FARGO, N.D.—North Dakota State did not score a touchdown, but three field goals proved to be enough to secure its ninth straight Division I FCS semi-final appearance in a 9-3 victory over fellow Missouri Valley Football Member Illinois State in front o 14,132 in attendance inside the Fargodome.
This game was the first time North Dakota State (14-0) did not score a touchdown at home in their entire Division I history. The last time this happened was in the Division II era against in-state rival North Dakota. NDSU last did not find the endzone was at the end of its now second-best FCS 33 game winning streak at Northern Iowa in 2014.
“They had a good (defensive) plan. They did a great job preparing for the Bison,” said NDSU coach Matt Entz. “Our defensive staff may have done their best job all year. Defense wins a lot of football games.”
The win, however, did extend the NDSU’s current win streak to 35 games that backs to the 2017 season.
The Redbirds, who lost at home in Normal, Illinois to the Bison 37-3 earlier this season, showed they were a different team this time around making it a four-quarter game with a grudging run defense that gave the Bison all it could handle.
“The first time wasn’t us. That was 10 weeks ago now. We were really able to hone in who we are as a defense. There was a lot of games down the stretch that prove my point on that,” Illinois State senior linebacker Ty DeForest.
NDSU took a 9-0 edge into halftime thanks to Griffin Crosa field goals of 38, 33 and 22 yards—all in the second quarter of play. Crosa was back into action in this game after a one-game suspension in the second-round win over Nicholls.
Illinois State got on the score board after Sam Fenlason’s 27-yard field goal with 2:02 left in the third quarter. But that accounted for the only Redbird points.
The two defenses were the story to this game, however.
The Redbirds best chance following the field goal had the ball at their own 20-yard line with 7:27 left in the game following NDSU’s fourth punt of the second half. Illinois State freshman quarterback Bryce Jefferson scrambled for 21 yards on third-and-5 to his 46-yard line. But the Bison stalled the drive on a quarterback sack by defensive end Tony Pierce, which forced the Redbirds to punt.
NDSU took over at their own 18-yard line and following two runs that netted a yard loss but got a big aid on a pass inference call to net a first down that forced the Redbirds to use the last of its timeouts.
NDSU then went three plays more with a punt but the Redbirds got the ball at its 22-yard line with just 1:22 remaining. The Redbirds failed to get a first down and turned the ball over on downs to ice the game.
“We played the way we had to play to give ourselves a chance,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said. “We wanted to make the game close. We wanted to make sure we possessed the ball and didn’t turn it over. We made some plays, but not enough to beat a team like that.”
NDSU, which had 206 yards in the first half, only totaled just 98 yards in the second half.
“We almost felt to the point that we let them down a little bit,” Bison quarterback Trey Lance said of the NDSU defense. “I didn’t execute. I can do better. I have to give them credit. They are a really good team.”
The Bison defense held Illinois State running back James Robinson in check (at least compared to his first two playoff games). Robinson rushed for 94 yards on 28 attempts. He had almost single handedly led Illinois State (10-5) to this quarterfinal round while rushing for over 200 yards in the victories over Southeast Missouri State and Central Arkansas.
Illinois State totaled just 194 yards on offense in this game.
NDSU moves on to the semi-final round next Saturday to host #5 playoff seeded Montana State, who was a winner over Austin Peay in its quarterfinal game Friday.
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football is the Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
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