North Dakota State rolls back to FCS title game
(STATS) - North Dakota State's "Drive for Five" took the cruising lane on the Road to Frisco.
The four-time defending FCS champion Bison are headed back to another national title game after crushing Richmond 33-7 in Friday night's semifinal at the Fargodome.
The third-seeded Bison (12-2), who have won 19 straight postseason games while building their dynasty, will face No. 1 seed Jacksonville State (13-1) - which rolled over Sam Houston State 62-10 in Saturday's other semifinal - in the championship game Jan. 9 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Already the only program to win four consecutive FCS titles, the Missouri Valley Football Conference power is now the first to appear in five straight championship games, surpassing the Eastern Kentucky squads of 1979-82 (titles in '79 and '82) and Youngstown State squads of 1991-94 (titles in '91, '93 and '94).
"That's the best team I've seen in some time, maybe in my 10 years of coaching FCS football," Richmond coach Danny Rocco said.
North Dakota State's eighth straight win came easily against seventh-seeded Richmond (10-4) from CAA Football. Redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick threw for two touchdowns and redshirt junior running back King Frazier rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting between the programs.
North Dakota State's defense was equally formidable in limiting Richmond to 209 yards - 261 below its average - and nine first downs.
"Our defense is lights out right now," North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said.
While building a 26-0 halftime lead, the Bison flipped the script on Richmond, which came out strong in a quarterfinal upset at second-seeded Illinois State - the other Missouri Valley co-champ - last Friday.
Frazier went over 1,000 rushing yards for the season on the game's opening drive and capped it with a 2-yard touchdown. Stick then threw a 27-yard TD to Chase Morlock on the final play of the first quarter, staking the Bison to a 13-0 lead.
They doubled it to 26-0 in the second quarter. Stick connected with sixth-year senior wide receiver Zach Vraa for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 6:04 remaining and Eric Perkins returned a punt 88 yards to the house at the 1:31 mark.
The Bison held the ball for 36 minutes, 38 seconds, incredibly marking the 29th time in their last 30 games they won the possession battle. Stick was 13 of 20 for 136 yards with an interception, while Frazier carried the ball 20 times - the last one his short scoring run with 6:11 left to play that extended North Dakota State's lead to 33-7.
Stick improved to 8-0 as a starter since replacing fifth-year senior Carson Wentz, who suffered a wrist injury Oct. 17. Wentz returned to practice last week, but he was not active for Friday night's game.
"He has come in to fill some tough shoes and he has played some phenomenal football," Klieman said of Stick. "No stage is too big for that young man."
Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta, who's second in the FCS in passing yardage, had to work for his 171 yards, which included a 55-yard touchdown pass to tight end Garrett Hudson on the first possession of the second half. But Lauletta (12 of 26) was intercepted twice, including by free safety Tre Dempsey in the end zone midway through the third quarter, and sacked three times - twice by Brad Ambrosius.
"Relentless. Their effort on every play was unbelievable," Lauletta said. "They never took a play off."
All-CAA running back Jacobi Green managed only 32 rushing yards after going over 100 in Richmond's previous seven games.
If there was a negative for North Dakota State, it was kicking. In the first half, Cam Pederson missed 44- and 36-yard field goal attempts - dropping him to 1 for 7 in the postseason - and the Bison came up empty on two PATs, once because of a botched snap.
But they did plenty to dominate Richmond, improving to 70-5 since the start of the their first national championship season in 2011.
With one more win, the Bison will complete their drive for five.