SDSU again stands in way of NDSU’s quest

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(STATS) - During its run to a record five straight FCS national championships, North Dakota State had to go through Missouri Valley Football Conference rival South Dakota State twice.

Those two victories were part of a long winning streak in the series for the Bison, but Saturday's visit from the Jackrabbits feels different.

That's because No. 8 seed SDSU handed top-seeded NDSU its only loss this season. The Bison, though, don't have revenge on their minds - they're just focused on reaching the semifinals.

"I don't even believe in the revenge factor, they're excited about the opportunity to play, get a chance to play at home," said Chris Klieman, who finished fifth in the voting for the STATS FCS Eddie Robinson Award as FCS Coach of the Year.

"South Dakota State is the next game on the schedule and that's the one we're getting ready for."

The previous meeting didn't go well for NDSU (11-1). The Jackrabbits (9-3) stunned the then-No. 1 Bison 19-17 at the Fargodome on Oct. 15 when Taryn Christion threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jake Wieneke with one second remaining to end NDSU's 14-game winning streak. SDSU had dropped the previous eight matchups.

That victory eventually gave the Jackrabbits the MVFC's automatic bid to the playoffs after they finished tied with the Bison for first place in the conference with a 7-1 record. NDSU won a share of its sixth straight conference championship.

Even though the Bison are 17-0 at home in the FCS playoffs, Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier thinks his team has a slight edge.

"We would be the most familiar with that facility in terms of playoff teams going up there, both in terms of conference play and playoff situations," he said. "The environment last time we were up there did not affect our offense, and that's where it really has an impact."

Christion, the MVFC's offensive player of the year, rushed for a career-high 141 yards in October to go along with 303 passing yards and two TDs. SDSU racked up 523 total yards, the second-most NDSU allowed all season, and the Bison gave up a season-high 220 rushing yards.

"You can go back and go through the film of the previous game, either side of the ball both teams, and you're gonna see maybe some similarities because it's who you are," Klieman said. "In the same respect there's a lot of different adjustments and wrinkles that both teams put in. ... You have to be able to adjust in the playoffs no matter what."

SDSU had to adjust in its snowy playoff opener last weekend at home. Villanova limited SDSU's high-powered offense to 197 yards - 284.7 below its season average - before the Jackrabbits pulled out a 10-7 win when freshman Chase Vinatieri kicked a 40-yard field goal with 1:21 left.

"Bottom line is we did grind out a win," Stiegelmeier said. "Our guys have learned to just accept a victory. I've asked them after way too many games 'Can we play better?' and that answer's always a yes. It doesn't matter how well we've played. I didn't ask them that because I didn't want to bring up a feeling of not playing as well as we could've.

"We got the win, we've moved on. We're one of eight teams left."

NDSU had a much easier time last week in its first playoff game. Quarterback Easton Stick accounted for 307 total yards and passed for three touchdowns as the Bison rolled to a 45-7 win over Pioneer Football League champion San Diego.

NDSU totaled 507 yards and rushed for 299. The Bison were held to season lows of 304 total yards and 161 on the ground in the first meeting with SDSU.

"It's a new game, it's a new week," Klieman said. "We're trying to go 1-0."

This is the 106th meeting in a series that dates back to 1903. NDSU holds a 59-41-5 advantage and has won 13 of 15 matchups at the Fargodome.

"They've been here, done that," Stiegelmeier said. "The fact that we beat them during the regular season doesn't matter to them. They're the No. 1 seed for a reason, we have to go to their place for a reason. We need to play our best football."

The winner will face No. 4 seed James Madison (11-1) or No. 5 seed Sam Houston State (12-0) next week.

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