Someone forgot to tell Bo Pelini that Halloween was on Wednesday.
The Youngstown State head coach dialed in his team that got run out of their home field by Indiana State last week to scare No. 1 North Dakota State at the Fargodome Saturday. NDSU muscled up some offense in the fourth quarter to put away the Penguins 17-7 for another Harvest Bowl victory.
With the win, the Bison clinched a share of the Missouri Valley title and with it a spot in the FCS playoffs.
Objective number one, check.
Or at least, partial check.
“It is our number one goal of the season,” Bison defensive end Greg Menard said on getting the Valley crown. “But we want to win the thing outright.”
The road to gain the partial check was rough. For the first time since the South Dakota State game, the Bison were tested for a full four quarters.
“Getting into a four-quarter game is something this team needed,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said.
From the first Youngstown State drive, the battle was on.
The Bison were fortunate to not go down early, as the Penguins marched down the field. Nathan Mays, in his first start of the season, got the quarterback run working early. YSU knocked on the door and entered the red zone after eight plays.
But the NDSU defense only bends, and the Penguins faced an early fourth-and-short call.
For the sixth time on the drive, Mays called his own number, needing just a yard. Robbie Grimsley met the quarterback at the line of scrimmage and was joined by a gang of green to keep the ball from moving forward.
On the other side of the ball, the Bison offense sputtered. Quarterback Easton Stick had tight end Josh Babicz wide open, but the redshirt freshman saw the ball brick off his hands.
The drive ended on a third-down pass that was hauled in by Ty Brooks, who proceeded to put the ball on the turf.
On the following drive, Cam Pedersen pulled a 52-yard field goal attempt to the left.
It was going to be that type of day for the Bison. And it was early, with two exceptions in the first half.
Stick found a streaking Desmond Cain for 50 yards for the first big play of the day. Setting up from the Penguins’ 30, Stick connected over the top to Lance Dunn to break the deadlock.
On the other sideline, it was a similar story of miscues. YSU seemingly had the score tied, as Mays lifted a pass toward Natavious Payne, who had beat his man. The receiver saw the ball slip through his hands, and the Bison escaped again.
That miss paled in comparison to what occurred in the last minute of the half. The Penguins sent pressure on punter Garret Wegner and blocked a punt a recovered at the Bison 12-yard line.
With 31 seconds remaining in the half, Mays hit Samuel St. Surin on third down. The receiver was ruled down at the 3. With the clock winding down, YSU hurried to the line, and Mays spiked the ball to stop the clock. The issue: it was fourth down and the Bison took over on downs.
“We had some opportunities that we let go by,” Pelini said. “It is hard to overcome that on the road.”
The Penguins finally got on the board in the second half. Mays connected with tight end Miles Joiner for a 21-yard strike to tie the ball game.
With the offense still struggling to gain traction, it was the defense that put energy in a somber Fargodome crowd, possibly yearning to go out for a hunt.
For Mays, he was in prime hunting ground for the Bison coming off the right edge. Menard sacked the Penguin signal-caller to revamp the Fargo faithful.
The offense needed no more of an invitation. Stick hit Darrius Shepherd for 22 yards, setting up an ankle breaking run from Dunn. Stick showed his elusiveness and ran down to the Penguins’ goal line. The senior quarterback called his own number and restored the Bison touchdown advantage in the fourth.
NDSU hit the road one last time for the regular season next week to play Missouri State. With a win, the Bison will clinch the Missouri Valley title outright. Kickoff from Springfield is set for 2 p.m. next Saturday.