The North Dakota State University Bison football team traveled down to Normal, Ill. to take on the Redbirds of Illinois State University on the last regular season game of the season for both teams. A win would guarantee an outright Missouri Valley Football Conference title for the Bison.
The Bison came up with a big victory on the road over Illinois State University 38-20. The team went into the locker room down 17-14, but dominated the second half to come up with their 10th victory of the season.
The North Dakota State University offense got the ball to start the game against Illinois State University. The Bison offense could only manage one first down before they were forced to punt. Freshman Ben LeCompte could only manage a punt to the ISU 40-yard line.
The Redbird offense showed how deadly they could be by driving the ball 60 yards in 11 plays. They capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from senior Matt Brown to his junior fullback Jordan Neukirch. The PAT made it 7-0 Redbirds with 5:53 to go in the 1st quarter.
The Bison offense was again forced to punt after another defensive stand from ISU. The drive for the Redbirds started at their own 21-yard line but back-to-back pass plays from Brown got ISU into Bison territory. The drive stalled and ISU was forced to settle for a 33-yard field goal from sophomore Nick Aussieker, making it 10-0.
The Bison got the kind of boost they were looking for from junior cornerback Marcus Williams when he returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown putting the Bison on the board before the end of the first quarter at 10-7.
The Bison defense finally came up with a stop to start the second quarter. After the punt, junior quarterback Brock Jensen engineered a big scoring drive for the Herd to take the lead 14-10. The drive covered 83 yards in 2:38 and was helped out by several big plays from the offense.
Jensen hit junior Ryan Smith on a 16-yard pass to start the drive. The bison got into the red zone after junior Sam Ojuri carried the ball 47 yards on a burst through the left side of the offensive line to get the Bison to the Illinois State 5-yard line. Junior John Crockett would finish off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown scamper to the pile on.
ISU would respond with an impressive drive of their own to retake the lead at 17-14. The 75-yard drive consumed 4:14 off the clock and was capped off by a 3-yard run from Brown. That was only the third rushing touchdown NDSU had given up all season.
The Redbird offense would get another chance to add to their lead after a NDSU drive stalled. With 2:35 remaining in the first half, ISU would start the drive at their 26-yard line. That drive looked promising until ISU tried a trick play with Brown receiving a pass from junior wide out Phil Dudley. The play resulted in a 5-yard loss and an ISU punt.
The Bison ran two plays but gained nothing out of it and the Redbirds would go into the locker room with a 17-14 halftime lead.
The Illinois State offense got the ball the start the second half and would start the drive from their 20-yard line. The Redbirds moved ball effectively until they got to the NDSU 35-yard line. At that point in the drive, Brown threw two incomplete passes. After a 5-yard rush on third down, Aussieker knocked in a 47-yard field goal to make it 20-14 Redbirds.
The Bison’s first drive of the second half was a productive one as well. It was helped out by a big 32-yard run from Ojuri on 4th and one. That was followed by a 12-yard pass from Jensen to sophomore wide out Zach Vraa.
The Bison could not move the ball after that and had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from sophomore Adam Keller to draw within three at 20-17 with 7:40 to go in the third quarter.
The Bison defense came up with another stop, giving the Bison offense the opportunity to continue building momentum into the fourth quarter.
The Bison would capture their first lead of the game when Jensen snuck into the end zone from 1-yard out, making it 24-20 Bison. The 13 play, 70-yard drive consumed 6:53 and featured nine rushing plays.
The Bison defense would come up with arguably their biggest play of the season on the next Illinois State drive. Brown would have the ball stripped from him by junior Cole Jirik on a 3rd and eight and the fumble was recovered by sophomore Mike Hardie.
The Bison would go deep following the turnover with Jensen hitting Smith for a 39-yard pass off the play action to the Illinois State 7-yard line. Two plays later, Jensen would run into the end zone from 4 yards out, giving the Bison a 31-20 lead with 9:52 to go in the game.
The Bison defense would get a three-and-out, letting the offense try and finish off the game. Crockett would come up with runs of 13, 11 and 27 yards on the drive, pushing his rushing yards over 100 for the game. A 21-yard run from Ojuri would get him over the 100-yard marker for the contest as well.
Ojuri would cap the drive off two players after his 21-yard run with a 1-yard scamper for his first score of the game. The extra point put the Bison up 38-20 with 3:19 to go in the game.
The Redbirds would run try and score before the end of the game but the NDSU defense would not let them get past midfield and closed out the game with yet another impressive stand.
The Bison got huge contributions from their rushing offensive with Ojuri going for 118 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown while Crockett went for 109 yard on 17 carries and score of his own. The defense held the Redbird offense to three second half points after giving up 17 in the first half.
Jirik and junior Grant Olson led the Bison defense. Jirik had eight tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles while Olson led the team in tackles with 12.
The win gave NDSU an overall record of 10-1, 7-1 in the Missouri Valley and the outright conference title. The loss dropped Illinois State to 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the Valley.
The Football Championship Subdivision playoff bracket will be announced at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 18. NDSU will most likely receive the number one overall seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.