NDSU's Last Punch Sticks Southern Illinois
Bison score 13 unanswered points in 4th quarter comeback
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 13:10
The Missouri Valley Football Conference was at its finest Saturday afternoon at the Fargodome. The No. 3 NDSU Bison duked it out with the Southern Illinois Salukis for a physical and thrilling 23-17 win.
In a tight knot game that didn’t see a lead bigger than 7 points, NDSU put on a 13-point fourth quarter comeback to take their final and only lead of the game.
“It was a great Valley win,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. “A hard fought win, it was what we anticipated and it certainly stopped my heart a couple times.”
The Salukis came into the confines of the Fargodome and quieted the crowd quickly, marching down the field and capping their drive off with a 32-yard touchdown pass to LaSte McKinney on a fourth-and-3.
Several penalties slowed the game down and the Bison offense didn’t get going into early in the second quarter. A 16-play, 66-yard methodical drive was capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback Brock Jensen.
The Bison defense, who only allowed 11 total yards rushing, sniffed out a third down run to force a punt on the next possession.
NDSU crossed midfield again, but on a first down play, Jensen was sacked and fumbled the ball. SIU’s Brandon Williams scooped up the ball and ran 55-yards untouched to give the Sycamores a 14-7 lead with 5:31 remaining in the first half.
“We had a missed protection,” Bohl said on the scoop-and-score. “We weren’t protecting the quarterback’s backside and that’s a bad, bad sign.”
Both offenses struggled to get past the gritty defenses, and were forced to punt on their next possessions.
The Bison finally got some momentum going again with a minute left in the half when Jensen found Ryan Smith down the middle for a big 58-yard gain. NDSU could not convert a third-and-4 pass and Adam Keller booted in a 24-yard field goal to make the score 14-10 at the half.
The second half was the same story as the first. Penalties and mistakes contributed to both teams struggling to put points on the board. The Bison had an opportunity to reduce the lead with a 47-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked and recovered at the NDSU 40-yard line.
The Salukis took advantage of the momentum swing, converting on a third-and-16 and then completing a reverse pass to the Bison 13-yard line. A huge sack by Kyle Emmanuel, who had a terrific game, pushed the ball back 9 yards. SIU was then forced to settle for a 35-yard field, putting them up 17-10 with 0:51 remaining in the third quarter.
That was when the Bison offense finally found a consistent rhythm, scoring 13 unanswered points. It started with some trickery on their first play of the next possession. Jensen, split out wide in the Wildcat formation, took a reverse and then heaved the ball to a streaking Andrew Okland for a huge 60-yard play.
“I think you can definitely tell our offense was a different unit after that,” Okland said on his catch. “Once you flip the field that fast it changes the game.”
With the ball at SIU’s 29-yard line, the Bison ground game pushed the ball into the redzone. Running back Derrick Lang finally got in for a score from 1-yard out. Keller’s extra point tied the score at 17.
NDSU’s defense remained tough, forcing another 3-and-out on the next possession.
Behind Jensen’s arm and hardnosed running from Sam Ojuri, the Bison marched 52 yards on their way to a John Crockett 5-yard touchdown with 5:23 remaining and gained their first lead of the game. The extra point kick was blocked, leaving the game open for ISU.
With only one timeout remaining and a running game that’s been shut down, the Salukis were forced to pass, much to the liking of all-American cornerback Marcus Williams. Williams came up with a daggering interception on a third-and-10 with 3:37 remaining.
That was his 15th career interception, moving Williams to second overall in Bison history.
NDSU kept the clock ticking, moving the chains with first-down pickups from Ojuri, who finished his best game of the year with 90 yards on 20 attempts.
“I felt a lot better,” Ojuri said on his performance. “It was all about trusting the coach’s scheme and being ready for the game plan and just going out there and executing.”
Jensen was finally able to take two knees to run out the clock, and the Bison survived another tough Missouri Valley game, improving their conference record to 4-1 and 7-1 overall.
“We’re getting deep into the Valley,” Bohl said. “These wins are really critical … it’s a huge win because it puts us at another Valley win and every one of them counts.”
Jensen, who led NDSU’s first fourth quarter comeback since 2010, reached 200 yards passing, with 88 of them going to Smith.
The Bison will travel to Missouri State next Saturday to take on the Bears in another Missouri Valley matchup. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.