North Dakota State defeated University of Northern Iowa in typical defensive fashion 23-13 Saturday afternoon in the Fargodome.
“We knew it would be a four quarter battle,” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said in the post game press conference. “So excited for our guys, and our winter camp goes on.”
UNI was the first to strike, with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Bailey to Brandon Smith on third down. The crowd-silencing opening drive took under five minutes and in just 10 plays UNI led 7-0.
After two quick three-and-outs by both teams, NDSU gained its footing with a kick catch interference penalty committed by UNI on Bison punt-returner junior Eric Perkins.
NDSU’s second drive started on the 39-yard line of UNI. It was capped-off by a one-yard touchdown run by junior Chase Morlock. This seven-play, 39-yard scoring drive took just over three minutes.
Another pair of three-and-outs by both teams ended the first quarter. There were fourteen total punts this game, with UNI punting eight times and NDSU punting six.
The score was 7-7 at the start of the second quarter when senior Bison punter Ben LeCompte sent a 62-yard punt sailing down the field. UNI went three-and-out, yet, again.
NDSU was the first team to commit a turnover, at the 10 minute mark of the second quarter. Senior transfer running back Darius Anderson fumbled during a run, and UNI’s Jared Farley recovered.
The Panthers were stopped on third down, but kicker Michael Schmadeke’s 32-yard field goal on fourth down was good, giving his team to the 10-7 lead.
Fans were barely back to their seats from the halftime restroom break when Bruce Anderson caught the second half opening kick off.
What looked like an average kick return turned into a great one quick. After breaking a few tackles, Anderson added another post-season kick return to his growing resume.
“We talked about it at halftime: somebody had to make a play,” coach Klieman said about the kick return, “This game was about playmakers, and if you have the ability to make a play, you have to do it.”
“I didn’t know it would be in the first six seconds,” he added laughing.
Stealing the momentum right out from under the Panthers’ feet, 15 seconds into the second half the Bison led 14-10.
Still stung by the kick return, UNI had a quick three-and-out. The Panthers were 3-for-13 on third down conversions for the game.
NDSU, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick, headed to the south end zone for a nine-play, 41-yard drive ending in a 54-yard field goal attempt by Cam Peterson.
Peterson, with a seemingly cold right foot lately, missed wide left.
With 7:55 left in the third quarter, Bison remained in the led 14-10.
Both teams exchanged a pair of three-and-outs to end the third quarter.
Saturday afternoon soon turned into a defensive match-up with neither team having over 170 yards of offense with 12 minutes left in the game.
After a LeCompte punt pinning UNI inside its own five-yard line, the Panthers were forced to punt at the start of the fourth quarter. UNI went 0-for-3 on third down conversions in the third quarter.
NDSU opened the fourth quarter with a four-play, two-yard drive that resulted in a Peterson 52-yard field goal attempt.
Different quarter similar result; Peterson’s kick landed wide left this time toward the north end zone.
Another punt by UNI punter Sam Kuhter, the Bison had possession on its own 10-yard line with 10:18 to play.
A solid scoring drive followed as running back King Frazier sparked the offense with a 51-yard run into UNI territory. Frazier himself capped off the 7-play, 90-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
With 6:40 remaining, the Bison stretched the lead at home to 21-10.
After a LeCompte kick off, UNI completed a seven-play, 69-yard drive down to the red zone.
Forced into a third down situation, UNI was unable to convert to a touchdown thanks to senior cornerback C.J. Smith. UNI settled for a 23-yard field goal by Schmadeke.
What seemed like a last chance measure, the Panthers attempted an onside kick. The kick landed out-of-bounds, giving NDSU excellent field position.
Unable to convert, the Bison were forced to punt on fourth and three at the UNI 36-yard line.
Under pressure, 196-pound LeCompte put the team on his back and with a short Aussie kick pinned the Panthers at its own 5-yard line, giving them terrible field position, again.
In the following play, defensive tackle Brian Schaetz broke through the tired Panther’s offensive line for a safety. This was NDSU’s first safety since September 2012 against Colorado State, making the score 23-13.
After a couple first downs, Stick found himself in victory formation as the Bison defeated the Panthers 23-13.
“We knew it was going to be a four quarter fist fight,” Klieman said. “We had to keep believing. Hats off to our guys.”
With the victory, the Bison secured a home semifinal match up against University of Richmond next week.