After three games that ended non-competitively, No. 1 North Dakota State hung on against rival No.3 South Dakota State 21-17.
“Welcome to Missouri Valley,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said.
And the welcoming party was out in Fargo to bring back an old friend. With the win, NDSU claimed the Dakota Marker for the first time in two years.
But just like in the last two Marker meetings, it was the Jackrabbits who drew first blood. On their second drive of the afternoon, SDSU rattled off four straight plays of at least 10 yards. The fourth of those was a 32-yard pass from Taryn Christion to Adam Anderson to the Bison 18-yard line.
Unlike two years ago when the Jacks were stuffed near the goal line twice, SDSU put up seven points. Christion swung a pass out left to Cade Johnson, and the running back was in from 3 yards out.
On the next drive, the Jacks knocked on the doorstep again. An early silencer to the Fargodome crowd looked likely, as Christion dropped back to pass from the Bison 10-yard line.
But the senior quarterback did not see Bison safety Jalen Allison on the backside of the play. Allison broke on the ball and had his first interception of the year.
“Reading across, I didn’t see the backside safety,” Christion said. “When I let it go, I thought it was good.”
The Fargodome crowd, now with a lot of life, had more to cheer for in short order. After an offensive pass interference penalty, quarterback Easton Stick meandered out of a collapsing pocket and weaved his way for 22 yards when 21 where needed for the first down.
“(There) ended up being a really nice pocket, and I just kind of slipped through it,” Stick said. “From there, it is just playing football.”
On the very next play, Stick found tight end Ben Ellefson wide open in the end zone to tie the game.
NDSU left points on the field on their next drive when Cam Pedersen missed a 48-yard field goal.
Any energy that may have been lost by the miss was quickly brought back to the crowd. Greg Menard was shot out of a cannon to register his 32nd sack of his career, planting Christion.
“Greg Menard is a really good football player,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier.
SDSU couldn’t take the advantage of a shorter field and were off the field after three plays.
Stick connected with Darrius Shepherd for a 41-yard strike to hand the lead back to the home team.
The visitors came out of halftime and seized control back. Jordan Brown put a stop to an 11-play drive by picking off Stick.
But unlike the Bison, the Jacks could only add three points off the turnover.
It was a mere inconvenience for the Jackrabbits. Issac Wallace gave SDSU the lead back with a 61-yard run to move the score to 17-14.
The response from the home team was quick. Stick engineered an eight-play, 80-yard drive and capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Chase Vinatieri missed a 48-yard field goal that would have brought the Jacks to within one.
SDSU looked like they would have one last chance with just under six minutes left. Bison punter Garret Wegner boomed a 54-yard punt to the Jackrabbits’ 7-yard line to force the visitors to drive the length of the field.
Bison linebacker Dan Marlette made his second consecutive third-down stop to force a punt from the Jacks.
“Our guys made plays today,” Klieman said. “Dan Marlette made plays.”
The Bison offense chewed out the clock, and the sprint to the SDSU sideline to lift the 75-pound trophy was on.
Stick was the headliner on the stat sheet. The senior finished 9-20 for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the air and added 63 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Shepherd finished with a career-high 118 yards on five receptions with a touchdown.
It was the first Dakota Marker win in two years, and Klieman made a point to make this for the pair of senior classes who didn’t get to lift the rock.
“I’m smiling for a kid like Chase Morlock right now. That was for you Chase,” Klieman said.
Morlock lost his father the week before the Marker two years ago.
Now attention turns to a continuation of Missouri Valley schedule. NDSU (4-0, 1-0 Missouri Valley) hit the road for the first time with a trip to Northern Iowa next Saturday at 1 p.m.