North Dakota State’s Road to Frisco for a Sixth Time in Seven Seasons

NDSU LB Nick DeLuca in the final regular season win in a snow storm in Normal, IL. NDSU would win and finish the season 10-1 and gain the #2 playoff seed. Photo Courtesy of Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

This year, North Dakota State will play for its unprecedented sixth Division I title in football this decade when they face a familiar foe in James Madison—the team that knocked the Bison off in the semi-final playoff round a season ago. We’ll review how the Bison come into this game with a 13-1 record and some the factors and reasons that they are playing again in Frisco at Toyota Stadium this year.

How were the Bison viewed in the preseason?
I felt that NDSU would likely be right in the contention again for another Missouri Valley Football Conference title despite I felt the Bison would again make the postseason most likely but would face still competition for the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship from South Dakota State, Youngstown State, and Northern Iowa.

The preseason poll by the coaches, media, and sports information directors within the MVFC picked NDSU on top ahead of Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Youngstown State, and South Dakota State.

How did the Bison finish 10-1 within the 2017 regular season?
The schedule for the Bison was much easier than in 2016 where NDSU had Top 25 teams in Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington to go before a huge FBS game at Iowa. While all of these three contests were NDSU wins last year, the depth on both sides of the ball could not be created as all three were very tight games.

In 2017, the out-of-conference slate was much easier despite a trip to Eastern Washington. The other two games both at home were against FCS foes that would wind up under the .500 mark in Mississippi Valley State and Robert Morris. NDSU would win these three games by a combination score of 168-20.

The Bison also got off to an easy start in the MVFC slate in playing Missouri State at home and Indiana State on the road. Those two teams would only win a combination of two games this season and NDSU won by a combination of 90-11.

Then the meat of the Bison MVFC schedule came up following the rather easy first five games.

That schedule started with a road game at 2016 national championship runner-up Youngstown State. This game would not disappoint fans as this game would go to overtime with NDSU’s kicker Cam Pederson nailing a 36-yard field goal in the overtime period to give NDSU a 27-24 win.

NDSU would then play two straight home games against Western Illinois and Northern Iowa and handled both of those foes. After trailing, 12-10 at the half to WIU, NDSU used two quarterback Easton Stick runs for scores in the third quarter and shutout the Leathernecks on defense in the second half. The UNI win was a wider spread but like the WIU game, NDSU had to come from behind after giving up the game’s first touchdown. NDSU would then score 30 straight points before allowing a late touchdown.

Next came the lone blemish on the NDSU slate in the road trip at South Dakota State. SDSU forced five turnovers and NDSU couldn’t get its offense really going in that game consistently. The Jackrabbits won the game 33-21 to claim the Dakota Marker trophy for the second consecutive season.

NDSU then took it out on the other South Dakota school in USD in blowing out the Coyotes 49-14 in the final regular season home game.

The regular season finale was at Illinois State, who was battling for a potential playoff spot but NDSU would not allow the Redbirds to do much in this one. The game started with a driving rain that caused little offense from either side to get generated. And then the rain changed near halftime to a major snow storm in Normal. The Bison then snowed under ISU to a 20-7 victory that secured the #2 playoff seed.

How did North Dakota State win its opening round playoff game?
Stick passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead NDSU to a 38-3 victory over San Diego in the second round after NDSU had a bye for the first round.

NDSU outgained San Diego by a 472 to 174 margin in total offense including 301 yards rushing. Bruce Anderson carried 14 times for 112 yards, Ty Brooks carried 11 times for 88 yards and a TD, and Seth Wilson rushed 13 times for 47 yards.

Wilson scored on a 19-yard TD catch to cap a seven-play, 82-yard opening drive, and Stick scored on a 51-yard run on the next series to give NDSU a quick 14-0 lead. Cam Pedersen connected on a season-long 47-yard field goal to make it 17-0 by halftime.

NDSU scored touchdowns on its first three drives out of the locker room. Brooks had a 23-yard run, Anderson hauled in a career-long 48-yard reception for another TD, and RJ Urzendowski made a one-handed snare in the end zone to put the Bison ahead 38-0 late in the third quarter.

North Dakota State’s defense, which has allowed just one touchdown in the last 10 quarters, limited San Diego to a 48-yard Patrick Murray field goal early in the fourth quarter. The Toreros (10-3) were just 1 of 14 on third down.

Middle linebacker Nick DeLuca, who missed the playoffs and most of the 2016 season with an injury, had an interception and two sacks to highlight the Bison defensive effort. NDSU totaled seven tackles for loss including two by defensive lineman Nate Tanguay, who also missed last year’s final five games.

NDSU advanced to next play #7 seeded Wofford in the quarterfinals.

How did the Bison beat Wofford in the quarterfinal round?
Stick accounted for four touchdowns and the Bison rolled to a 42-10 victory over Wofford in the quarterfinals. North Dakota State became the first team in FCS history to advance for the seventh straight season to the semifinal round, where the Bison went to host #6 seeded Sam Houston State.

See a detailed game review here.

How did NDSU defeat Sam Houston State in the semi-final round?
Running back Bruce Anderson scored five touchdowns and North Dakota State broke postseason school records for points, total offense and rushing in a 55-13 rout of Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals Friday, Dec. 15.

The win put NDSU back in the national championship game for the sixth time in seven seasons.

See a detailed game review here.

What is the prior history of postseason play for North Dakota State?
The Bison have made it to the FCS playoffs now eight years in a row. NDSU as mentioned won five straight national titles with wins over Sam Houston State in 2011 and 2012, Towson in 2013, and Illinois State in 2014, and Jacksonville State in 2015. The streak ended last year to the vary foe they will play this year in James Madison in the semi-final round.

It advanced to the quarterfinal round in 2010 before falling 38-31 in overtime to eventual national champion Eastern Washington. NDSU won two games against Robert Morris and Montana State prior to that loss. In total, NDSU is an astonishing 30-2 in their Division I playoff history.

But NDSU also has a storied Division II playoff history—making that division’s playoffs 17 different seasons from 1976 to 2000. NDSU also played in six bowl games prior to the D-II playoffs starting in 1973.

In total, NDSU has won eight national titles in 1965, 1968, 1969, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, and the last four years (2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014). NDSU also finished as the runner’s up in 1967, 1981 and 1984.

NDSU has a 30-12 record in the D-II playoffs and won five of their six bowl games.
Of the national championships during the DI and D-II playoff era, NDSU went undefeated three times in 1986, 1988, 1990, and 2013 enroute to those year’s national championships.

NDSU transitioned to Division I starting in the 2004 season and became postseason eligible in 2008.

Ready for Frisco

NDSU again a relatively deep team and like the past championship runs, it has gelled in the playoffs—especially with the running game and the defense.

NDSU is only in its tenth year of being playoff and championship eligible so it is remarkable that the Bison are playing in a sixth national title game. But as can be seen from their storied history, making playoff runs and championship games is something that this program is known for. We shall see January 6th in Frisco if the Bison will hoist their sixth Division I trophy and 14th national title overall.