In the FCS Huddle: FCS champ North Dakota State goes back-to-back
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Frisco, TX (Sports Network) - Hopefully, the NCAA won't make the mistake again of mailing North Dakota State's FCS national championship banner to the wrong school.
Of course, the NCAA could consider saving on the postage and just handing off the banner to the Bison next January at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game.
North Dakota State left no doubt about its reign over the FCS when on Saturday it became the sixth team and the first in six years to repeat as the national champion, defeating Sam Houston State for the second straight year, 39-13, before a raucous, Bison-dominated sellout of 21,411 at FC Dallas Stadium.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference champions completed their second straight 14-1 campaign while becoming the first team to repeat as the FCS titlist since Appalachian State won three crowns in a row from 2005-07.
It was the Bison's eighth football national championship either in the FCS, NCAA Division II or Small College Division (wire service polls).
"It's very rewarding and it's extremely hard to do," said NDSU coach Craig Bohl, the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award winner as FCS coach of the year. "Once you do that, I think you're now transitioning your program into a pretty premier program, to be able to go back-to-back."
Considering Bohl has a lineup that started only four seniors in the title game - and only two had it not been for injuries - he seemingly will wind up his squad for a run at a championship three-peat next season.
So the NCAA could hold off on sending the NDSU banner, which last year hung in its Hall of Champions until it mistakenly sent the banner to the University of North Dakota in June.
"I'm sure they're going to get it correct this time," All-America cornerback Marcus Williams said with a laugh.
Sam Houston also may have the returnees to get back to the national title game, but the Bearkats (11-4) should probably be hoping the Bison get tripped up along the way.
NDSU's top-ranked defense again slowed Sam Houston's fast-break offense which entered the game with a 41.9-point average. The Bison picked off four passes and turned three of them into touchdowns.
"I thought the turnovers were really critical," Bohl said, "us being able to control the line of scrimmage - that was really important. I thought defensively we gave up some yardage, but we did a good job keeping them out of the end zone, and it's very rewarding to have back-to-back national championships."
"This is the best defense we've played this season," Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said, "and (Texas) A&M and Baylor have great defenses. They really play with leverage, stay over the top, tackle real well, don't make very many mistakes, got to earn every yard you get. They do an excellent job.
Junior quarterback Brock Jensen, named the game's most outstanding player award after totaling 159 yards and rushing for three touchdowns, led the opportunistic Bison offense.
The game was tied 10-10 early in the third quarter when the Bison turned the second of three interceptions thrown by Sam Houston quarterback Brian Bell into the go-ahead touchdown. Linebacker Carlton Littlejohn's pick of Bell at the Bison 40 was followed by a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive which was capped by Jensen's 1-yard quarterback sneak with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
Then after NDSU stopped Sam Houston on downs at the Bison 35, the visitors - if you can call them that considering their program and rabid fans seem to own Frisco - drove the 65 yards to score again on Sam Ojuri's 2-yard run on fourth down at the 2:08 mark.
If the Bearkats weren't emotionally drained at the point, the extra point attempt turned on the spigot.
After a botched snap, holder Ben LeCompte lateraled the ball to kicker Adam Keller, who whie being pressured lofted the ball into the Sam Houston end zone and it came down in the hands of Mike Hardie, a defensive end by trade who was in to block, and the two points extended the lead to 25-10.
Sam Houston countered with Miguel Antonio's second field goal with 13:20 left in the fourth quarter, to cut its deficit to 25-13, but the Bison kept marching downfield, with Jensen again scoring from one yard out and Ojuri (92 yards) racing in an 11-yard run. The Bison rushed for 300 yards on 45 carries.
"It's got to be the hardest thing you do in sports," Jensen said, "repeat a championship, go back-to-back, especially a national championship. It's hard enough to repeat a conference championship, especially when you're playing in the MVFC.
"But it takes a great deal of resiliency from a group of young men like us and also our coaching staff."
The second half could have gone differently after the first half ended in a 10-10 tie. Sam Houston nearly had a potential go-ahead score on the opening drive of the third quarter - a Timothy Flanders 41-yard touchdown run - but the big play was negated by an offensive holding.
On the next play, Littlejohn (11 tackles) completely wiped out the drive by intercepting Bell to jump-start the NDSU momentum machine.
"That's a big turning point," Williams said about NDSU getting the lead instead of Sam Houston.
The Bearkats have managed only one touchdown in the two championship games against NDSU, but that score in the final minute of the first half prevented them from having a nervous locker room at halftime.
They, too, were helped by a penalty. NDSU cornerback Andre Martin was whistled for a holding penalty to negate his interception of Bell with 53 seconds left.
Bell then lofted a 30-yard sideline pass over Martin to Richard Sincere to move the Bearkats to the Bison 1, where one play later the junior quarterback faked a handoff to Flanders and threw to tight end K.J. Williams near the back of the end zone for a 1-yard TD and a 10-10 deadlock with 33 seconds left.
NDSU had grabbed a 10-3 lead after Williams set the school record with his 17th career interception. His second of the game in the fourth quarter took him up to 18.
The Bison converted the game's first turnover into a five-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. The last three plays were each runs of at least 20 yards: a Jensen third-down scramble for 21, wide receiver Ryan Smith's reverse for 24 and then Jensen going around left end to weave his way into the Sam Houston end zone from 20 yards out to put NDSU ahead 10-3 with 3:09 left in the half.
Until then, the first half had the feel of a chess match considering both teams were familiar with each other's tendencies. Sam Houston, not surprisingly, had the more aggressive play calling.
To open the game, the Bearkats had an interesting approach when it targeted passes toward Williams four times in their first two drives, connecting twice while also drawing a pass interference call. But the Bearkats came up empty on both drives, the second time when Antonio went the dreaded wide right on a 32- yard field goal attempt with 6:26 left in the first quarter.
NDSU opened its ensuing possession with John Crockett taking a pitch and rushing a career-best 57 yards to the Sam Houston 23, setting up Keller for a successful 32-yard field goal and a 3-0 Bison lead with 3:49 left.
"We're a really physical football team," said Bohl, whose team has defeated 15 straight nationally ranked teams. "We're going to be disciplined, we play all three elements of the game. When you really cut the veneer off the table, we're going to be really hard-nosed stopping the run, we're going to be able to run the football as Billy (Turner, NDSU's All- America left tackle) said, throw it when we need to and control the football."
It's a Bison legacy that is an FCS dynasty in the making.
01/05 20:15:23 ET