NDSU leaves no doubt with fifth straight FCS title
FRISCO, Texas (STATS) - That record number of FCS championships now fills an entire hand with celebratory rings.
What better way for North Dakota State's dynasty to conk an opponent over the head.
The Bison became the first team in NCAA history to win five straight national titles Saturday as they overwhelmed top-seeded Jacksonville State 37-10 before 21,836 at Toyota Stadium.
There was little rust in senior quarterback Carson Wentz's game as he returned from a midseason wrist injury, and that played right into North Dakota State's well-oiled machine. The Bison (13-2) improved to an amazing 71-5 since the start of the 2011 season - the first of the championship run - and separated from Augustana's Division III champions of 1983-86 for the most consecutive titles in NCAA history.
"It's remarkable, the five titles. I can't put it into words," second-year coach Chris Klieman said.
But he basically did later.
"It's the culture," he said.
The Missouri Valley Conference power, seeded third in the playoffs, built a 24-0 halftime lead against a Jacksonville State squad that had been No. 1 for most of the season. The Ohio Valley Conference's Gamecocks (13-2) had their 12-game winning streak snapped.
There were countless factors for the romp, perhaps none bigger than:
- Wentz, the 6-foot-6 NFL prospect, played more like he had been out for 12 days instead of 12 weeks. He rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another one with 276 yards of total offense (197 passing, 79 rushing) while being named the title game's Most Outstanding Player for the second straight year. He completed 16 of 29 passes but had two interceptions.
"I felt good for the last couple weeks now, and I think that kind of showed a little today," Wentz said. "The rust, people might have wanted to talk about it. I didn't think I showed that. But we had a lot of receivers making plays on the ball, and that was big for me."
- NDSU's defense left no doubt as Jacksonville State managed only 204 offensive yards - 325 below its average. Eli Jenkins, the STATS All-America first-team quarterback, was harassed into four turnovers with a mere 57 passing yards on 20 attempts, and 1,700-yard rusher Troymaine Pope had only 31 yards on nine carries. Incredibly, all four Bison opponents in the postseason were held to a season low in yards.
"That's as good a defensive effort as I've seen from a four-game stretch in the playoffs," Klieman said. "Hat's off to Coach (Matt) Entz and the defensive staff, as well as all these defensive players, because I think we have the best defense in all of FCS football this year without question."
- The Bison controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock (40 minutes, 51 seconds), running 82 plays to Jacksonville State's 51.
"They kept the ball away from us pretty much the whole game," Gamecocks coach John Grass lamented.
North Dakota State scored on its first four possessions to take command by halftime. The first two went for a combined 27 plays as Cam Pedersen ended a game-opening 15-play drive with a 29-yard field goal and a 12-play drive stretched into the second quarter before Wentz connected on an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Bonnet.
NDSU linebacker Nick DeLuca intercepted Jenkins at his team's 28-yard line on the first play of the ensuing drive. It led to Wentz beating cornerback Jermaine Hough 1-on-1 on a keeper and diving into the end zone for an 11-yard TD and a 17-0 lead at the 11:13 mark.
Jenkins then fumbled the ball away to Bison linebacker M.J. Stumpf at the Jacksonville State 48. That turnover led to King Frazier's 1-yard touchdown run, which made it 24-0 with 6:12 left in the first half.
"The first half especially we didn't get off the field on third downs and we didn't give our offense the ball enough," Jacksonville State defensive end Chris Landrum said, "Credit North Dakota State, they have a great offense."
"The more you can wear a defense down, the better it is for your offense," Klieman said, "but the better it is for your defense because you're always staying fresh."
Jacksonville State cut into its deficit to 24-10 in the third quarter. Jenkins broke loose for a 46-yard run to set up a 6-yard scoring keeper, and Brandon Bender intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 54 yards to the Bison 13, which set up Connor Rouleau's 27-yard field goal with 3:41 left.
But North Dakota State answered with a Pedersen 31-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the third quarter and then won going away.
In fact, the fourth quarter was a complete nightmare for Jenkins. DeLuca (nine tackles) dislodged the ball on a scramble and Jenkins fumbled the ball away to defensive end Greg Menard. Although NDSU quarterback Easton Stick, who was 8-0 as a starter while Wentz was sidelined, immediately gave the ball back by throwing an interception in the Jacksonville State end zone, Bison cornerback Jordan Champion picked off Jenkins to mark the third straight play with a turnover.
Wentz was more than happy to convert that one into a 1-yard touchdown on NDSU's next drive, making it 34-10. And the Bison were even happier to have their offensive leader back in the saddle for another win.
Their "Drive for Five" is complete.
Maybe they'll be back for more next year.