Despite doubts and losses, Chris Klieman says to never underestimate the heart of a champion.
The Bison punched a fifth consecutive ticket to Frisco, Texas, with its 33-7 win over the Richmond Spiders on Friday, a win the Herd’s head coach attributed to Bison assistant coaches and players.
Richmond head coach Danny Rocco lauded the Bison’s playing abilities, especially early on.
“From the start, they kinda took control and controlled the line of scrimmage,” Rocco said after, describing the Bison as “I think the best team I’ve seen in quite some time.”
The Bison capped a dominant opening drive with junior running back King Frazier’s touchdown from two yards out but were unable to execute the extra point attempt.
True freshman Cam Peterson struggled throughout the game.
Senior punter Ben LeCompte, who Klieman said was sick with the flu, struggled, too.
“He was just flat out sick,” Klieman said of LeCompte, who graduated Friday.
The Bison scored on the last play of the first quarter with a 27-yard pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick to junior running back Chase Morlock. Freshman kicker Cam Pedersen tacked on an extra point, bringing the Bison’s lead to 13-0.
Stick finished the game with two touchdowns and one interception. He completed 13-of-20 passes for 136 yards, and ran five times for 21 yards.
The second quarter doubled the Bison’s points with a 12-yard pass from Stick to senior wide receiver Zach Vraa.
Vraa was targeted early, and hauled in four receptions for 47 yards and the touchdown.
The Bison rounded out the first half with an 88-yard punt return from junior return man Eric Perkins, bringing the score to 26-0.
The Spiders scored their only points of the game in the third quarter with a 55-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Kyle Lauletta to sophomore tight end Garrett Hudson. Junior kicker Peter Yoder added on the extra point, making the score 26-7.
Lauletta, who was second in the FCS for passing yards, finished the semifinal game inside the Fargodome with just 171 yards. He was 12-for-26 with two interceptions and a touchdown.
The Spiders’ defense limited the Bison scoring in the third quarter, where the Bison gained 64 yards.
By the fourth quarter, the Bison were back making points, scoring a touchdown at the 6:11 mark with Frazier’s 2-yard run to make the score 33-7.
The Bison defense forced one last punt from the Spiders, and with no timeouts remaining, the Spiders were unable to stop the clock, sealing its fate with a 33-7 Bison victory.
“Hopefully we’ll learn a lesson here tonight and we’ll grow from this experience,” Rocco said, adding the Bison played “with such good tempo and execution.”
Senior Spider running back Jacobi Jones, who was second in the FCS for rushing touchdowns (21), was limited to just 32 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
NDSU outgained UR 418 to 209, and the green and gold defense held the Spiders to just 38 rushing yards.
Multiple false starts against the Spider offense were attributed to crowd noise, which Klieman said “was a huge factor again.”
Despite their season opener loss to Montana and a home loss to the University of South Dakota, Klieman said “the guys in that room continued to believe” and “losses didn’t matter.”
“They’re going back to Frisco,” he said. “I’m going along for the ride.”