NDSU opens bid for sixth straight title
(STATS) - Four teams stand in the way of North Dakota State winning a sixth straight FCS national championship. The Bison's first opponent has a whopping one victory all-time in the playoffs.
That program is No. 24 San Diego, which travels to take on top-seeded and fourth-ranked NDSU in the second round Saturday at the Fargodome.
NDSU (10-1) shut down Sam Houston State in the second half to win its first FCS championship in 2011 and did the exact same thing against the Bearkats the following season to repeat.
A third straight title under coach Craig Bohl came much easier against Towson in 2013, but the Bison needed a Carson Wentz touchdown run with 37 seconds left to beat Illinois State for a record fourth consecutive championship the next year - their first with Chris Klieman as coach. NDSU's fifth straight national title was a rout of Jacksonville State last season.
NDSU won a share of its sixth straight Missouri Valley Football Conference championship this season, tying South Dakota State with a 7-1 record. The visiting Jackrabbits stunned the then-No. 1 Bison 19-17 on a TD with one second remaining Oct. 15 to end NDSU's 14-game winning streak.
The Bison could get a rematch with No. 7 SDSU in the quarterfinals next week. The winner of this game will face the Jackrabbits or ninth-ranked Villanova.
NDSU is led by Easton Stick, who has passed for 1,719 yards and 15 TDs while rushing for 482 yards and five scores. Lance Dunn tops the team with 756 rushing yards, and All-MVFC first-team selections King Frazier (693 yards, 10 TDs) and Chase Morlock (350, 2) also help pace the FCS' 11th-best rushing attack (239.9).
"Easton will be a big focal point, whether it is him running the football, him out on the edge or him in the three-and-five-step game," said Klieman, a finalist for the STATS Eddie Robinson Award as FCS Coach of the Year.
Postseason experience and the fact that they're 16-0 at home in the FCS playoffs should bode well for the Bison this weekend, but the upstart Toreros (10-1) could present a challenge.
"Because they are not regionally located, we just don't ever see them on film," Klieman said. " ... You watch their body of work over the year, they've won 10 ballgames so they're doing something right."
San Diego rolled through its eight Pioneer Football League games, outscoring opponents 343-83 to earn the league's automatic bid to the playoffs for the second time in three years while winning at least a share of the PFL title for the eighth time in the past 12 seasons.
The Toreros' only loss came at Cal Poly on Sept. 10, and they avenged that defeat last Saturday when they returned to San Luis Obispo and beat the 21st-ranked Mustangs 35-21 in the first round to record the first-ever playoff win by a team from the non-scholarship PFL.
PFL offensive player of the year Jonah Hodges ran 35 times for 171 yards and three touchdowns, and All-PFL first-team members Anthony Lawrence (296 passing yards, 2 TDs) and Brian Riley (99 receiving yards, 1) also contributed to the win.
"This is all about the players. The players determined everything," PFL coach of the year and STATS Eddie Robinson Award finalist Dale Lindsey said. " ... They played at a different speed than I've seen them play all year long."
Lawrence finished third in the FCS in completion percentage (68.9) and fifth in passing efficiency (164.6) during the regular season while throwing for 2,515 yards and 22 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Hodges was ninth with 1,190 rushing yards and fifth with 17 total TDs.
The defense held Cal Poly's triple-option offense, which finished No. 1 in the FCS with 360.6 rushing yards per game and sixth in total offense (496.5), to 155 yards on the ground and 40 through the air.
Perhaps the result wasn't too surprising since San Diego entered ranked No. 1 in the FCS in scoring defense (12.1), passing efficiency defense (84.36) and total defense (249.6) while sitting sixth in rushing defense (82.2).
The Toreros were also strong on the other side of the ball in the regular season, ranking fourth in the FCS in third-down conversion percentage (52.8), seventh in passing efficiency (162.52), 10th in scoring offense (38.6) and 15th in total offense (452.2).
"They've beat the heck out of everybody in their league, I mean the games aren't even close," Klieman said.
That San Diego offense will face an NDSU squad that ranks fifth in the FCS in red-zone defense (68.4 percent) and sixth in scoring defense (17.1). The Bison also have the 18th-best overall defense with opponents averaging 322.3 yards.
"We went from the frying pan into the fire," Lindsey said. "We know what they are. ... Fantastic program, great history. So we've got our work cut out for us."