The Bison are kings once again
The New England Patriot’s Super Bowl run last season gave us hints the end was coming. A beaten and battered Rob Gronkowski appeared to be on his last legs. Tom Brady was finally starting to show his legs and lean on the ground game and his defense to win games. Patrick Mahomes was waiting in the wings to take over the AFC.
When the NDSU Bison beat James Madison for their third straight title and eighth in nine years it did not feel like the end of something. Instead, it felt like a new chapter as NDSU’s football dominance was starting to be written.
Before the season began, the Bison lost their head coach, the ‘winningest’ quarterback in the history of the FCS and graduated the most seniors in school history. For any other football program, this would be a major issue. For other schools, losing all these key aspects may require multiple rebuilding seasons.
But not North Dakota State. The Bison do not rebuild. They reload.
A big game from Walter Payton Award winner Trey Lance led the way for the Herd. Lance had a whopping 30 carries on the ground. He turned those runs into 181 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Lance’s performance and toughness made him an easy choice for the game’s most outstanding player.
The Bison went into halftime up 21-10 after executing a successful fake field-goal with senior safety James ‘Jimmy Football’ Hendricks. Hendricks, the holder, took the snap and sprinted through the line for a walk-in 20-yard touchdown that gave the Herd a huge momentum boost.
Bison coach Matt Entz talked about calling for the fake after the game.
“James Madison has not let very many people score touchdowns. But the one thing they had shown is they lined up the exact same was every time after a touchdown.”
The fake was the second time the Bison were able to duke out the Dukes. The first time came ten minutes earlier on the first play of the second quarter.
Lance took the snap and gave it up to WR Phoenix Sproles on an end-around. Sproles was then able to fake out the Dukes and the camera-man by faking a reverse and taking the ball down the sideline for a 38-yard score.
The game appeared to be put out of reach for JMU early in the fourth quarter. The Bison were facing a 3rd and 23 at the Duke’s 44 up by just eight. Lance took the snap and was able to find some daylight as he scampered towards the left sideline and outran everyone into the end zone.
With the score now 28-13 and the momentum completely with the green and gold, it felt like it was over.
However, the Duke’s refused to go quietly.
The two teams exchanged punts before JMU was able to piece together an 11 play, 46-yard scoring drive to pull within eight with just under seven minutes to go.
On the next possession, the Herd worked their way down to the JMU 37 and found themselves staring at a 4th and two. A first down here would all but secure the win for the Herd. Riverboat Entz kept his offense on the field.
Every player, coach and viewer of the game knew who would be carrying the ball.
Lance took the snap and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The Dukes took over with three timeouts and just under three minutes left on the clock. They would need a touchdown and two-point conversation to send the game into overtime.
DiNucci and the Duke offense worked their way deep into Bison territory. With the ball on the Bison 12 and less than thirty seconds remaining. A pass interference call on the next play brought the ball up to the Bison three with eight seconds remaining.
DiNucci took the shotgun snap, rolled to his left and fired to WR Brandon Polk in the flat.
As has happened for the last decade, someone wearing a Bison jersey stepped up and made a play.
James Hendricks jumped the route and picked the ball off for the game’s lone turnover.
“…I just left my guy and knew they were gonna throw it and trusted he was gonna make the throw to flat and not to the guy I was supposed to cover.” Hendricks said after the game with a smile.
“And I made the play and the rest is history.”
History indeed. With the win, the Bison became the first college football team since the 1894 powerhouse Yale Bulldogs to go 16-0 in a season. The win also extended their record-breaking win-streak to 37 games.
Next year, the Bison will be the heavy favorites to take home the title once again. NDSU’s run over the last nine seasons is firmly in the discussion for being one of the most dominant stretches by any team in the history of sports.
Matt Entz exited the post-game press conference, his first championship as a head coach secure. As he returned to his team, celebratory cheering and shouting echoed from inside of the Bison locker room.