FCS Second Round Playoff Matchup: Nicholls at North Dakota State
Where: Fargodome, Fargo, North Dakota
When: Saturday, December 7th, 3:30 PM
TV/Streaming: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)
Nicholls (9-4), Head Coach: Tim Rebowe
The oddsmakers don’t give them much of a chance – on a popular gambling site, Nicholls was a 28 point underdog.
Most of FCS Nation doesn’t give them a chance – the Bison are an amazing 80-6 at home since 2010, including an even more amazing 24-1 mark in the FCS playoffs, and most of the brackets filled out by FCS football fans have the home team advancing.
But don’t sell this Nicholls Colonels team short, a senior-laden team that thoroughly dominated North Dakota last week 24-6 and are winners of their last five games.
Nicholls has built their team through mining of local talent, something head coach Tim Rebowe made his commitment when he came here four years ago. That incoming class, whom are now seniors, form the backbone of this team.
“It’s good players. You get yourself some good players,” Rebowe said last week. “They believe in what you’re doing, they believe in each other and then they kind of take it over and run with it.”
Senior leaders like QB Chase Fourcade, son of the former New Orleans Saint and Ole Miss quarterback John Fourcade, and DE Sully Laiche, who seems like a terrific candidate for a player to play on Sundays, form a talented core of players that shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I think the crazy thing is that as freshmen, us seniors, we knew we could leave a mark on Nicholls State football,” Fourcade said. “That’s what we’re doing. We just love playing.”
This team has plenty of FCS Playoff experience, too. They are playing in their third consecutive FCS Playoffs and played Eastern Washington tough for a half before falling outside in snowy Cheney, Washington. That experience will serve them well as they go to Fargo.
“It’s a special group. It’s a special team that has something going on right now,” Rebowe said. “They can feel it and we’ve got to continue it.”
Key Player: RB Julien Gums is only a sophomore, but his ability was a major reason why the Colonels beat the Fighting Hawks last week. Any success Nicholls will have against the big, bad Bison will be coming from establishing a good running game, and Gums will need to be a big part of that.
“We wanted to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Rebowe said last week. “I was really proud of our offensive line. It was really special the way Julian ran behind them.”
Nicholls’ line play will certainly be critical if the Colonels are to hang with the Bison.
North Dakota State Bison (12-0), Head Coach: Matt Entz
Fargo, North Dakota
There have been few sports teams in the history of sports teams that have been as dominant as North Dakota State at home, especially in the playoffs. Whether it’s the weather, the dome, the team, or some combination of the three, the Bison share a dominance over the FCS postseason bracket that Nick Saban can only look at longingly from down South.
North Dakota State are playing in their 10th consecutive FCS postseason and have gone 32-2 during that timeframe, winning eight FCS National Championships. They’ve only lost twice in the playoffs this decade: once on the road in 2010 vs. Eastern Washington (off of a questionable fumble call in overtime), and once in 2016 against James Madison in the FCS semifinals (their only loss in the Fargodome).
Certainly, the Bison’s seedings have helped. North Dakota State has been the No. 1 seed for five of its 10 FCS playoff appearances and was seeded No. 2 twice (2014, 2017) and No. 3 once (2015). So there’s a reason why holiday plans in North Dakota have consistently involved FCS football games.
Nevertheless, it’s been astounding what the Bison have been able to accomplish as a program during their decade of dominance, and perhaps this year might be the most surprising of all since they’ve done it with first year head coach Matt Entz and a freshman QB running undefeated North Dakota State.
Eleven Bison starters are playing in their first postseason game if you’re looking for a reason to believe in Nicholls, though those same eleven starters beat every opposing team by double digits in the Fargodome this year. Most notably, North Dakota State beat fellow FCS Playoff participant Northern Iowa 46-14 here back in October.
Key Player: Freshman sensation QB Trey Lance was last seen two weeks ago scoring the game-clinching touchdown at Southern Illinois, giving the Bison a 21-7 win over the Salukis and putting the cherry on top on an undefeated season. It’s been utterly amazing what he’s been able to accomplish: Zero interceptions in 12 regular-season games; 741 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns; and nearly a 70% completion percentage and 22 touchdown passes. It’s not easy as a freshman stepping into the shoes of quarterbacks like Carson Wentz at North Dakota State, but Lance has been able to do so as he will undoubtedly earn a cavalcade of awards this postseason.
Fearless Prediction: I’m not sure I’m courageous enough to pick against North Dakota State in the Fargodome in December. I will say, however, that this senior-laden Nicholls team is more dangerous than they might seem at first. I think the Bison still win, but I think the Colonels will go the distance with the champs. North Dakota State 27, Nicholls 24
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
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