end zone down 34-27 with 2:38 left.

5. UC Davis 23, UNI 16 (First Round, Nov. 24)

The story line factored in as UC Davis held on to win its first-ever FCS playoff game against a postseason staple from the Missouri Valley Conference. An energized crowd watched the Aggies build a 23-6 lead and then hold on after the Panthers were within a touchdown for the final 14 minutes. Aggies quarterback Jake Maier passed for 310 yards and a touchdown and their defense bared down at the right times, keeping UNI to five field goal attempts and only one touchdown in four trips to the red zone.

Updated January 8, 2019

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