NDSU Protects the Rock
Bison Defeat Rival SDSU to Win Dakota Marker and Share of Conference Title
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 15:11
Saturday’s game at the Fargodome had all the drama one would want in a football game. With the Dakota Marker, a guaranteed share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title and huge playoff implications all on the line, a crowd of 18,721 watched the number one-ranked Bison outlast bitter rival and number 16 South Dakota State in a 20-17 win.
The wild game, which involved a battle of the nation’s top rusher versus the nation’s top defense, and saw an unorthodox penalty out of a timeout that may have changed the result of the game if not committed, was not finally decided until NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen recovered an onside kick.
“It was a game like we thought it would be,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. “South Dakota State has been playing with great focus and they have a great resolve and never-say-die attitude, and so it did not surprise me that the game is going to come down to one possession, which it did.”
In a high-stakes game, defense and mistakes proved to be the deciding factor. The Bison held the nation’s top rusher in Zach Zenner to a season low 43 yards rushing and took advantage of several Jackrabbit mistakes to help them regain the 87-pound rock and their second straight conference championship.
Zenner got a feel of how the number one-ranked Bison defense operated on the very first play. Defensive tackle Leevon Perry busted through the line of scrimmage and yanked the Walter Payton Award candidate hard to the ground for a loss. Two plays later, a draw to Zenner was also stuffed.
“They keep on answering the bell,” Bohl said on his defense. “But it’s a team sport. Our offense, defense and the kicking game all pull together.”
NDSU forced a three-and-out on that possession, giving the ball into the offensive’s hands early. After the Bison crossed midfield, SDSU committed their first crucial mistake of the game. Quarterback Brock Jensen was sacked on a third down, but a defensive holding kept the drive going. The NDSU offense seized the fresh set of downs and drove down the field with runs by Sam Ojuri. NDSU eventually settled for a 19-yard field goal by Adam Keller to give them a 3-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
The Bison again pounced on another SDSU mistake just before the end of the first quarter. Bobby Ollman recovered a Jackrabbit fumble and Jensen hit tight end Kevin Vaadeland on the next play with a beautiful 24-yard strike to put the Bison up 10-0.
SDSU showed why they are the number 16 team in the nation and responded in the second quarter, scoring ten unanswered points to tie the game going into the half.
Sparked by a 56-yard run by Jensen, the Bison regained their lead after a Keller 30-yard field goal with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Both defenses stiffened until late in the fourth quarter. Still up three, NDSU began a lengthy drive downfield with the help of two costly Jackrabbit mistakes. A personal foul was called on SDSU after Jensen was hit late on his incomplete third down pass. This gave the Bison the ball at the SDSU 12-yard line with a fresh set of downs and three minutes remaining in the game.
“When you hit the quarterback late, and I’m going to look at the film, that’s bonehead,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “That’s taking the other 59 guys on the bus and saying I’m more important than you.”
The Bison plunged their way to the five-yard line until they faced a fourth-and-seven. After a timeout was called, the Bison lined up for a 22-yard field goal try when the back judge blew his whistle and threw a flag onto the field. SDSU was called for illegal substitution, their last crucial mistake that proved to be the dagger.
The penalty put the ball half the distance to the goal, and after measurement, the Bison faced fourth-and-inches at the three-yard line. NDSU sent their offense back onto the field and handed the ball to Ojuri, who bounced left off tackle and high-stepped his way untouched into the endzone. NDSU went up 20-10 after Keller’s extra point with two minutes and 29 seconds remaining.
“If we don’t have 12 men on the field, maybe I’m smiling right now.” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “That’s how fickle the football game is.”
The penalty proved to be even more crucial when quarterback Austin Sumner responded and led SDSU down the field with ease. Sumner completed a three-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds remaining, reducing the lead back to three and putting the Dakota Marker and conference title back in site.
SDSU lined up for the onside kick as a silent Fargodome watched. The kick took several bounces before being recovered by none other than Jensen, who thankfully took a pair of gloves from teammates Luke Albers before heading onto the field.
“[Running back] John Crockett is usually on it and he wasn’t able to go out there today,” Jensen said. “And I had to step in on that second spot and you just gotta make a play.”
After taking off the gloves, Jensen headed back onto the field and took a knee to run out the clock. Before the clock hit zero, Bison players were already rushing over to hoist the Dakota Marker above their heads.
“It’s huge,” linebacker Grant Olson said on winning this game. “[SDSU] is probably one of our biggest rivals, so anytime you get a win in one of your rival games, that’s big. Adding in with that was going for the conference championship, it was senior night, so there was a lot of things that made this an emotional game.”
NDSU will travel to number 11 and second place conference holder Illinois State next Saturday for a crucial regular season finale. With a win, the Bison will be outright conference champs and will have a tremendous shot of gaining the number one seed in the FCS playoff field and having the opportunity to play every playoff game at the Fargodome. Kickoff is set for 12:05 p.m.