By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
FARGO, N.D. — “I felt that both teams played really hard,” Wofford head football coach Mike Ayers said after his Wofford Terriers finally fell in the playoffs, 14-7, to the North Dakota State Bison.
That could have been the understatement of the year.
If you loved grind-it-out offenses, hard-hitting defense, pinpoint special teams play, and goal line stands, this was the game for you.
It was a game with 169 yards passing – combined.
It wasn't so much that North Dakota State beat, or dominated, the Terriers as much as they outlasted them.
Few probably conceived how important the Bison's opening drive might have been to start off the game – a 10 play, 76 yard drive featuring the legs of running back Sam Ojuri.
On the drive, he'd have a big 25 yard burst, and then simply following his blockers for 1 yard score, with a huge offensive line push to give the Bison the early lead.
After that initial score, both the Bison and Terriers' defense and special teams really started to take over.
If you liked hard hitting football, battles of field position and fierce trench battles, this was the game for you.
After duelling to a standstill for several drives, Wofford's only score on the afternoon would be set up by a beautiful 46 yard punt by Brian Kass to the Bison 1 yard line.
Backed up deep in their own, end, Bison quarterback Brock Jensen would feel the heat from Terrier linebacker Alvin Scioneaux, overthrowing his receiver.
From that pass, defensive back Blake Wylie would reach up and grab the ball out of the air and run the ball back 35 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 7.
“It gave us momentum, but in the end it wasn’t enough to give us the win,” Wylie said after the game.
On a key 3rd-and-1 the Dome woud gasp in horror as Jensen misread the play, and under fierce pressure from linebacker Phillip LeGrande, went down on a big 5 yard sack to give Wofford the ball back.
Then Ayers would turn to his all-American fullback, Eric Breitenstein, to try to capture the lead with the well-documented noise level in the Dome starting to take its toll on the Terriers.
With several key false start penalties, the Terriers would have Kass perform a quick punt back to the Bison, with the Terriers making a great play to down the ball at their 3 yard line.
Helped along by uncaharateristic Terrier penalties, the Bison would march down the field, aided by a designed 39 yard scamper by Jensen, again set up by incredible blocking from the Bison "O" line, to convert a critical 3rd down.
With the clock ticking down, Jensen would evade some pressure and find a crossing Zach Vraa in the end zone, and the extra point would make it Bison 14, Terriers 7, just before the first half's conclusion.
As the third quarter progressed, it became more and more of an all-out war, with casualties in the form of injuries on both sides. Wofford's starting quarterback, Kass, went down, meaning it was up to his backup, James Lawson, to guide Wofford's triple-option attack.
Twice in the second half they'd come close to scoring points, and twice, the Bison defense would stop them cold in the red zone.
As Grant Olson kept racking up tackle after tackle – 16, 17, 18 – at the Bison 7, Lawson would pitch to Johnson on the outside to try to convert a critical 3rd-and-4, but safety Christian Dudzik tracked him down for a 2 yard loss, setting up a 26 yard field goal attempt off the right hash.
The kick would be partially blocked by backup defensive lineman Anthony LaVoy, keeping the Bison ahead by a touchdown – and keeping the FargoDome loud for the final quarter.
“It wasn’t much, but I got it,” LaVoy said.
Wofford would have one final drive in them to try to take the lead – as Olson again kept getting stop after stop. After Lawson completed a rare pass to Jeff Ashley for a 24 yard gain, it would be Olson slowing down Brietenstein, Olson slowing down backup running back Bryan Yeoman, slowing down the relentless push of the Terriers.
They would get all the way to the Bison 7 yard line, with 3:24 to play. With a 4th and 3, #52 Olson's 27th tackle was the biggest of the night, a beautiful solo stop, a two-handed hammer throw of Donovan Johnson well short of the first-down marker.
For good measure, on Wofford's final last-gasp drive, he'd add one more tackle, giving him a school-record 28 tackles in one game.
“I guess I’m still at a little bit of a loss for words,” Olson said in the postgame. “It was a lot of fun. I’m so proud of this team. Coach told us to leave our hearts out there, and that’s what we did.”
"I thought it was unfortunate that one team had to lose today," Bison head coach Craig Bohl said afterwards. "I thought you had two very good programs mixing it up on the gridiron, and that's what it's all about."