A red-soaked field in Cheney, Washington, turning pink with snow might still be etched into the minds of Bison faithful even six years ago.
NDSU’s first trip to the FCS playoffs came to a halt in the quarterfinals that day in 2010, as Eastern Washington recovered a goal-line “fumble” by the Bison to win in overtime. That day might be remembered by some, but there’s another day that should stick out in Bison lore.
On a Saturday afternoon in December, D.J. McNorton rushed for 154 years, including a 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, along with Sam Ojuri’s 61 yards and two scores, to seal a Bison victory in the Fargodome.
Big whoop, right? The Bison win there all the time. Why should anyone care?
Let me explain. That game on Dec. 3 marked the first playoff win that 2011 season. Later that season, Matt Voigtlander executed a perfect fake punt to set up a touchdown screen pass on the play from quarterback Brock Jensen to McNorton. That play gave the Bison a lead they wouldn’t relinquish thanks to a Travis Beck interception and rumbling 63-yard return to the one-yard line. Jensen snuck through the next play and hoisted the Bison’s first FCS National Championship trophy moments later.
Fourth and three from Georgia Southern’s five-yard line. Bison down four to the highly potent triple option attack led by current Viking Jerrick McKinnon. After three straight timeouts and the tension climaxed, Jensen ran into the endzone on a quarterback draw to send the Bison to Frisco, Texas, a second time in two years.
There, Jensen ran for three more touchdowns aided by two Marcus Williams interceptions and the memorable two-point conversion pass from Adam Keller to Mike Hardie off a botched extra point attempt. Two years, two titles against Sam Houston State.
Led by 24 seniors and a perfect record in 2013, NDSU steamrolled the playoff field, outscoring opponents 173-42 in four games, taking their third consecutive national title over Towson and current NFL running back Terrance West.
Enter Carson Wentz and a regular season rematch against rival South Dakota State and Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner the next year. Down four with 52 seconds left, Wentz took the shotgun snap and tosses up a fade to true freshman RJ Urzendowski, who climbed the ladder on a Jackrabbit defender and then tapped his toe in the end zone for a game-winning score.
Again down four with 1:38 left in the national championship game against Missouri Valley foe Illinois State, Wentz worked his magic with three completions to Urzendowski, totaling 78 yards in under a minute. Another five-yard run by an NDSU quarterback put the Bison in the lead for good, giving the program their fourth title in as many years.
With Wentz hurt during the regular season in 2015, Easton Stick slid under center and lead NDSU back to Frisco following a potentially season-saving 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown right out of halftime by true freshman Bruce Anderson. Wentz returns from his broken wrist to lead the Bison to score on their first four possessions to beat Jacksonville State for the unprecedented fifth consecutive national title.
Now, back to that Saturday afternoon in December. That win over James Madison was where the streak of 22-straight playoff wins began. Ironically, James Madison is where it ended Dec. 16 with the Dukes beating the Bison 27-17 en route to their national championship season.
But looking back at the biggest plays to make that streak come to fruition is important because chances are very high things don’t fall into place like they did if those plays don’t happen.
It’s as simple as that, guys made plays in big moments against some very stiff competition. But it’s not only these big plays that made the streak what it is today, but the sacrifice and culture the Bison football team made in those years. From summer workouts to seasons lasting longer than almost every other team to taking pride in dominating the line of scrimmage ever single game, the Bison created a dynasty.
Conference championships are what some programs strive to achieve in a given year simply because that is their most realistic and attainable goal.
Would a national championship be nice? Obviously, but to win four or even five games in a row against the crème de la crème of the FCS is a near impossible task. Only one team can do it each year.
For the Bison, they’re not just some program. With a dynasty developed, the success of the program has transformed from what it once was, a conference championship contender, to what it is now, a perennial FCS powerhouse. That narrative can even be extended to perennial FCS champions with the unprecedented five consecutive national titles.
Will a program in any division ever be able to do that? Let’s just say it hasn’t happened in the almost 150-year history of college football.
But with the culture in place and simply looking at the personnel coming back next year, NDSU might be the safest bet to witness another extraordinary run at history.