On Saturday, the North Dakota State Bison sent a message to the rest of the FCS. “Look out, we are having fun again.” That fun and excitement showed during the first quarter explosion against Youngstown State during a 24-3 win in the Harvest Bowl.
“We only have a few games left in the dome, so we got to enjoy it,” Chase Morlock said after the game.
The senior running back had his day against the Penguins. He started the party in the Fargodome with a huge run on the Bison’s second drive of the afternoon. He exploded through the line and took off on a 71-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
“I had to watch myself (on the big screen) to make sure I wasn’t getting hawked,” Morlock said on getting chased down from behind.
It was Morlock who took charge of a backfield missing Bruce Anderson (ankle) and King Frazier (ribs) on Saturday.
There was energy in the Bison sidelines, something the Bison have struggled with of late.
“I don’t know if we were letting pressure get to us. It is something we preach that doesn’t affect us, but we were playing a bit tight,” Morlock said, who finished with a career high 101 yards rushing.
One group that seems to never play tight is the Bison defense. That group got right after Youngstown State and quarterback Hunter Wells. With YSU looking for a response after the Bison touchdown, it was Brad Ambrosius who stepped up. The defensive end got to Wells for the sack and forced fumble. MJ Stumpf recovered the loose ball to set up a Cam Pederdson field goal.
The defense was not done in the first quarter. Just three plays after getting the ball back, Robbie Grimsley picked off Wells. It was Grimsley’s fourth interception of the year and he returned it back to the Penguins’ 15-yard line.
Next play, Easton Stick passed to Jeff Illies for the touchdown. The big tight end has now scored in three straight games.
“You come in here and you’re down 17-0, you’re going to have your problems,” Penguins’ head coach Bo Pelini said.
With a 17-point lead, the Bison seemed to relax. The YSU offence started making plays and driving in the second quarter. Like they have in the past couple of weeks, the Bison defense locked down in the red zone.
YSU got to the Bison three-yard line in the second, but had to settle for a field goal after a false start penalty and an Aaron Steidl sack.
As halftime drew near, the Penguins were at it again. After converting a fourth and two at midfield, Youngstown was back inside the Bison 20. Backup defensive tackle Grant Morgan, replacing the injured Nate Tanguay, batted down the third down pass. Zak Kennedy missed the ensuing field goal from 34-yards.
It was the same story in the third, when once again the driving Penguins looked to score. This time the setback was a Jalen Wimbush sack. Backup kicker Nate Needham missed from 29-yards.
The Bison responded with a solid drive of their own. A pair of big plays from Stick laid the framework for the drive. First a 37-yard run, followed directly by a 29-yard pass to Connor Wentz.
Lance Dunn capped the drive off with a rare fourth quarter touchdown for the Bison. The 24-3 lead was all the scoring for the day.
That doesn’t mean the defense was done. This time Youngstown got all the way to the Bison’s one-yard line. After a botched snap on first and one, the defense held tough again. Grimsley nearly had another pick for the Bison, but failed to control the ball after hitting the ground.
At the end of the evening, the Bison defense was active four times in the red zone. They yielded just three field goal attempts, two misses and a turnover on downs.
“We’re pretty tough once our backs are against the wall. We rely on that stuff,” linebacker Matt Plank said after the game.
The Bison improved to 8-1 and 5-1 in the Missouri Valley to keep pace with South Dakota State at the top. They return to action at the Fargodome next Saturday hosting Indiana State. It will be the last regular season game in Fargo for the season.