North Dakota State advances 5th straight FCS title game
FARGO, N.D. (AP) North Dakota State and its raucous Fargodome crowd overwhelmed yet another FCS opponent.
Eric Perkins returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown to finish off a dominating first half and four-time defending champion Bison rolled to a 33-7 victory over Richmond in a semifinal game Friday night before more than 18,000 roaring fans.
The Bison (12-2) advanced to the Jan. 9 championship game in Frisco, Texas, against the winner of the semifinal Saturday between Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State. North Dakota State is 16-0 at home in the FCS playoffs.
''That is the best team I've seen in quite a while,'' Richmond coach Danny Rocco said. ''You had the feeling they were going to control the tempo of the game.''
The Bison won their first Division I title in the 2011 season by beating Sam Houston State in the championship. North Dakota State beat Sam Houston again in 2012, Towson State in 2013, and Illinois State last season. The Bison were the third seed this year but received a bonus game for the semifinals when Richmond upset No. 2-seeded Illinois State last week.
''They always feel they have a chance to win,'' Bison coach Chris Klieman said about his players. ''I'm so proud of these guys. They're going back to Frisco. I'm along for the ride.''
King Frazier rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns and redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick threw for a pair of scores to lead the Bison. Perkins was the special teams star with three punt returns for 145 yards.
Rocco said the return by Perkins with 1:31 left in the half was a key play.
''Unbelievable,'' the coach said. ''In an environment like this and a game like this when you are already playing uphill, you can't put yourself in a deeper hole.''
Perkins said he broke one tackle and was gone, with only the punter to get by about the Richmond 25. ''I was hoping I wouldn't get tackled by him,'' Perkins said, smiling.
The Bison rolled up 418 yards of total offense, to 209 for Richmond (10-4). Richmond's Jacobi Green, the nation's sixth-leader rusher averaging 120 yards a game, ran for 32 yards on 11 carries. He gained just 17 yards in the first half. Kyle Lauletta completed 12 of 26 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
''Our defense is playing lights out. They have to,'' Klieman said.
''They were physical,'' Lauletta said. ''The effort on every single play was unbelievable. They didn't take any plays off. There was constant pressure.''
North Dakota State led 26-0 at half, and it should have been more. Not including Perkins' punt return with 1:31 left in the half, the Bison drove into Spiders territory on all seven of their drives in the first half. Three of them ended in touchdowns, two of them stalled on missed field goals and the last one ended on downs on the final play of the half. The Bison also blew two point-after tries.
North Dakota State built a 155-26 advantage in total yardage in the first quarter and 247-67 margin by halftime. Richmond crossed onto North Dakota State's side of the field just once in the first half, a drive that ended with a punt at the Bison 47.
The Spiders showed some life in the second half and had a chance to pull within two scores late in the third quarter, but Tre Dempsey intercepted Lauletta's pass at the 1 to thwart a nine-play, 81-yard drive.
North Dakota State polished off the Spiders with an 18-play, 87-yard march that burned 10 minutes off the clock and made it 33-7 on Frazier's 1-yard run with 6:06 left. That was followed by an array of songs over the public address system with Texas in the tittles.
''We wanted to take as much time off the clock as we could and keep the defense off the field,'' Frazier said.