Bison Down Bears for Third Straight Homecoming Victory
Jensen, Vraa find connection for career records
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 15:10
The thought of NDSU being a run-dominated football team may have been whisked Saturday. At least Missouri State realized that after giving up 313 yards through the air in a 41-26 loss in front of a NDSU record crowd of 19,108.
While the Bears (1-6, 1-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) contained the Bison rushing attack to 137 yards, they had no answer for quarterback Brock Jensen and his downfield target Zach Vraa. Of Jensen’s career-high 313 yards and three touchdowns, Vraa hauled in his career best 179 yards and two scores.
“Ideally we like to be a run-first football team,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. “The good thing about our offense as opposed to a couple years ago is we’re able to be multidimensional enough to be able to, if something is not going one way, we’re able to move the ball through the air.”
Vraa was a huge boost for a Bison offense that didn’t score until 2:32 left in the first half. His 52-yard reception led to a Sam Ojuri 2-yard touchdown run on the next play to take a 17-13 lead.
Prior to that, NDSU leaned on special team for points with an Adam Keller 33-yard field goal four minutes after a huge Ryan Smith 85-yard punt return for the first score of the game.
“I thought that had a big impact on the ball game,” Bohl said on Smith’s return. “Coming in, their football team is well-schooled, they’ve got good players, they’ve not won a lot of games, so it was important for us to jump on them early and I thought that had a huge, huge impact.”
Missouri State, who took numerous shots downfield all game, made its first big mistake of the game right before half. Bison safety Christian Dudzik intercepted a Kierra Harris sailing pass and returned it to the Bears’ 36-yard line. On the next play, Jensen hit Vraa on the move for the 36-yard score.
“Those were big plays,” Dudzik said. “I was glad I could get the ball into the offense’s hands and they took advantage of the opportunity.”
The only blemish on Jensen’s career day occurred instantly in the second half. Jensen was hit as he threw and All-American safety Caleb Shaffitzel returned it 19 yards for the touchdown and the scrappy Bears were right back in it, down 24-20.
“That’s the game of football and that stuff happens,” Jensen said. “I got hit as I threw the ball and as I was looking up at the ceiling on my back, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. It’s one that I’d like to have back but it didn’t faze me at all.”
The pick-six certainly didn’t diminish Jensen’s aggressiveness either. He responded by completing five passes on a 13-play, 75-yard drive with his last completion going to none other than Vraa on a 23-yard pitch and catch to lengthen the lead to 31-20.
“We saw a lot of tendencies that we knew we could take advantage of,” Vraa said. “We threw the ball deep a lot and we knew we could take a lot of shots down the field and we did what we could and it really paid off.”
The Bison didn’t let the pesky Bears back into the game after that. Dudzik pounced on a fumble on Missouri State’s next possession and just like the previous turnover, NDSU cashed in right away.
Jensen found tight end Kevin Vaadeland wide open off of play action from 33 yards out and the Bison cruised through the rest of the game for a 41-26 win.
“Anytime you turn the ball over against the Bison, we’re a pretty opportunistic team,” Jensen said.
Keller knocked in a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and Missouri State added a late touchdown in a late-game scramble to get back into it to no avail.
The Bison improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play. NDSU travels to play Southern Illinois (4-3, 2-1 MVFC) next Saturday. The Salukis have knocked off two top-ten teams in a row, beating conference opponents South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. Kickoff is set at 2 p.m.