Numbers Never Lie: We're going to the championship
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Associate
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It doesn't seem possible, but there is only one game left in the FCS season. Sadly, that number is very truthful.
After numerous regular-season and playoff games, it all comes down to two teams in the title match on Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas. North Dakota State will be competing for a third straight national title - something only one other team has done in the history of the FCS. The Bison earned it after thrashing New Hampshire, 52-14, Friday night.
They'll meet up with Towson, a team making its first championship game appearance, but all the more deserving after a come-from-behind semifinal-round win over Eastern Washington.
The road leading to this point was impressive for both teams. North Dakota State has defeated every team it has faced for a 14-0 record and has won 23 consecutive games dating back to last season. It also will be the final game for coach Craig Bohl on the Bison sideline. He will take over the Wyoming football program shortly after the championship game concludes.
The Bison remained perfect all season despite playing in a tough Missouri Valley Football Conference and a meeting with defending co-Big 12 champion Kansas State in the first game of the season.
Towson started off the season on the right foot as well. The Tigers handled Connecticut from the FBS, as well as some of the nation's top offenses in the FCS playoffs.
Towson defeated Fordham and quarterback Michael Nebrich, No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois (the FCS' top-scoring offense) and Walter Payton Award winner Jimmy Garoppolo, and now Walter Payton Award runner-up Vernon Adams and the No. 3 seed Eagles on its road to the finals.
Walter Payton Award finalist Terrance West and the bruising Towson run game will square off against the top-ranked scoring defense in the FCS. In two weeks, we'll either welcome the second three-peat in FCS history, or a newly crowned champion.
Here are some numbers that stood out from the two national semifinal contests this weekend:
BISON OVERCOME EARLY SETBACKS TO TROUNCE NEW HAMPSHIRE
For the first few minutes of Friday night's semifinal matchup in Fargo, it looked as though New Hampshire had all the momentum against North Dakota State.
Steven Thames intercepted Bison quarterback Brock Jensen on the Bison's first drive and returned the pick 38 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats up early. Then a North Dakota State fumble gave New Hampshire the ball right back in Bison territory. The home Bison crowd, which usually is as loud as any FCS stadium, was silent.
But preventing New Hampshire to score swung the momentum back in North Dakota State's favor, as the Bison went on to rattle off 52 unanswered points throughout the next three-and-a-half quarters and sunk the surging Wildcats.
New Hampshire finished the game a mere 2-for-14 on third down attempts against the Bison's top-ranked third-down conversion percentage defense. After scoring first, the Wildcats failed to do much of anything with the football, accumulating just 184 total yards of offense. The Bison finished with 509 yards of offense.
North Dakota State, meanwhile, went 7-for-12 on third-down tries, and racked up 22 total first downs to New Hampshire's 13.
Much of the offensive yardage total for North Dakota State came on the ground, as John Crockett joined Sam Ojuri with a 1,000-yard season for the second consecutive year. Crockett ended the night as the Bison's leading rusher, gaining 195 yards on 13 carries, which included a long of 71. Ojuri, who has been over 1,000 rushing yards for three straight seasons, had 75 yards on 13 carries and added a touchdown.
North Dakota State ended the game with 350 team rushing yards. New Hampshire, normally a strong running team, managed 67 yards on the ground.
Freshman Dalton Crossan led the Wildcats with 26 yards on three carries. It wasn't a pretty night offensively for New Hampshire, especially when quarterback Sean Goldrich, who had been sensational up to the semifinal round, completed only 13 passes for 117 yards and two interceptions. Goldrich was the only Wildcat who had double-digit carry numbers (21) on the night.
Jensen won his 47th career game with North Dakota State, furthering his FCS record for wins under center. He'll get a chance to make it 48 in the national championship game.
New Hampshire back Chris Setian scored on a fourth-quarter run in garbage time, which marked only the second touchdown the Bison have given up in the fourth quarter this season.
North Dakota State is seeking its third national championship in as many seasons. Only the 2005-07 Appalachian State teams have accomplished that previously.
TOWSON COMES BACK TO BEAT SOARING EAGLES
One week after defeating the No. 2 seed in the nation and five days after the announcement of the Walter Payton Award winner, finalists for the award Terrance West of Towson and Vernon Adams of Eastern Washington squared off at the red Roos Field in Cheney. And it was a nail-biter.
Towson backup quarterback Connor Frazier, who primarily serves as a wide receiver, initiated a comeback drive on Towson's final possession to give the Tigers a 35-31 lead (and eventual win) with 17 seconds remaining. Frazier scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper that was the deciding margin in Towson's victory. The Tigers have now won 12 consecutive road games.
Regular quarterback Peter Athens went down with a right shoulder injury just before halftime (oddly the second straight week Eastern Washington faced a quarterback who suffered an injury not two quarters into the game) and didn't return to the contest.
But, hey, the Tigers are OK with how things turned out.
The two teams combined for 55 first downs in the game and 1,063 total yards of offense. After a record-setting playoff performance, in which he rushed for 354 yards and five touchdowns against Eastern Illinois, West gained 119 yards on the ground against the Eagles and scored twice.
West's season touchdown total is up to 41 (a new FCS record), with 40 rushing touchdowns.
The Eagles were 2-for-3 on fourth-down conversions in the game. That's typically an admirable number, but the only conversion that mattered was the one they didn't get.
On a fourth down on the Towson 29-yard line with just under two minutes to play, Adams missed a wide open Cooper Kupp down the middle that would have been a guaranteed touchdown had the pass not been slightly overthrown. The failed conversion gave Towson the ball back, and Frazier led the Tigers down the field for the winning score.
Kupp's record of 14 consecutive games with a receiving touchdown came to an end as the Jerry Rice Award freshman winner caught eight passes for 124 yards, but failed to reach the end zone. Fellow receiver Ashton Clark had another big day for the Eagles - his second in as many weeks - hauling in eight passes for 129 yards.
Junior running back Quincy Forte scored on a first-half touchdown pass from Adams, then again on a third-quarter run. Forte's incredible postseason ended with a 77-yard rushing performance. The junior back scored five touchdowns in three postseason games.
Frazier attempted one pass while playing wide receiver in the first half, completing a 50-yard strike downfield to receiver Derrick Joseph on the team's second offensive drive of the game. Frazier didn't complete another pass until the team's game-winning drive with just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter.
Towson took a 21-0 lead after roughly 20 minutes of play, but Eastern Washington scored 31 unanswered points to grab a 31-21 fourth-quarter advantage. The Tigers scored the final 14 points of the game to earn a trip to the national championship game in Frisco.
12/22 08:05:35 ET