James Madison circled possible Bison game in spring practice

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FARGO, N.D. (AP) James Madison's Mike Houston might not be the only Football Championship Subdivision coach to make five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State the focus of the entire season. He's probably the most blatant about it.

When Houston took over an already solid program last spring, he immediately set about to ''change the culture'' and emphasize a physical, aggressive style of play he believed would give his team a shot at ending the Bison reign. The Dukes get that chance Friday night in an FCS semifinal at the Fargodome.

''In essence, we've built this team to try and go in and win this game,'' Houston said. ''Our style of play is something that I hope we'll be able to go in and challenge them. Certainly they are the standard at the FCS level.''

The Dukes (12-1) are the top scoring team in FCS with an average of just under 50 points per game. They scored 80 or more points twice and 60 or more points twice, including last week's 65-7 dismantling of previously unbeaten Sam Houston State, the top-ranked team in FCS polling. The Dukes had a 607-270 advantage in total yardage.

''There is not anything about us that equates to finesse, soft ... you know, anything along those lines,'' Houston said. ''Our kids, when they take the field, they're going to hit you right in the face. They're going to come at you as hard as they can.''

Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said after last week's game that the Dukes have the ability to beat any team in the country. Keeler said something similar about Jacksonville State last year after the Gamecocks defeated his team in the semifinals. The Bison then pushed around the Gamecocks - billed as a physical team - in last year's championship.

North Dakota State defensive end Brad Ambrosius called the brute force shown by James Madison ''special,'' but said it's tough to gauge by looking at video.

''You won't really know how physical they are until you start playing them,'' Ambrosius said. ''They claim to be physical, they look like they're physical, but we won't know until Friday.''

North Dakota State (12-1) is 18-0 at home in the FCS playoffs and has won 19 straight home playoff games including a 1992 Division II first round victory against Northeast Missouri State in the final game outdoors at Dacotah Field. The Bison moved into the 18,700-seat Fargodome the next season.

''The Fargodome every year is all over ESPN, North Dakota State is all over ESPN, so finally being able to line up and look those players in the face and to be able to compete with them ... I'm very excited,'' James Madison cornerback Taylor Reynolds said. ''This is a dream come true. We're looking to go into North Dakota State and win.''

Said North Dakota State fullback Chase Morlock, ''We welcome them into the dome. Come up here and let's tee it off. They are not going to be intimidated. It's going to take a solid effort to go out and get these guys.''

The Dukes are the only team in the final four the Bison have yet to play this season. They defeated Eastern Washington 50-44 in September and Youngstown State 20-3 in November, both times in the Fargodome. The last two teams standing advance to the national championship Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

''It has been one tough game after another. We have been beat up, we have been beat down, we have come back,'' Ambrosius said. ''We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We're used to his kind of thing.''


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