December 12, 2015

(STATS) - The one place no team wants to visit on the Road to Frisco and the NCAA Division I FCS championship game is North Dakota State's Fargodome.

Dome-field advantage, indeed.

Northern Iowa was about as equipped as any team to end the four-time defending national champion's run of perfection at home in the FCS playoffs. But the third-seeded Bison used a familiar script to dispatch of their Missouri Valley Football Conference rival, winning 23-13 in the national quarterfinals before 18,041 at the Fargodome on Saturday.

Coupled with No. 2 seed Illinois State's loss to Richmond on Friday night, NDSU (11-2) gets to stay home in the semifinals Friday night against the Spiders (10-3) from CAA Football. The Bison are 21-1 all-time in the FCS playoffs, including 15-0 at the Fargodome.

"We're never counted out, nobody ever thinks we're going to lose," senior punter Ben LeCompte said after he helped NDSU win special teams with his work, including two second-half punts pinned deep in UNI territory.

"It's a mentality, it's just the culture around here at NDSU and it's incredible. It's something special as you guys know. We start strong and we finish stronger, and that mantra carried us for the last four years and we're gonna hope it carries us further on this year, too."

UNI (9-5) held the series lead over NDSU and entered on a seven-game winning streak that was one more than the Bison. The Panthers were on track to keep it going at halftime, leading 10-7 after a sluggish NDSU offense was held to 79 yards on 24 plays.

The upset bid was quickly thwarted in the second half. True freshman Bruce Anderson provided the Bison with a much-needed lift to open the third quarter, twisting out of several tackles and racing to a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead.

They didn't relinquish it in the physical, defensive-oriented game, overcoming Cam Pederson's missed field goal attempts of 54 and 52 yards in the second half.

NDSU finally put together a long scoring drive in the fourth quarter, going 90 yards in seven plays, fueled by King Frazier's 51-yard run to the UNI 22 before he scored from 4 yards out with 6:40 left.

The Panthers answered with Michael Schmadeke's 24-yard field goal with 4:17 remaining to pull within 21-13 and quickly got the ball back, but they had to start from their own 7 with 3:02 left after LeCompte had another perfectly placed punt.

And on UNI's first down, Bison defensive tackle Brian Schaetz dropped quarterback Aaron Bailey for a safety, basically clinching the win with 2:57 left.

"I know that it is our expectation to be here, but dog gone it, it is hard. It is unbelievably hard to do this for five years," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said.

"We said we needed to have our best 30 minutes of the season and I thought we did."

Frazier finished with 107 yards on 14 carries. NDSU quarterback Easton Stick was 13 of 17 for 116 yards.

The defense was ferocious, led by junior linebacker Nick DeLuca's 16 tackles. UNI entered the game with two 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, but the Bison limited the pair to a combined 91 yards on 34 carries.

UNI announced its arrival for a potential upset by scoring on the game's opening possession. Bailey threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Smith at the 10:09 mark of the first quarter.

NDSU then turned a short field into Chase Morlock's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:43 remaining in the first quarter. But Schmadeke's 32-yard field goal midway through the second quarter gave UNI a 10-7 halftime advantage.

Klieman joined Jacksonville State's John Grass, who also is headed to a national semifinal next weekend, with a 22-3 record since the start of the 2014 season, marking the best two-year start by a coach in FCS history.

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