In the FCS Huddle: Bison roll to national title three-peat
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director/Senior Editor
Frisco, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - There's a holiday you likely haven't been celebrating and it might be because it was held on the wrong day again this football season.
If you missed National Bison Day back on Nov. 2, don't fret. It's become much easier to wait and celebrate on the date of the NCAA Division I Championship Game.
The North Dakota State Bison have taken ownership of the first Saturday in January, this year whipping Towson, 35-7, before a rocking 19,802 at Toyota Stadium to complete a perfect season and become the second FCS program to win a third straight national championship.
Happy National Bison Day.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Bison (15-0) tied the 2005-07 Appalachian State teams with their third consecutive national championship, tied the FCS record with a 24th straight win and became the first unbeaten FCS champion since Marshall finished 15-0 in 1996.
"This team, I said this, they were possessed with perfection. And they relentlessly pursued it," NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. "And you're not going to be perfect, but in the middle of it, you're going to catch excellence."
"I mean, we've just looked at each other the last three years and said I'm going to compete for you and you compete for me, and I'm going to leave it all on the field," senior defensive end Ryan Drevlow said.
Appropriately, five different NDSU players scored touchdowns in the final game under Bohl, who is departing to become Wyoming's new head coach. He finished his 11-year run of leading the Bison with a 104-32 record, including a gaudy 43-2 over the last three seasons.
The championship three-peat seemed like a foregone conclusion while NDSU destroyed opponents throughout the playoffs, but the Bison still had to find an answer for a seventh-seeded Towson squad (13-3) that featured junior Terrance West, who was in the midst of the best-ever season by an FCS running back.
A Toyota Stadium sod turf that was planted seven weeks ago lifted up throughout the game, creating numerous divots that would slow West. But, really, the ferocious Bison defense provided all the necessary divot-ends for a three-peat.
It held Towson to its lowest point total since a 28-3 loss to Maryland on Oct. 1, 2011. West finished with 99 yards on 22 carries, scoring on a short touchdown run to end the first quarter in a 7-7 tie.
But the game began to turn in NDSU's favor on a blocked field goal attempt in the second quarter. D.J. Soven's 41-yard attempt to break the tie was pounded to the turf by Colton Heagle, and Kyle Emanuel scooped up the ball for a 59- yard return to the Towson 5.
On the Bison's next play from scrimmage, wide receiver Ryan Smith went in motion, took a handoff from quarterback Brock Jensen and raced into the Tigers' end zone to put the reigning champs ahead for good, 14-7 with 4:48 left in the first half.
"A legitimate 10-point swing that time. I pretty much think everybody could figure that part out," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "We made a mistake and they made us pay for it.
"Like I said before, they are perfect. The margin for error is small."
NDSU cornerback C.J. Smith then intercepted Towson quarterback Peter Athens (28-for-44, 267 yards) on the ensuing possession, returning the ball 32 yards into Tigers territory at the 43. From there, NDSU needed just five plays to cement control of the game.
Off a timeout, Jensen fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Zach Vraa - his school-record 15th scoring reception of the season - and the Bison had a 21-7 advantage with 1:05 left in the half.
For NDSU, whose opponents always seem to be allergic to the end zone, a two- touchdown lead was decisive. The Bison led the FCS in scoring defense in each of its three championship seasons, surrendering just 11.3 points per game this season.
NDSU's lead only grew when Jensen capped its first possession of the second half with a 9-yard touchdown run. The 88-yard drive made it three straight scoring possessions for the Bison.
Their hulking offensive line that senior running back Sam Ojuri called the "heart and soul" of the offense paved the way for the Bison to average seven yards a pop on its 30 carries.
Ojuri scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter to make it 35-7. The three-time 1,000-yard rusher gained 84 yards on 15 carries, joined by two-time 1,000-yard back John Crockett, who gained 86 yards on nine carries as well as the game's opening touchdown on a 2-yard first-quarter run.
"Really a remarkable group," said Bohl, who voiced a special thank you to his 24-member senior class. "I know much has been talked about all the potential distractions. I think there's two times this whole season where the game was in doubt at the tail end of the game. That's a real indication of an excellent football team. And today we capped it off."
Jensen, a 3 1/2-year starter, finished his career with his 48th win - an FCS record. He was 13-for-18 for 135 yards while winning the championship game's most outstanding player award for the second straight year.
"I mean, you don't do the things that we've done these past few years without sacrifice," Jensen said. "We all made a willing decision to make a lot of sacrifices to do something special like this, and it's a team effort. The coaches are unbelievable, and they put us in those situations. Coach Bohl and his staff, it's something I'll remember my whole life, playing for you guys."
West, who is contemplating early entry to the 2014 NFL Draft, finished his remarkable season with 2,509 rushing yards and 42 total touchdowns - both FCS single-season records.
Towson entered the game 9-0 on the road this season, and had won 12 straight road games since last season. Although the championship game was officially played at a neutral site, it must have felt like a road game to the Tigers considering Toyota Stadium was roughly 90 percent awash in the yellow, and some green, of North Dakota State fans.
And the roaring Bison contingent made sure they could be heard back in Fargo, celebrating a historic win by the top program in the FCS.
Happy National Bison Day, indeed.
01/04 19:13:16 ET