Montana top seed for 1AA playoffs

Nov. 25, 2001 at 6:20 PM
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INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Montana and Georgia Southern could be on a collision course for a rematch of last year's NCAA Division I-AA football championship after being named the tournament's top two seeds on Sunday.

Montana (11-1), which will extend the division's longest current streak of consecutive playoff appearances to nine, was given the No. 1 seed by the NCAA I-AA football committee.

Georgia Southern (10-1) is seeded second but may have the upper hand on Montana after winning last year's title, 27-25, for its second straight national championship.

The Eagles also boast the division's all-time rushing leader in Adrian Peterson, who has 6,559 career yards. He surpassed the mark of 6,553 set by Sacramento State's Charles Roberts from 1997-2000.

Furman (9-2), a rival of Georgia Southern's in the Southern Conference, and Eastern Illinois (9-1) round out the top-four seeds. This is the first year that only four teams are seeded.

The I-AA playoffs begin Saturday with each of the eight first-round games.

The first three rounds will be on campus sites, and the title game will be Dec. 21 at Finley Stadium/Davenport Field in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In the first round, Montana entertains Northwestern State (8-3); Georgia Southern hosts Florida A&M (7-3); Western Kentucky (8-3) visits Furman and Northern Iowa (9-2) travels to Eastern Illinois.

Western Kentucky will be making its first back-to-back playoff appearances in head coach Jack Harbaugh's 13 years at the university.

"To be part of the field of 16 is a tremendous opportunity," Harbaugh said. "I don't know if there's ever been a better field."

Last year Western Kentucky defeated Florida A&M, 27-0, in the opening round of the playoffs before falling 17-14 to Appalachian State in the quarterfinals. This will be the Hilltoppers' third postseason under Harbaugh, who also led WKU to the quarterfinals in 1997.

Other first-round matchups are Northern Arizona (8-3) and Sam Houston State (9-2); Maine (8-2) and McNeese State (8-3); William & Mary (8-3) and Appalachian State (8-3); and Hofstra (9-2) and Lehigh (10-0).

Northern Arizona quarterback Preston Parsons, who has thrown 19 touchdowns during his senior season in Flagstaff, said: "We redirected ourselves after last season to get in the playoffs. All we wanted was to get in the playoffs and that is where we are at right now."

Northern Arizona will be making its second playoff apperance. The Lumberjacks dropped a 42-31 decision to Furman in Flagstaff in 1996.

The Lumberjacks, who posted a 4-2 road record this season, will travel to Huntsville, Texas, for the first-round contest.

"Playing at Oregon State last week helped us a lot," said Parsons. "I think we will be fine in a hostile environment."

Sam Houston State is in the playoffs for the first time since 1991. They were co-champions of the Southland Conference with the McNeese State Cowboys at 5-1 in league play.

Matchups were determined by geographic proximity, but teams from the same conference were not paired in the first round. The field is made up of eight automatic qualifiers and eight at-large teams.

The automatic bids went to conference champions in the Atlantic 10, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Southern, Big Sky, Southland Football, Gateway Football and Ohio Valley Conferences, and the Patriot League.

The Southern Conference is the best represented with Georgia Southern, Furman and Appalachian State combining for 35 playoff bids and seven national titles--six by the Eagles.

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