Bison set win-streak record in rout
It was not pretty. It was, however, quite messy. There were turnovers, missed kicks, lead changes, ejections and the unavoidable booing of the referees. The Bison’s 37-13 win over Nicholls State had a lot going on. For the first 30 minutes, it was a back and forth slugfest between two teams that couldn’t get out of their own way. After that, it was a flurry of flags and momentum swings and when the dust settled the Bison were moving on to the next round.
When the Fargodome crowd settled in for the game something was very noticeable. There were distinct empty blue seats sprinkled throughout the stadium. Very odd considering this was a playoff game. Most teams don’t make it this far, so the lack of fans is strange. This was the least attended Bison football game in almost 10 years. Just another variable in a weird game.
Nicholls State won the opening toss and elected to defer to the second half. The two teams exchanged punts before the Bison found themselves deep inside Colonel territory. On third and goal, Lance ran a play-action fake and appeared to have Hunter Luepke wide-open in the flat for what should have been a walk-in touchdown. Yet Lance’s pass fell about three yards short as the Bison sent out their field goal unit. Will Cardinal’s 25-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, as the Bison missed a golden opportunity to strike first.
Cardinal was a spotty start as the kicker for the Bison on Saturday. The Herd’s regular placekicker Griffin Crosa ‘violated team rules’ according to Bison head coach Matt Entz. Coach Entz mentioned that Crosa’s suspension would only last for one week. It will be good for the Bison to get Crosa back as Cardinal missed three kicks on the day.
On the ensuing drive, the Colonels drove down and scored the first points of the game on a 35-yard field goal. With the first quarter winding down, the Bison were now down 3-0 and in search of a spark. Enter Phoenix Sproles.
At around midfield, the Bison ran a hand-off reverse play to Sproles that worked to perfection. Sproles took the reverse and had a lot of a green ahead of him. Throwing Sproles a lead block was none other than Trey Lance himself.
The momentum had finally swung in the Bison’s favor, but it didn’t last long. Quarterback Chase Fourcade and the Colonels offense went 82 yards in just two minutes to answer with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Fourcade to stud wide-out Dai’Jean Dixon.
Not to be outdone, the Herd punched right back. Jimmy Kepouros sprung loose for a 43-yard touchdown on a bubble screen. The play was made possible by an excellent block from WR Cole Jacob. Through a quarter in a half, it was clear that both of these teams belonged.
The score remained 14-10 until halftime. The Colonels took the 2nd half kickoff and got right to work. They pounded their way down the field, and after a defensive pass interference and face mask penalties on the Bison on back-to-back plays, the Colonels were in the red-zone.
The Bison defense stood tall forcing a 4th and three at their own six. Initially, Fourcade and the offense stayed on the field to perhaps go for it. But as the play clock wound down, the Colonels were forced to take a timeout and elected for a field goal. After the chip-shot, the score was now 14-13 early in the second half.
The ensuing Bison drive was stopped after a long Trey Lance run on third down was called just short of the sticks on replay. The Bison punted back to Nicholls State, who again had a shot at the lead. The atmosphere in the crowd had now changed. Their was a sense of nervous angst in the air. It was almost a ‘why are we not up by 30 right now’ kind of feel. I suppose those are the expectations after winning seven titles in eight years.
Luckily for those worrisome Bison fans, Michael Tutsie was wearing green on Saturday. Tutsie was able to step in front of a deep shot from Fourcade as the momentum swung back to the way of the Herd. The Bison were able to get a 32-yard field off the turnover, but more importantly, the team seemed to calm down.
It was deja-vu the next drive for the Colonels. On nearly the identical play of the previous interception, Fourcade to a deep shot, but this time is was James Hendricks on the receiving end for the Herd. ‘Jimmy’ took it all the way down to the Nicholls State’s six.
Four plays later, Lance found Noah Gindorff for a three-yard score. Now it was 24-13 herd, but the lead felt much bigger. Just a second ago Nicholls State had a shot to take the lead. Now they were down two scores on the road against the two-time defending champs. That can make an 11-point deficit feel insurmountable.
The Bison forced a punt, and then showed why they are still kings of the FCS. The Herd went on a soul-sucking 12 play, 85-yard touchdown drive that took over six minutes off the clock. Every play except one was a rushing play. Everyone in the stadium knew the Bison were running the ball, but the Colonels could not do anything about it.
“They’re really well-conditioned,” Colonels’ linebacker Sully Laiche said of the Bison offensive line. Trey Lance was the one to pound it in from six yards out for the Herd. It was now 31-13 with just over eight minutes to go. Barring something miraculous, the game was over.
Dimitri Williams punched a touchdown in from three yards out a few minutes later to wrap up the scoring for the day. It was a 37-13 win, but the score does not suggest how close the game was. Nicholls State hung in there with the Bison. If the Colonels had gotten points on either of the drives in which they threw interceptions, the game might have gone down to the wire.
The win was the program’s 34th in a row, an all-time FCS record. 34 straight also ties the Bison for 6th all-time of all division one football. This consistent excellence is perhaps a reason why the stands weren’t full on Saturday. Maybe there is an “eh, they’ll be playing next week anyway” mentality going around.
Now the Bison are set to play Missouri Valley foe Illinois State next Saturday at the Dome. In their previous meeting this season, the Bison took down the Redbirds 37-3.