Another Test of Survival

The North Dakota State Bison brought themselves back to the top of the Missouri Valley after hanging on at the University of Northern Iowa. The 24-20 win at the UNI Dome was a return to classic Bison football. Lance Dunn pounded for a team high 118 yards on the ground as the defense stood tough all night line.

The defensive job became clear before kickoff, as UNI started with sophomore Eli Dunne under center. Senior quarterback Aaron Bailey was not in pads, taking away the Panther’s read-option threat.

In his second career start, Dunne got a quick introduction to the NDSU secondary. Robbie Grimsley picked off Dunne on his third attempt. The safety returned the pick to the UNI 28.

The Bison backfield took advantage of the short field. King Frazier punched the ball home after just four runs by the Bison.

That was it for Frazier on the night however. The senior took a hard hit early in the second quarter and would not return with a rib injury.

Lance Dunn took over as the featured back, supplemented with Chase Morlock.

After a UNI field goal, the Bison weny on an eight-play drive to extend the lead. Despite a pair of holding penalties to lead to a Jeff Illies touchdown. The 31-yard catch was the tight end’s second touchdown in as many games.

Dunne had a busy night in his pocket. All day long, the Panthers quarterback was hurried by the Bison defensive front. Twice Dunne’s helmet got knocked off from hard hits. One hit was penalized while the Brad Ambrosius sack was right on time.

The Bison looked to put the game away in the third quarter. A 20-yard run by Dunn set up a five-yard score for Morlock. With a 15-point lead, it looked like the Bison would walk away with an easy win.

Just like the last two weeks, the Bison would make it difficult. One the next drive, Stick scrambled to his right and look long for RJ Urzendowski. The pass was short of the target and picked off by the Panthers.

Dunne hit three short passes before Tyvis Smith broke a 28-yard run to get into the Bison red zone. Dunne found Jaylin James for his first touchdown of the game to cut the Bison lead to 21-13.

Late in the third, the Bison were able to move the ball to pick up a Cam Pederson field goal to make it a 11-point game.

UNI did not shut down after the score. A 48-yard kickoff return by Jalen Rima set the Panthers up with a short field. Dunne took advantage and found Briley Moore to cut the game back to 24-20.

For the third straight game, the Bison offense failed to get traction in the fourth. A pair of three and outs put the pressure on the defense, who stood their ground again.

However, the job would become harder after Stick’s second interception of the night.

The Panthers took over at the NDSU 34. With UNI knocking on the red zone doorstep, Matt Plank made an interception of his own to kill the threat.

Lance Dunn picked up the only Bison first down of the final frame with a 20-yard run. NDSU could not quite kill off the clock, and UNI had just 11 seconds to score a touchdown.

The launched pass was corralled by Tre Dempsey to seal the game for the Bison. It was second pick of the night and Dunne’s fourth. UNI came into the night with a conference best +11 turnover margin. They were -2 Saturday.

The Bison offense continues to struggle in the fourth quarter, only picking up 41 yards and going 0-5 on third down.  ““I don’t care if it’s a four-point win or an eight-point win, some people want us to win by 30. My hats off to our guys, they played their tails off,” coach Chris Klieman said postgame.

The win moves the Bison to 7-1, and more importantly, 4-1 in the Missouri Valley. With South Dakota State losing to Illinois State Saturday, the Bison now move even with the Jackrabbits in a three-way tie at the top. NDSU will face the other one-loss team in the Valley next week, when Youngstown State visits the Fargodome. Winner will be in the driver’s seat for at least a share of the conference crown.

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