FARGO, N.D.–North Dakota State’s unprecedented run of five consecutive FCS national championships is over. The top seeded Bison lost at home on Friday against #4 seed James Madison, 27-17, in a national semifinal contest–stunned a crowd of 18,282 at the Fargodome.
The upset marked the first FCS playoff loss since 2010 for the Bison—which began its 22-0 playoff run in 2011 ironically with a 26-14 opening-round Fargodome win over James Madison.
North Dakota State (12-2) came back from a 17-0 first-half deficit to tie the game at 17-17, but James Madison (13-1) owned the fourth quarter to come away with the victory.
James Madison reaches the national title game in MIke Houston’s first season at the Harrisonburg, Virginia school. The Dukes will play either Eastern Washington or Youngstown State in the title game pending the result of a semifinal on Saturday. The Dukes hope of winning its second title in its history and first since 2004.
The Dukes ran away with the game with 301 yards of offense in the first half and dominated North Dakota State from the start. It took them just more than 22 minutes of clock time to get out to their 17-0 lead, and they dominated the Bison with a similar offense of hard running and better play in the trenches from both of its linemen.
NDSU got on the scoreboard just before the halftime break when the team was facing their biggest deficit all season, the Bison responded by marching 73 yards in 11 plays to cut the lead to 17-7. Tight end Jeff Illies caught two passes for 25 yards on the drive before Morlock scored on a 3-yard run with 1:36 remaining.
NDSU scored on its first two possessions of the second half to tie the score in the third quarter.
The Bison took the opening drive of the second half to produce a 45-yard field goal, cutting the James Madison lead to 17-10 with 11:24 left in the third quarter.
On its next drive, NDSU capitalized on late-hit penalty to move into James Madison territory. Darrius Shepherd made a falling catch for a 23-yard pickup to the Dukes’ 17. On second down, King Frazier ran through a big hole on the left side for a 16-yard touchdown run to help tie the score with 5:53 remaining of the third quarter.
With 11:46 remaining of the game, Tyler Gray hit a career-long 45-yard field goal to give James Madison a 20-17 lead. Facing fourth-and-19, it appeared quarterback Bryan Schor was sacked but James Madison had called timeout. Facing fourth-and-19 again, Schor punted but NDSU was whistled for offside setting up the field goal.
The Dukes got on the scoreboard first when quarterback Bryan Schor faked a handoff to Abdullah and threw a 14-yard scoring strike to tight end Jonathan Kloosterman with 1:18 left of the first quarter to give James Madison had a 7-0 lead.
The Dukes had a chance to take a two touchdown lead early in the second quarter after Ishmael Hyman hauled in a 34-yard catch to the Bison 5. But the Bison defense tackled Schor for a 5-yard loss on a third down run, and the Dukes settled for a Tyler Gray field goal to make it 10-0 with 11:59 remaining.
NDSU threatened to score on its next possession when running back Chase Morlock hauled in a 51-yard pass down the left sideline. But NDSU stalled from there and Cam Pederson’s 45-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
James Madison’s high-powered offense marched right down the field on its next possession. On third-and-7, Schor dumped a pass to a wide open Abdullah for a 41-yard gain. On second down from the Bison 10, Schor found Abdullah wide open again for a 10-yard touchdown to give the Dukes a 17-0 lead with 6:51 remaining of the first half.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead late in the game, James Madison’s offense—shut down for much of the second half—came back to life. Khalid Abdullah, who finished with 180 rushing yards, broke free on a 55 -yard run to the Bison 25.
Following an NDSU punt, Schor ended its next drive when he found an open John Miller in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown to give James Madison a 27-17 lead with 6:59 remaining.
NDSU drove to the James Madison 37 before a fourth-down incompletion ended the drive with 3:53 remaining. NDSU got the ball back on its own 18 with 2:19 remaining but could only gain two first downs before turning the ball over on downs to end the game.
The National Championship game will take place January 7th at noon ET in Frisco, Texas.