Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note This story is courtesy of North Dakota State an Northern Iowa athletics.
FARGO, N.D. — One big play at the beginning of the second half turned the momentum of the game and another near the end helped clinch another North Dakota State playoff victory.
Bruce Anderson returned the second half kickoff for the go-ahead touchdown and North Dakota State’s defense stiffened for a 23-13 victory over Northern Iowa in the NCAA Division I Football Championship quarterfinals Saturday before a crowd of 18,041 at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
A safety by Brian Schaentz, who sacked UNI quarterback Aaron Bailey one play after a punt had pinned the Panthers at their own seven late in the fourth quarter, sealed the 20th victory in 21 Football Championship Subdivision playoff games for the Bison, who kept alive their hopes of a fifth consecutive national championship by reaching the national semifinals.
Anderson spun out of two missed tackles and went 97 yards to give NDSU a 14-10 lead at the start of the third quarter, causing an eruption of noise in the Fargodome.
King Frazier rushed for a game-high 107 yards including a four-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that made it 21-10.
North Dakota State (11-2) limited Northern Iowa to 71 yards in the second half and a season-low 221 yards of total offense.
It was the second time that UNI (9-5) had lost to the Bison at the Faregodome this season.
In the regular-season meeting, NDSU had needed an 18-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Carson Wentz to receiver Darrius Shepherd with 25 seconds left to pull out a 31-28 victory over the Panthers.
Wentz, the senior starter who has missed six games with a broken collarbone, could be cleared to play when the Bison host Richmond next weekend in their fifth consecutive semifinal appearance.
The Bison forced the Panthers into four straight three-and-outs after intermission before UNI got a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-13.
NDSU punter Ben LeCompte was one of North Dakota State’s biggest weapons on the day, averaging 45.0 yards on six punts with five inside the 20 and a long of 62 yards.
He pinned the Panthers at the seven-yard line with a well-placed 33-yard punt after UNI forced the Bison into a three-and-out with three minutes to play.
Defensive tackle Schaentz then sacked quarterback Aaron Bailey in the end zone for a safety on the first play of UNI’s final drive to give NDSU a 23-13 lead.
Zach Vraa recovered a well-executed onside kick and the Bison ran out the clock after Frazier gained a first down with a powerful nine-yard run to the UNI 26.
Another nicely designed onside kick following UNI’s final field goal was recovered by the Panthers, but the UNI player stepped out of bounds before grabbing the pouched kick at the sideline.
NDSU quarterback Easton Stick was efficient completing 13 of 17 passes for 116 yards with zero interceptions. Bailey was 10-of-16 passing for 101 yards and one touchdown for UNI.
Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, the first dual 1,000-yard rushers in UNI history, combined for 91 yards on 34 carries.
UNI receiver Brandon Smith caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on the game’s opening drive and kicker Michael Schmadeke kicked field goals from 32 and 23 yards for the Panthers’ only points.
No. 3 seed North Dakota State will host a semifinal round game against No. 7 seed Richmond next Friday, Dec. 18, or Saturday, Dec. 19. The Spiders won at No. 2 seed Illinois State 39-27 in the quarterfinals.
The unseeded Panthers made it a one-score game with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but North Dakota State was able to get a safety on the first play of the UNI offensive drive, making it a two-possession game and too much for the Panthers to make up.
Bailey finished the game 10-16-0 for 101 yards and a touchdown, adding 33 yards on the ground.
The Panthers started the game with a balanced, 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard pass from Bailey to Brandon Smith to put UNI up 7-0 with 10:09 left in the first quarter. The drive burned 4:51 off the clock.
The Bison countered with a touchdown of their own after Chase Morlock punched in a one-yard rushing touchdown. North Dakota State earned good field position to start their drive, going for seven plays and only 39 yards, taking 3:19 off the clock.
UNI regained the lead in the second quarter after Deiondre’ Hall forced a fumble allowing Farley to recover it and put the Panthers on the NDSU 24-yard-line to start their drive.
Northern Iowa settled for a field goal, with Michael Schmadeke knocking in a 32-yarder to give UNI a 10-7 lead at the 7:52 mark. The drive lasted four plays for eight yards and 2:08 off the clock.
But Anderson’s second kickoff return touchdown of the season put the Bison up 14-10 with 14:45 remaining and the Bison never trailed again.
- Brandon Smith caught just his third pass of the season in the first quarter, landing in the end zone for a 25-yard receiving touchdown, his first-career score as a Panther.
- Brett McMakin racked up a team-high 12 tackles, his fifth game this season with 10-or-more.
- Redshirt freshman A.J. Allen notched his first career-start at linebacker for the Panthers against North Dakota State.