FCS playoff matchup gives Bison chance to clear lone blemish
FARGO, N.D. (AP) The only thing that's been worse than playing Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse North Dakota State in the last five years is playing the Bison more than once.
Thanks in part to a playoff system that once grouped teams from the same region, the Bison have faced four teams in the postseason after seeing them a few weeks earlier. They have won all four times (South Dakota State in 2012 and 2014, Montana and Northern Iowa in 2015).
The five-time defending FCS champion (11-1) can up its record in FCS rematches to 5-0 when it hosts a quarterfinal game Saturday against South Dakota State (9-3), which happens to be the only team to beat the Bison this season.
Neither Bison coach Chris Klieman nor his players are interested in publicly playing up the revenge factor.
''Just stay out of it,'' is how Klieman put it. ''It's a new game. It's a new week. We can't worry about all that stuff.''
Even Bison running back and kickoff return standout Bruce Anderson, who was injured against the Jackrabbits after his ankle was twisted during a tackle, said he's more interested in performance than payback. Anderson sat out six weeks before returning for the playoffs.
''I don't really think about it. It's in the past,'' Anderson said. ''It was frustrating to be out and not playing, but I would say that it would be frustrating for anybody. I am just looking at this game as another opportunity to play football.''
South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier said his team was happy to win the game in October, but there's no discussion about it this week.
''We don't talk hardly ever about the past,'' he said.
The Jacks defeated the Bison 19-17 at the Fargodome, but piled up some impressive statistics. Quarterback Taryn Christion had 444 yards of total offense, including 303 yards passing and 141 yards rushing. He caught the Bison off guard with his running game, after coming into the contest with just 29 yards rushing in five games.
Less surprising were the numbers of Christion's two large targets, 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end Dallas Goedert and 6-4, 215-pound wide receiver Jake Weineke. Goedert caught 11 passes for 150 yards and Weineke had six catches for 108 yards, including the winning 2-yard touchdown reception on the final play from scrimmage.
''They are just really exceptional. If there's anything in the ZIP code, they're catching it,'' Bison defensive end Greg Menard said of the South Dakota State receivers. ''We have to make sure we get more pressure on the quarterback this time around.''
After scoring a season-low 17 points against the Jacks, the Bison offense turned its focus toward the running game and has rushed for 1,368 yards in the past five games. That has loosened up defenses for big plays, including four of the 10 longest of the year against San Diego last weekend. There was a 61-yard touchdown run by Anderson, a 56-yard touchdown run by Lance Dunn, a 52-yard run by quarterback Easton Stick, and a 49-yard touchdown pass from Stick to Chase Morlock.
''We've just got to finish better,'' Bison receiver RJ Urzendowski said of the rematch. ''We moved the ball pretty well for third quarters the first time. We're going to have to be consistent throughout the game.''
This is the 106th meeting between the two schools that have become rivals since moving up to Division I ahead of their in-state counterparts, the University of North Dakota and University of South Dakota. The Bison have a 35-15-3 advantage over the Jacks at home and have won 27 of the last 29 in Fargo, including a 13-2 mark in the Fargodome.
''There's no love in this game,'' North Dakota State defensive end Brad Ambrosius said. ''We're ready to go.''