Following the raising of the championship banner for the 17th time in program history, Head Coach Matt Entz led his squad out of the tunnel to the traditional playing of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. To mark the start of the 2022 season, the Bison would take on the Drake University Bulldogs for their first of three non-conference matchups. The Bulldogs are not a team the Bison are all too familiar with in the past. This is the first time the Bison have played Drake since 1962 and it is just their sixth matchup against a team from the Pioneer League.
Although the Bison won the coin toss, they chose to defer to the second half, giving their top-ranked defense from a year ago an opportunity to shut down the Drake offense and give 15,951 fans in attendance a chance to raise the decibel levels right from the get-go. However, fourth-year Head Coach Todd Stepsis’s Bulldogs didn’t come all the way from Des Moines, Iowa without a fight. Drake senior quarterback Ian Corwin was responsible for 62 of the 75 yards on the Bulldog’s opening drive including a 31-yard completion with senior wide receiver Colin Howard setting up a 1st and Goal at the 1-yard line. On the very next play, Corwin would bootleg to his left and connect with his tailback Dorian Boyland for a 1-yard touchdown to put his Bulldogs up 7-0 less than 5 minutes into the game. The Bison only gave up an opening drive touchdown one-time last season, that being to South Dakota State in early November. That number being met just 4:35 into the season was certainly somewhat of a surprise.
“I’ll take a little bit of the blame,” Entz stated on Drake’s early start. “Regardless of who we play, we’ve got to get ready to go.”
Top-ranked North Dakota State, however, would respond with an extensive drive of their own. One of the biggest plays of the opening drive came on just the sixth play of the drive. On a 4-yard run by NDSU’s T.K. Marshall, Drake starting defensive lineman Jason Christenson would be penalized for a late hit on Marshall, putting the Bison just past midfield. However, that wasn’t all; after review, Christenson was called for targeting and was subsequently ejected from the game. The Bison took full advantage and four plays later, junior quarterback Cam Miller connected with senior wide receiver Zach Mathis, who then took it 31 yards to the house for NDSU’s first score of the season, tying the game 7-7.
Following the score, Drake seemed determined to steal the momentum back. That is until senior defensive lineman Jake Kava blocked a 44-yard field goal with his face mask and the ball was picked up by 2021 semifinal hero Destin Talbert. Talbert would take it 56 yards to the house to give the Bison the lead. The special teams unit wasn’t done just yet. After forcing a three and out and on just the second play of the second quarter, the Bulldogs gave preseason All-American punt returner Jayden Price an opportunity to make some noise. After receiving the low kick at his own 34-yard line, he would do just that. Price split defenders and went virtually untouched 66 yards to the endzone. Griffin Crosa’s extra point would extend North Dakota State’s lead to 21-7 early in the second frame.
“I put a lot of trust in my teammates. My teammates can do a lot of great things. They do a great job blocking for me on the front-line holding people up,” Price on trusting his teammates.
The Bulldog offense would run cold for much of the middle game, amassing just 153 yards after their opening drive. While the Bulldogs may have averaged just two and a half yards per carry, the Bison had no trouble dominating the ground game. While using eight different running backs, offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl’s offense ran for 275 yards, good for nearly seven and a half yards per carry. This performance bore a resemblance to last year’s season-opening performance against Albany where the Bison ran for 289 yards in the 28-6 win. The biggest run of the game would come shortly after Price’s big punt return. Senior preseason All-American fullback Hunter Luepke added a touchdown of his own from 47 yards out extending the lead to 28-7.
Last January, the Bison football team earned the right to hoist the championship trophy for the 9th time in the last 11 years. While tight end Noah Gindorff made a name for himself last season, he did not get the opportunity himself to participate in the championship game thanks to an ankle injury in NDSU’s first game playoff versus Southern Illinois. While planning to be in an NFL camp this time of year, Gindorff was granted an extra year of eligibility due to Covid-19s impact on the 2020 season. Gindorff, along with his coach and teammates, were thrilled to have him back on the field.
“To get back out there was a really awesome feeling. Obviously, the (ankle) injury took a bit longer than I would have liked to heal,” Gindorff said.
“Just to kind of get this first game out of the way, knock a bit of the rust off, and obviously find the end zone was just a bonus. It was a fun game to play in for sure.”
As Gindorff himself stated, he would indeed find the endzone himself. With just over three minutes remaining in the first half, Gindorff hauled in a pass over the middle of the field from Cam Miller, broke a tackle and ran into the end zone to extend the NDSU lead to 35-7.
“Absolutely thrilled to have Noah back. I feel like every defensive coordinator in the Missouri Valley (Conference) had a panic attack when during the JMU game, he tweeted “I’m Back,” Kava said of Gindorff.
Head Coach Matt Entz was also pleased with how Gindorff handled himself as well. “Had to battle that ankle. He’s managed it really well. Really excited for him.”
Despite the four-score lead, North Dakota State would add insult to injury by adding one more touchdown before halftime. Junior running back Dominic Gonnella would break off two big runs including a 13-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 42-7 which the Bison would take into halftime.
Due to the large lead, quarterback Cam Miller did not play in the second half. Instead, he gave the reins to redshirt freshman Cole Payton for the remainder of the game. Coach Entz remained optimistic despite some struggles.
“That was probably his first opportunity of extensive plays, where he was controlling the huddle, I’m going to cut him some slack there,” Entz said.
“He’s going to be frustrated with that. I anticipate he’s going to have a great week of practice.” Entz said of Payton.
It wouldn’t take long for the Bison to make their mark defensively in the second half. Senior safety Dawson Weber came off a blitz and strip-sacked Ian Corwin which was picked up by defensive lineman Will Mostaert for a 5-yard touchdown return. It was the first defensive touchdown for NDSU since Dan Marlette’s fumble return in 2018. The Bulldogs would respond back with a 15-play touchdown drive capped off by a Tim Nesslage 2-yard touchdown, but Drake would still trail 49-14 late in the 3rd Quarter.
The NDSU offense was a bit stagnant for most of the second half at least until the end of the 4th quarter. Led by running backs Owen Johnson and Barika Kneepu, the Bison would break 50 on the scoreboard via Kneepu’s 6-yard touchdown run, his first career touchdown.
The Bison (1-0) head into next Saturday where they’ll host North Carolina A&T (0-1) at 2:30 p.m. for a non-conference game. Student tickets are available at GoBison.com/Students
Cam Miller; 6-9, 105 Yds, 2 TD; Noah Gindorff; 3 Rec, 44 Yds, 1 TD, and Courtney Eubanks; 6 tackles led the Bison statistically in their 7th straight season-opening win.