Capitals

NDSU, SDSU meet in football playoffs for 1st time

NDSU, SDSU meet in football playoffs for 1st time

FARGO, N.D. (AP) There were some at North Dakota State and South Dakota State who weren't thrilled with the idea of moving from Division II to Division I, a decision that cost both teams games against their in-state rivals.

Seven years later, both schools are enjoying success on the football field. SDSU, in fact, is faring better than it did in Division II. And after playing each other 99 times over the years, the Bison and Jackrabbits will square off in the playoffs for the first time.

``I think both schools had a lot of naysayers,'' NDSU coach Craig Bohl said of the colleges moving up to Division I. ``We linked arms several years ago and took a long-term approach. We didn't do it the quick way and take a bunch of transfers. We developed players.''

The Bison had a proud history in Division II, winning nine national titles, including six after a playoff system was instituted. Most expected them to make their mark quickly in Division I, and they did. Last season's FCS Subdivision championship came in NDSU's fourth year of D-I eligibility.

The Jackrabbits qualified for the postseason just once in 31 years of the Division II playoffs, losing in the first round in 1979. They've made the playoffs twice and coach John Stiegelmeier's program has now posted winning records in seven of its nine seasons in the FCS.

The move cost both teams their longtime rivals, when the University of South Dakota and University of North Dakota opted to stay in Division II. Asked if SDSU boosters thought the jump to Division I was a good move, Stiegelmeier conceded there were mixed feelings.

``There was no reference point,'' Stiegelmeier said. ``I don't know if we were naive to some of the stuff, including all the benefits. It took a little while, but I would say the state is 100 percent behind what we've done so far.''

The two schools have sweetened the pot with an award for the winner of the football matchup. The Dakota Marker, a replica of the quartzite monuments that used to mark the border between North and South Dakota, has turned out to be a tough trophy. NDSU has won it five times, SDSU on four occasions.

Justin Sell, the SDSU athletic director, calls it one of the ``coolest rivalries'' he's been a part of because the schools have many similarities.

``We are partners. And when we're not playing, we're good friends,'' Sell said.

The playoff game Saturday comes three weeks after NDSU held off visiting SDSU 20-17 in a game that ultimately decided the Missouri Valley Football League championship. While the Bison were enjoying a bye last week in the first round of the playoffs, SDSU opened the postseason by whipping Eastern Illinois 58-10.

``Everyone says it's tough to beat a team twice,'' said NDSU offensive lineman Billy Taylor. ``To play a team twice in the same year, especially within three weeks, is crazy, but hopefully it's a challenge we'll be able to overcome.''

Most believe the matchup boils down to NDSU's defense on SDSU running back Zach Zenner. NDSU leads the FCS in total defense (196 yards allowed per game), passing defense (129), rushing defense (67), and scoring defense (11.82 points per game).

Zenner leads the FCS in rushing with an average of more than 166 yards per outing.

``It starts with their running game and it starts with Zenner,'' Bison linebacker Grant Olson said. ``So if we can shut that down, that will give us the best chance to win.''

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Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

With their 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, the Capitals' playoff future is starting to come into focus. Washington has only one game remaining and can finish in either third or fourth in the round robin standings. That limits the number of possible playoff opponents for the Caps when the games really start to matter.

First, before talking about who the Caps may play, it is important to remember why. Under the NHL's regular format, a normal year would see teams advance in a bracket, meaning each team knows going in they will be playing the winner of a specific matchup if they advance. This year, the NHL is going back to its old format of re-seeding after each round. This makes determining matchups a bit harder to figure out.

Here's what we know. The Caps are going to finish in the bottom half of the round robin meaning they will play one of the highest two seeded teams coming out of the qualifying round. The Carolina Hurricanes swept their qualifying round series against the New York Rangers. As the No. 6 seed coming in, Carolina is going to be one of the top two qualifying round teams.

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Washington's final seed will be determined by Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins. A win in regulation, overtime or a shootout will mean the Caps are No. 3, while a loss in any fashion will bump them down to No. 4.

The simplest scenario for Washington is that If the Pittsburgh Penguins rally to win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps are guaranteed to play either Pittsburgh or Carolina as the No. 5 and 6 seeds, respectively. It gets a little trickier if the Penguins lose. If that happens, the Hurricanes become the top qualifying team and will play No. 4. The top team behind them then becomes No. 6 which, as of now, could be the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So a rematch with the Hurricanes is a definite possibility for the Caps, as is a matchup with the rival Penguins.

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Stephen Strasburg will start for Nationals Sunday against Orioles

Stephen Strasburg will start for Nationals Sunday against Orioles

Davey Martinez said Friday that Stephen Strasburg will start Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.

Strasburg has yet to pitch this season because of a right wrist impingement which led to a nerve problem in his right hand. He missed his first start, slated for the second game of the season on July 25, then what would have been his second start five days later. Strasburg said his hand was falling asleep in the middle of the night. The Nationals medical staff needed to give Strasburg multiple injections in his hand in order to help the pain subside.

RELATED: IS NATIONALS VS. ORIOLES A TRUE RIVALRY?

He threw a heavy bullpen session Wednesday before throwing 32 pitches in a simulated game. Martinez said Strasburg felt well during the simulated game, so instead of continuing, they had him stop in order to throw 70-plus pitches Sunday against Baltimore.

"The tingling in his thumb is gone," Martinez said Friday. "That's a good sign. We watched him, like I said, he's thrown some really good [bullpen sessions]. That was the big thing for me. Nothing in his mechanics has changed. Everything's good. Based on conversations with him, he feels good. He wants to pitch. He's ready to pitch on Sunday."

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Max Scherzer left his Wednesday start after just an inning because of a hamstring "tweak" from the day before when he was running sprints. He was expected to play catch Friday. Martinez labeled him "day-to-day."

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