By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
FRISCO, TX. — When you have a chance to slay a dragon, you better have all of your weapons ready.
Sam Houston State had numerous opportunities to thrust defending champion North Dakota State onto the ropes in Saturday afternoon's NCAA Division I Football Championship game at FC Dallas Stadium.
But numerous Bearkat mistakes and stout red zone defense from NDSU allowed the Bison to roll to a 39-13 rout and their second straight national title.
North Dakota State cornerback Marcus Williams picked off two of the four interceptions the Bison defense forced, while quarterback Brock Jensen scored three times and running back Sam Ojuri added two more touchdowns to help NDSU turned a 10-10 halftime deadlock into a 29-3 outburst in the second half.
"It was an extremely competitive game, we knew it was going to be." NDSU coach Craig Bohl said. "Quite frankly I was a little bit surprised at the margin of victory in the second half. Maybe our players had a tremendous amount of confidence."
It marked the first time in four Football Championship Subdivision rematches that the defending champion had come away with a victory and the Bison (14-1) became the seventh team and fourth program to win back-to-back titles.
Appalachian State's unprecedented three consecutive crowns from 2005-07 was the last time that there had been a repeat champion.
Previous repeat championships had been earned by Georgia Southern (1985-86, 1989-90, 1999-2000) and Youngstown State (1993-94).
"I thought the turnovers were really critical to us being able to control the line of scrimmage," Bohl added. "That was really important. I thought, defensively, we gave up some yards, but did a good job keeping them out of the end zone and it's very rewarding to win back‑to‑back National Championships."
Jensen, who joins Georgia Southern's Tracy Ham (1985-86) and Raymond Gross (1989-90), Youngstown State's Mark Brungard (1993-94) and Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards (2006-07) as the only quarterbacks to guide their teams to back-to-back titles, survived a shaky first half before taking charge of the Bison offense.
"It's got to be the hardest thing to do in sports is to repeat a championship, go back to back, especially the national championship," said Jensen. "It's hard enough to repeat a conference championship, especially when you're playing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. But it takes a great deal of resiliency from a group of young men like us and also our coaching staff."
His throws might have been wobbly, but Jensen completed 9-of-16 for 115 yards and he rushed eight times for 44 yards and those three scores — including his 20-yard scamper in the second quarter for the first touchdown of the game.
That gave the Bison a 10-3 lead with three minutes remaining in the first half.
Running back John Crockett gained 82 yards on just 11 carries, but a 57-yard run in the first period set up Adam Keller's 32-yard field goal and Crockett's fake run and jump pass to tight end Kevin Vaadeland for 26 yards and a key first down in the fourth quarter led to the second of Jensen's one-yard QB sneaks to put the game away at 32-13.
Ojuri added a game-high 92 yards rushing on 14 attempts and scored on jaunts of two and 11 yards in the second half.
But it might have been a different game in the second half if Sam Houston had taken advantage of its many opportunities in the the first half and early in the third period.
The Bearkats (11-4) moved the ball to the NDSU 14, the 20, the 28 and the 20 in the first half, but came away with just 10 points. There were trips to the Bison 41, 35, 14 and 42 in the second half.
"I thought we had some opportunities," said SHSU coach Willie Fritz. "The ball didn't bounce our way a couple times on some big plays. But they did a very good job and really ran the ball well against us. I want to give them a lot of credit for doing a sensational job."
Senior Miguel Antonio, who had beaten North Dakota State 45-42 on a field goal in the final seconds of a 2009 regular-season game as a freshman, missed a 32-yard field narrowly wide right after a bad snap before hitting from 38 yards three plays into the second quarter to tie the score at 3-3.
After Jensen's first touchdown, SHSU quarterback Brian Bell marched the Bearkats down the field 75 yards in nine plays to even the score with 33 seconds left in the half.
Bell had a pass intercepted during that drive, but it was negated on Andre Martin's defensive holding penalty.
Three plays later, Richard Sincere (four catches, 83 yards, 10 carries, 33 yards) made a tremendous grab after Bell was hit as he fired an under-thrown pass towards the receiver. Sincere landed at the NDSU one and Bell hit tight end K.J. Williams on a play-action pass to send the teams to the locker room tied at 10.
For a brief moment, it appeared that Sam Houston State had taken the lead when Tim Flanders (19 carries, 53 yards) burst through the line and into the end zone from 41 yards out, but the Bearkats were called for holding to wipe out the momentum-changing play.
That costly mistake was compounded when Bell followed that up by forcing a ball into coverage. Carlton Littlejohn (game-high 11 tackles, seven solo stops, one tackle for loss) snagged the interception at the Bison 40 to end the drive.
"Whenever a team scores a touchdown but it gets took off the board it's big, because it gives us more momentum and football is a game of momentum," said Marcus Williams. "If it's up, you're up, and if you're high, you're high, and in this game we needed as much momentum as we could, and them not getting a touchdown and us getting a turnover was big for us."
NDSU made SHSU pay with a 10-play, 60-yard march that gave the Bison the lead for good.
A 19-yard connection from Jensen to Crockett to move the Bison into scoring range and Jensen finished off another drive with a quarterback sneak.
From there, it was all North Dakota State as the Bison added three more touchdowns to turn the game into a rout.
North Dakota State used it grinding running attack to finish with a 441-391 advantage in total offense. The Bison had 300 yards rushing.
Bell was 19-of-33 for 233 yards, but he faced increasing pressure from North Dakota State's blitzing defense in the second half and he eventually left the game with an injury.
The Bearkats were also hurt when senior All-American safety Darnell Taylor, the two-time Southland Conference defensive player of the year and the team's leading tackler, had his knee collapse in the second quarter to end a brilliant college career.
Taylor's twin brother, senior linebacker Darius Taylor tied NDSU's Littlejohn for a game-high 11 tackles (five solo stops) was not only disappointed about his brother's loss, but also by the frustration of losing to the Bison again.
"It hurts," Taylor said. "You know, you get back a second time, and to not be able to finish again, this being my last year, I'm never going to play with this group of guys again."