FRISCO, Texas –- Any thought that North Dakota State’s football dynasty is over was put to rest with its 17-13 win over defending national champion James Madison before a capacity crowd of 19,090 in the renovating Toyota Stadium.
The two teams came into this game as the top two playoff seeded teams this year with James Madison as the top seed and NDSU as the #2 seed in what was one of the most anticipated championship game match-ups in recent history.
Quarterback Easton Stick was named Most Outstanding Player with 192 total yards and a touchdown.
NDSU has now won its sixth national title in seven seasons to tie the overall FCS mark of the most national titles in the subdivision history with Georgia Southern, who has since moved up to the FBS ranks.
The Bison restarted their dynasty after losing in the Division I FCS semifinals against James Madison a season ago, where the Dukes went on to defeat Youngstown State for the national title. The NDSU win also ended JMU’s 26-game winning streak and handed JMU Head Coach Mike Houston his first loss to an FCS opponent in his two seasons at James Madison.
NDSU (14-1) in winning six Division I national championships has a prefect 6-0 record in such title games.
“We always talk about leaving a legacy. How are you going to be remembered?” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said, “I’m pinching myself. … Character wins games and our guys have unbelievable character.”
The Bison won this game undoubtedly with its defense as the offense did not score a point in the second half of the game.
The Bison limited James Madison (14-1) to 241 yards on 62 plays, allowing just a single touchdown.
“It’s really special,” said Stick. “It’s not just the last six or seven years, it’s been like this for a long time.”
The Bison have now won 14 national championships in football with the first eight coming before NDSU transitioned to Division I.
NDSU opened the scoring in the game after marched 66 yards on 11 plays on its first possession of the game. Running back Bruce Anderson finished things off by punching the ball into the end zone from three yards out.
James Madison closed the gap with a field goal on the next position, to close the gap to 7-3.
On what was the most explosive offensive play of the game for either team followed as Stick found wide receiver Darrius Shepherd on a perfectly thrown deep ball for a 50-yard touchdown to put the Bison up 14-3.
Following a JMU fumble on the next possession, NDSU added a field goal what looked like would be the halftime score of 17-3 with just 39 seconds left in the first half.
However, James Madison got the ball and managed to drive 69 yards and take some momentum into halftime with a field goal of its own to make it 17-6 at the break.
“I told (my team) we were going to win the football game and I firmly believed that,” Houston said of his message to his team at halftime.
James Madison scored on a Marcus Marshall 1-yard touchdown run that sliced the NDSU lead to 17-13 with 9:26 left to play in the third quarter. And surprisingly, that would be the final scoring in the game. They took advantage of a short field on their first drive of the third quarter. D’Angelo Amos returned a punt 33 yards to the NDSU 33-yard line.
From there, it was all about the two team’s defenses.
“I thought our defense did a good job to responding to adversity all season long,” said Bison senior linebacker Nick DeLuca. “You know there is going to be adversity, just how you respond is going to be a big thing.”
But there were still some chances for both teams.
JMU’s special teams gave the Dukes an opportunity to win the game late. Bison kicker Cam Pederson had a 38-yard field goal blocked with 4:37 to play in the fourth quarter. After the Bison defense produced a three and out, the Dukes faked a punt that punter Harry O’Kelly ran 24 yards to the Bison 29-yard line with around 3 minutes remaining.
The Dukes got as close as the 18-yard line before the Bison defense stiffened. On fourth-and-16 from the 25, James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor was pressured before he threw a desperation Hail Mary like throw to the goal line. The Bison defense knocked down pass to get the ball back on downs with 58 seconds to play.
NDSU was able to run out the clock to secure the victory.
“We found a way to play red-zone defense, which has been a staple for us,” Klieman said. “To limit that offense to 13 points is pretty remarkable.”
The Bison won the turnover battle against the best team at forcing turnovers in the country. NDSU finished with two more in turnover margin, including two interceptions that both came with James Madison in scoring position.
“We tried to put as much pressure on him (Stick) as we could and then try to force the turnovers, said Houston. That was our mindset taking the field in the second half. To his credit, he’s an experienced veteran quarterback, and you’ve got to have guys go out and perform like that to win a national championship.”
Schor finished 14 of 32 passing for 148 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for the Dukes. He also rushed for 19 yards on 14 attempts.
Stick completed 13 of 22 passes for the 130 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He added 35 rushing yards on 14 carries.
“That was a great football game between two great teams, and more importantly, two great programs,” Klieman said.