FARGO, N.D.–Brock Jensen threw two touchdowns and ran for another, as No. 1 North Dakota State extended its winning streak to 21 games, with a 38-7 win over Southern Conference champion Furman Saturday afternoon at the Fargo Dome.
The Bison, who have won back-to-back national titles and are looking to become only the second team in FCS history to win three-straight national titles, improves to 12-0 on the season and moves on to the FCS Quarterfinals to face another team from the Palmetto State–Coastal Carolina–who knocked off Montana, 42-35, to move into the next round. Furman ends its season with an 8-6 overall mark.
It would be a game which would be a tale of two halves, with the Bison 31-unanswered points in the second half being the difference, as the two-time champs flexed their proverbial muscles in the second half. The Bison out-gained the Paladins 516-327 in the game.
The 327 yards by the Paladins were the second-most yards gained against the Bison this season and most by an FCS foe, as Ferris State posted 343 yards in a 56-10 loss to the Bison earlier this season. The Paladins put up more yards against the vaunted Bison defense, but a fumble and a turnover on downs inside the 1-yard line proved costly, as the Paladins came away with 0 points on both forays inside the Bison red zone.
The Bison won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Paladin defense failed to record a turnover for the first time since the season opening, 28-21, loss at Gardner-Webb. One of those turnovers yielded immediate points for the Bison, as Marcus Williams recorded his FCS record-setting seventh career INT return for a score, breaking in front of Andrej Suttles and racing 61 yards for the score. Williams’ INT set a new mark, as he was previously tied with Murray State’s William Hampton (1993-96), who was tied with Williams for the career record prior to today.
The second turnover for the Paladins would be just as damaging, and while it didn’t come immediately, Bison quarterback Brock Jensen would call his own number and raced 53 yards for a score with 7:37 remaining, making it a 38-7 lead and capping the longest drive of the day, which used just five plays to cover 95 yards.
The Paladins, which has 44 freshmen and a total of 63 players on its roster that are either freshmen or sophomores, were able to match the Bison toe-to-toe the entire first half, but would see the Bison made adjustments at the half, and posted a 21-point third quarter to seize control of the football game in front a raucous crowd of 18,455 fans packed inside the Fargo Dome. The win improved the Bison to 5-0 against teams from the Southern Conference, having played four of those teams in the past three seasons.
The Bison would win the toss and deferred, as the Paladins would get the ball on the game’s opening drive. After getting one first down, the Paladins would have to punt the ball away to Brock Jensen and the North Dakota State offense. The Paladins would see the Bison get just inside Paladin territory, but stood tall and forced an incomplete pass on a 3rd-and-6 play at the 36, forcing a Ben LeCompte punt.
The Paladins would mount their most impressive drive of the day on their second series of the football game, however, would come away demoralized without points. Taking over at their own 5-yard line, the Paladins moved the ball 95 yards on 17 plays, taking a whopping 8:21 off the game clock. However, with the ball resting inside the one on 4th-and-goal, the Paladins faced an early crucial decision.
On the second play of the second quarter, Reese Hannon tried to go over All-America left tackle Dakota Dozier, but was denied by the Bison defense, as the dome erupted in a frenzy, with North Dakota State seizing momentum of the game with the fourth down stop. The Paladins challenged the call on the field, but after further review, the call on the field stood and Furman was charged with a timeout.
The Bison mettle and experience would show on the next play, as led by Jensen, would mount a 10-play, 99-yard drive to take the early 7-0 lead. Jensen would record his first scoring pass of the day, connecting with Zach Vraa for a 52-yard scoring connection to give the Bison a 7-0 lead with 10:01 remaining in the half.
Just as they have done all season when faced with adversity, however, the Paladins answered the bell, taking the ensuing possession and drive 75 yards in seven plays to tie the football game on a freshman Marcus Anderson’s second career rushing touchdown plunging in from a yard out to make it a 7-7 game with 6:33 remaining in the half.
After back-to-back punts by the Bison and Paladins, the Bison would get the ball back just before the half, taking the football at its own 12 yard line with 1:16 to play in the half following the Ray Early punt. Back-to-back passes netted 40 yards for Jensen and the Bison offense to get inside Paladin territory. Completions to Sam Ojuri for four yards and Kyle Vaadeland for 17 yards got the Bison within field goal range with seven seconds to play in the half. The Bison would take one more shot to the end zone before calling on Adam Keller for a 37-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Bison a 10-7 lead entering the halftime locker room.
The second half belonged to the Bison and after getting the ball on the opening drive of the second half, Jensen and the offense went to work, covering 75 yards in seven plays, as Sam Ojuri went untouched around the left end to the pay dirt for a three-yard scoring run, making it a 17-7 game with 12:03 to play in the third.
That opening scoring drive by the Bison would inspire the defense, forcing the Paladin offense into its first three-and-0ut of the day, with the key defensive play coming on a 3rd-and-9, as Leevon Perry sacked Hannon for an eight-yard loss forcing the Paladins to punt it away.
The Bison second drive of the half was given a kick start by senior receiver Ryan Smith, who returned the Early punt 30 yards to give the North Dakota State offense excellent field position, with the ball at their own 42. From there, Jensen and the Bison offense would fashion a six-play, 58-yard scoring drive, capped by a seven-yard scoring pass to Andrew Bonnet, making it a 24-7 game with 8:03 remaining in the quarter, extending the two-time defending champs’ lead to 17 points, at 24-7.
The Paladins would move the football on their next offensive possession, getting the ball just inside Bison territory. A 10-yard completion to Snellings and a 12-yard run by Anderson were the two key plays in the drive, but on a 1st-and-10 play at the Bison 48, Hannon made his only mistake of the afternoon, leaving the ball just to the outside of his intended receiver Suttles and the opportunistic Williams picked it off his 21st-career pass and raced 61 yards for the score, making it a 31-7 game with a little over five minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Paladins would again move the football, using 16 plays to cover 75 yards, but once again came away without points after a bad snap exchange–no doubt caused by the decibel level inside the dome–effectively sealing any hopes the Paladins had of getting back into the football game.
Jensen would cap the game on a 3rd-and-3 play at the Bison 47, as he found a crease to the left side and raced 53 yards to the house, giving the Bison a 38-7 lead with 7:37 remaining, and that would hold up to be the final margin.
Jensen finished the day connecting on 15-of-25 passes for 249 yards and a pair of scores, while rushing for eight times for 86 yards and a score. Hannon connected on 19-of-29 throws for 225 yards, with an INT and was sacked three times.
The Paladin ground game was led by Anderson, who rushed for nine times for 46 yards and a score, while Tanner Skogen finished with 45 yards on 10 rushes. In his final game as a Paladin receiver, Ryan Culbreath hauled in five passes for 87 yards to lead the Paladin receiving efforts, while Snellings hauled in caught eight ball for 76 yards.
The Paladins will head into the 2014 season with 17 starters returning off the program’s 13th Southern Conference title-winning team and first trip to the postseason since 2006. Stayed tuned to Saturday Blitz in the coming weeks for a look back at the 2013 SoCon Title winning campaign for the Furman Paladins.