By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
FARGO, N.D. — Three plays into its semifinal game of the NCAA Division I Football Championships, North Dakota State found itself in a place where it hadn’t been in the 2013 postseason — losing.
Brock Jensen, the winningest quarterback in Football Championship Subdivision history, had an inauspicious start to his final game in the Fargodome, throwing an interception to New Hampshire’s Steven Thames that Thames returned for a 38-yard touchdown to give the unseeded Wildcats a 7-0 lead 23 seconds into the game.
Fortunately for the two-time defending champion and top-seeded Bison, it was the only touchdown New Hampshire scored until the final 29 seconds as North Dakota State rolled over the final three periods to a 52-14 victory.
A couple of plays later, New Hampshire’s Rashid Armand forced a Sam Ojuri fumble and Wildcat teammate Casey DeAndrade recovered to give UNH another scoring opportunity at the NDSU 29.
But it was at this point that the Bison began to play like the championship-caliber team to which FCS has grown accustomed.
The Bison defense held New Hampshire on four downs and dominated the proceedings the rest of the night as North Dakota State scored 52 consecutive points to extend its winning streak to 23 straight games and advance to its third consecutive championship game on Jan. 4 in Frisco, TX.
NDSU (14-0) joins Eastern Kentucky (1979-1982), Youngstown State (1991-1994), Marshall (1991-1993), Georgia Southern (1998-2000) and Appalachian State (2005-2007) as the only teams to reach three consecutive title games.
The Bison are trying to match Appalachian State as the only team to win three FCS championships in a row.
New Hampshire’s versatile attack was limited to 184 yards of total offense and the Wildcat were a combined 3-of-16 on third- and fourth-down situations.
Jensen was only 11-of-21 for 146 yards and three TDs passing and rushed four times for 30 yards and another touchdown, but he tied the game with 5:21 left in the first period on a 50-yard strike to Zach Vraa.
Vraa ended up with five catches for 76 yards.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Jensen was getting a standing ovation when he was replaced by Carson Wertz at quarterback.
John Crockett was the offensive star for the Bison, rushing just 13 times for 195 yards, while Ojuri had 13 carries for 75 yards on a night where the Bison rushed for 350 yards and finished with 509 yards of total offense.
Christian Dudzik keyed the NDSU defensive effort with his second consecutive two-interception performance.
NDSU repeatedly gashed New Hampshire’s gambling, blitzing defense with big running plays as the Billy Turner-led offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.
When Adam Keller drilled a 32-yard field goal less than a minute into the second period, it gave the Bison the lead for good at 10-7 and started a 24-0 onslaught in the second quarter.
Trailing 31-7 at the half, New Hampshire’s chances of extending a six-game winning streak, including the past three in the playoffs were pretty much gone.
Two more NDSU touchdowns in the third period and one in the fourth quarter completed the rout.
New Hampshire (10-5), which was making its first-ever semifinal appearance after extending the current longest streak of playoff runs to 10 years, managed only 67 yards rushing and quarterback Sean Goldrich was only 13-of-26 for 117 yards passing with two interceptions. The Wildcats committed three turnovers overall.
North Dakota State will meet the winner of the Towson-Eastern Washington game in the national championship game.