FCS Second Round Playoffs: Top Seeded North Dakota State Starts Slow, Finishes Strong in Win over Nicholls, 37-13

NDSU DE Derek Tuska and NDSU defense hold Nicholls to just 265 yards of total offense in the Bison 37-13 FCS Second Round game. (Courtesy of NDSU Athletics)

FARGO, N.D. — Top seeded North Dakota State set a new FCS record with its 34th consecutive victory, pulling away from Nicholls in the second half for a 37-13 win in the second round of the NCAA Division I FCS Playoffs in front of 15,690 at the Fargodome. North Dakota State (13-0) broke a tie with itself–the 33 game streak was from 2012-14.

QB Trey Lance was 10 of 16 passing for 169 and two touchdowns while rushing 11 times for a game-high 88 yards and one touchdown for the Bison, who improved to 13-0 with their 26th straight home win.

WR Phoenix Sproles gave the Bison a 7-3 lead on the last play of the first quarter. He took a reverse run that he got from from RB Adam Cofield 45-yards out just as the first quarter ended. That was the first career rushing touchdown for Sproles and came after Nicholls opened the game’s scoring with a Gavin Lasseigne 35-yard field goal on the previous drive.

The Colonels came back to regain the lead on the opening drive of the second quarter in driving 82-yards. Nicholls ended the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass from QB Chase Fourcade to WRDai’Jean Dixon to take a 10-7 lead with 12:53 left in the second quarter.

NDSU answered going 80 yards in six plays, with drive saving play being a 21-yard pass from Lance to Sproles on third-and-10 that reached the Nicholls State 46-yard line. The drive ended with a WR Jimmy Kepouros catch and run from 43-yards out. The senior Kepouros scored his first career touchdown to give the Bisona 14-10 lead with 4:13 to play in the first half.

NDSU missed two field goals in the first half by Will Cardinal, who was thrust into playing because dependable Griffin Crosa was serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules.

“We need to play better,” NDSU Coach Matt Entz said. “We have to start faster. … There’s no such thing as a bad win.”

The Colonels got a 23-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half to pull within 14-13, but would be the last time Nicholls would cross the 50-yard line. Interceptions by NDSU safeties Michael Tutsie and James Hendricks on the next two drives turned into 10 points as the Bison defense stiffened in remainder of the game.

The first turnover set up a Cardinal 32-yard field goal that gave the Bison a 17-13 lead with 6:26 left in the third quarter.

The second led to a Trey Lance 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Noah Gindorff for a 24-13 lead with 2:58 remaining in the third.

“That’s just North Dakota State football right there,” Fourcade said. “They respond quick on turnovers like that and going in we knew we couldn’t turn the ball over, especially in a crowd like this. We just didn’t get the job done.”

Lance later scored on a 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Bison a 31-13 lead with 8:21 to play in the game.

Dimitri Williams finished the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run that gave NDSU the final margin with 3:12 remaining.

“They are very well conditioned,” said Nicholls’ Southland Deferense Player of Year DT Sully Laiche. “I give a shoutout to them. … If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and as of right now, they are.”

Nicholls (9-5) managed just 265 yards of total offense – a season-low in 12 games against FCS opponents. RB Julien Gums rushed for 77 yards, while Fourcade was 11 of 15 passing for 94 yards and one score with two interceptions for the Colonels. The Nicholls senior class finishes with the most wins in program history at 31, along with three trips to the playoffs and back-to-back Southland Conference championships.

“I feel like we’ve been in the playoffs for the past six weeks,” Nicholls head coach Tim Rebowe said. “These guys got together right here and decided we needed a chemistry change. We went on a four-game run to win the conference, get the automatic seed and pick up a good win last week. We just ran out of gas tonight. I think the momentum swings were hard to stop.”

NDSU moves on to play a familar foe next Saturday in the quarterfinals in Missouri Valley Football Conference rival Illinois State. The Redbirds upset eighth seeded Central Arkansas 24-10 this week. NDSU defeated the Redbirds to start MVFC play in early October on the road in Normal 37-3.