By David Coulson
College Sporting News
FRISCO, TX. — North Dakota State took its place among some of the greatest defensive performers in Football Championship Subdivision history on Saturday afternoon, grinding out a 17-6 victory over previously-unbeaten Sam Houston State in the NCAA Division Football Championship game.
The Bison (14-1) allowed just 13 points in their final three playoff games, stifling powerful offenses from Lehigh, Georgia Southern and SHSU to win their first FCS crown.
One special play on special teams and another on defense in the second half pulled NDSU from a 6-3 halftime deficit to the title on a day where both offenses struggled.
Punter Matt Voigtlander turned a fake into a 27-yard scamper on fourth and four from the NDSU 34 on the Bison’s opening possession of the third period to pick up a key first down.
“Matt Voigtlander has been a running back for us for a lot of years, but we had not used a fake at all,” NDSU coach Craig Bohl said. “We kind of kept it in our hip pocket, felt like there’d be a game that we’d need it, and this was the game we needed it in.”
The call worked to perfection.
“My eyes were wide open seeing the open field, and I did what I could,” Voigtlander said.
On the next play, quarterback Brock Jensen (10-of-20, 120 yards) hit D.J. McNorton for 39 yards, as McNorton worked his way downfield through some terrific blocking to score the first touchdown of the game.
Ahead 10-6, the Bison began to clamp down even harder on the Bearkats’ high-octane pistol option.
Unable to run consistently, SHSU was forced to go through the air more than it wanted to and quarterback Brian Bell (12-of-31, 115 yards, two interceptions) finally made a fatal mistake midway through the fourth period.
Forcing a ball into coverage on a third and 13 from the Bison 48, Bell threw the ball into the hands of NDSU linebacker Travis Beck, who picked a fine time for his first career interception.
Beck then turned into a running back and charged around the right corner and down the sideline until Bell upended him at the Bearkat one-yard line.
On the next play, Jensen all but sealed the game by sneaking into the end zone for a touchdown that lifted North Dakota State to an 11-point lead with 8:45 remaining.
North Dakota State was relentless on defense the rest of the way to seal the victory.
“We have a saying, bend but don’t break,” Beck said. “And we showed great resilience, we just tried to get off the field and let our offense do their thing.”
The Bearkats, who finished 14-1 and had a 16-game winning streak snapped, were trying to become only the fourth FCS team to win a championship in a perfect season. Eastern Kentucky (1982), Georgia Southern (1989) and Marshall (1996) were the three teams to accomplish that feat.
Sam Houston State came into the game averaging 422 yards of offense per game (21st in the NCAA), 267 yards of it on the ground (ranked fourth) and was first in scoring at 39 points a contest.
But the Bearkats managed just 95 yards rushing and 210 yards in total offense on this day.
“No doubt (NDSU is) fundamentally sound,” SHSU offensive lineman Travis Watson said. “Their defensive coordinator did a great job taking away one of our option game. I mean, big ups to them, just overall good defense, but we knew that coming into the game.”
Sam Houston State was an anemic 4-of-18 on third-down conversions, 1-of-4 on fourth downs and was unable to convert two first-half turnovers into points.
“Whenever you get great field position and you get a takeaway, you sure as heck want to convert it into some type of points,” SHSU coach Willie Fritz said. “We weren’t able to do that on a couple of occasions. And we had some short-yardage situations that we had a difficult time with as well.”
All-American running back Tim Flanders was limited to 84 yards on 21 carries and receiver Torrance Williams had three catches for 53 yards, including a pair of clutch receptions for first downs. The Bearkats also received 53 yards of punt returns from Brandon Closner, but there was little else SHSU was able to do with its hands on the ball.
“To come and hold a team like Sam Houston to six points, it’s a pretty big deal,” NDSU linebacker Chad Wilson said. “And so I think it is probably the best game of defense we’ve played this year.”
North Dakota State wasn’t much more effective with its attack, netting just 236 yards, but the Bison were able to put one drive together for three points from kicker Ryan Jastrum with a 19-yard field goal on the final offensive play of the first period for a 3-0 lead.
That held until Sam Houston State took advantage of a partially blocked punt to get the ball in NDSU’s half of the field and drove for Craig Alaniz’s bad-angle, 24-yard field goal to tie the game at the 2:18 mark of the second quarter.
A 24-yard punt return by Closner sparked the Bearkats four plays later and SHSU got into field range again on a 17-yard pass from Bell to Torrance Williams to set up Alaniz for another kick from 31 yards before the half ended.
But that was all the points Sam Houston State would generate.
Voightlander, who may have been NDSU’s most effective performer of the day, pinned in the Bearkats with his punts throughout the day. His 10 punts averaged 44.2 yards, including a booming 66-yarder in the first quarter.
Four of Voightlander’s kicks were downed inside the 20-yard line and his average was 46.4 on the nine punts excluding the breakdown in blocking that allowed the block.
“I thought our guys battled and certainly made big plays when they needed to,” Bohl said. “Typically we say we get a 24-hour rule, but we won’t have a 24-hour rule on this one. We’re going to enjoy this for a while.”
(Photos courtesy of Keith Cline)