Bison take home Nickel Trophy behind Cam Miller’s five-touchdown day
Coming into Saturday’s game with a rushing touchdown in four straight games, Bison quarterback Cam Miller showed he can be a dual-threat quarterback. While Miller likely won’t rush for 1,000 yards in a season like Trey Lance, there is one thing Lance never accomplished at NDSU that Miller did on Saturday; rush for five touchdowns in a single game. Those five touchdowns tied a school and led the Bison offense that accumulated 522 yards of offense over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
In front of a season-high 18,806 in attendance, the Bison defense came out strong to start the Harvest Bowl. After a sack by Spencer Waege and forcing an incompletion on third and long, the Bison offense was able to take over at midfield. Before Miller got going, senior tailback TaMerik Williams set off the cannons for the first of six times on Saturday with a 51-yard touchdown run on just the second play from scrimmage. After Williams’ career-long run, the Bison had an early 7-0 with 12:36 still remaining in the first quarter.
During the ensuing offensive possession, punter Cade Peterson and the Hawks pinned the Bison all the way back at their own three-yard line. North Dakota State wouldn’t panic, however, as Miller made his presence through the air connecting on a deep ball to DJ Hart for 76 yards to put the Bison inside the red zone.
“Huge play because I believe that was a third down play,” Entz said of Hart’s career-long catch. “DJ’s probably going to catch a lot of heck for getting walked down. We think he’s pretty fast but he got ran down.”
Five plays later, Miller would take the carry himself and score from four yards out capping off the 97-yard drive. Less than 10 minutes into the game, the Bison had opened up a 14-0 lead on Senior Day.
The Hawks looked as if they were slated to respond with a score of their own as quarterback Tommy Schuster, tailback Tyler Hoosman and receiver Bo Belquist had North Dakota inside their opponent’s 40-yard line. That all came to a screeching halt when Schuster mishandled a handoff and fumbled the ball into the arms of defensive end Loshiaka Roques.
The Bison offense would subsequently make noise once again. The highlight of the drive was not the touchdown, but a catch by fullback Logan Hofstedt. On just the third play of the drive, Miller went deep down the right sideline but the ball was underthrown and hit the defender. However, as the ball bounced off the defender’s helmet Hofstedt emerged out of nowhere and dove to make the catch at the 16-yard line.
“We’re pretty lucky is what I saw,” Entz said of Hofstedt’s catch. “He only made that catch because he plays hard, that’s why he made the catch.”
A few plays later, Miller would run in a touchdown from seven yards out to expand the score to 21-0 early in the second quarter.
“I think we’ve had a lot of success with our openers this entire season,” NDSU offensive lineman Cody Mauch said on the early lead. “Coming out to a fast start just kind of sets the tempo for the game.”
Despite the large lead, the Bison couldn’t get too comfortable as they remember what happened to the lead they had against South Dakota State.
“I was scared to death,” Entz confessed. “We’ve been there before and we talk about that, we need to finish.”
The Hawks’ next drive wouldn’t help any apprehension Entz may have been feeling, as they quickly moved down the field. Following a kickoff out of bounds, Schuster would hit Belquist on a quick screen to which he would take 63 yards all the way down to the two-yard line. Two plays later, backup quarterback Quincy Vaughn took the snap and ran in a 1-yard touchdown to cut the Bison lead to 21-7.
The Bison would respond by going on a 92-yard drive that lasted 13 plays. Finishing off the drive with 5:27 to go in the first half was Miller who ran his third touchdown of the first half from three yards out and had expanded the Bison lead to 28-7.
“They play a bunch of single high and when you do that you’re going to run short on the quarterback,” Entz said Miller’s effectiveness. “Cam did a great job of reading his and keeping it when he needed to and giving it when he was supposed to.”
After forcing a Bison punt, the Hawks were given one final chance to score before the half. The Hawks moved quickly, as in just 1:52 they were able to drive 78 yards and reach the end zone. As the clock clicked under 10 seconds, Schuster tossed up a pass to receiver Garrett Maag who went up and over cornerback Jayden Price to haul in an 18-yard touchdown. Despite allowing 303 yards in the first half, North Dakota was trailing by just two scores after 30 minutes of play.
“We need to play better,” Entz stated. “The last four minutes were frustrating. We didn’t have an identity for that series.”
The Bison would come out strong to start the second half on a big kickoff return by DJ Hart to the UND 45-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Kobe Johnson broke his longest run of the day with a 44-yard run scamper. Three plays later it was Miller yet again to find the end zone from five yards out. Less than two minutes to start the half the Bison had built their lead back up to 35-14.
“I think so,” Miller said of being underestimated as a runner. “I think part of the reason why the coaches don’t run me much is just the physical part of it. I’m more locked in when I can run the ball more and take hits.”
The Hawks continued to give the Bison defense trouble on their ensuing possession. Despite quality runs from Schuster, Hoosman, and Isaiah Smith the Bison defense nearly forced a goal-line stand. When faced with a fourth and goal from the one-yard line, the Hawks brought in Vaughn again for their goal line package. Powering his way through, Vaughn scored his second rushing touchdown from short distance and cut the deficit back down to 35-21 halfway through the third quarter.
While Cam Miller may have already run in four touchdowns prior to the next Bison drive, his next sequence of plays may have been the most impressive of the game. A 21-yard run, two third-down completions to Eli Green, and a QB sneak on fourth down all preceded Miller’s longest run of his career. Late in the third quarter, Miller tied a school record with his fifth rushing touchdown of the game on an elusive 30-yard touchdown run to push the Bison lead up to 42-21.
“Cam ran as well as I’ve ever seen him run the football,” Entz raved of Miller. “That one touchdown he made some cuts that I don’t know if he knew he had in him but it was impressive.”
For much of the rest of the game, each team’s offense had little going. After three straight punts, the Bison offense looked as if they were going to be forced to punt but surprised everyone and ran a fake with punter Kaedin Steindorf. After Steindorf’s 16-yard rush on the play, running back Jalen Bussey closed out the game. Bussey, who played in his last regular season game on Saturday, ran for a first down that led the Bison into victory formation on Senior Day.
“It meant so much,” Mauch said of playing on Senior Day. “To come out and play football the way we did today was the biggest thing we wanted to do all week.”
Next up, after being awarded the #3 overall seed in the FCS playoffs, the Bison will get a first-round bye. The Bison will play the winner of Montana and Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, December 3 at 2:30 in the Fargodome.
“We’re going to go through our process the same exact way,” Bison safety Michael Tutsie stated. “It doesn’t matter who’s coming in or if we got to go on the road but we’ll be ready to go once playoff time comes.”
NDSU student tickets are available at GoBison.com/students and are $6.50 with a valid NDSU student account.
Cam Miller; 8-12 159 Yds; 16 Car 93 Yds, 5 TD; Spencer Waege; 5 Tck; 1 Sack
Kobe Johnson; 12 Car 115 Yds