Defensive Line Saves Day for Bison

Greg Menard and the rest of the defensive line bailed out a struggling Bison offense.

On an afternoon in which the North Dakota State football team were 33.5-point favorites, the Bison offense managed merely 17 points. For many squads, such a scoring output would spell defeat. With their defensive line in command, NDSU — who isn’t like many other squads — edged out a 17-7 win over Youngstown State.

The Penguins attempted to make a statement on their opening drive, but the Bison came up with a tone-setting defensive stand. In the red zone on fourth-and-1, YSU quarterback Nathan Mays attempted to rush for the first down and keep the drive alive. He angled to his left and was immediately met by Robbie Grimsely, who with help from Dan Marlette stuffed the quarterback for no gain.

Throughout the contest, Mays sought to use his legs to move the chains. Even with high-profile running back Tevin McCaster in the backfield, Mays was the primary ball carrier, tallying 58 yards on 22 carries. More often than not, the Bison got the better of Mays.

NDSU once again called on its front seven to make a stand in the first quarter. After a Ty Brooks fumble, the Penguins gained possession in Bison territory. Any thoughts of an easy scoring drive were quickly eradicated. Defensive end Derrek Tuszka tackled wide receiver Natavious Payne on first down and then hurried Mays on second down. Stanley Jones tackled a fleeing Mays on third down to force a quick punt.

Thanks in large degree to the front seven, YSU was only able to convert four of 15 third-down attempts. NDSU’s pass rush handcuffed the Penguins, putting them in third-and-9 or greater on three occasions. The third-down effort was ultimately the decisive factor in the game, as the Bison offense floundered.

“They gave our tackles some serious issues,” Penguins head coach Bo Pelini said afterward. “We had a hard time with their ends and their pass rush.”

Midway through the third quarter, the Bison’s top pass rusher delivered a massive blow on third-and-long. Greg Menard flew past YSU left tackle Dan Becker, and in the blink of an eye he and safety Jaylaan Wimbush buried Mays.

“That was really the difference between their defense and our offense. We had a hard time with their pass rush,” Pelini added. “I thought we schemed them pretty well at times, but we lost some one-on-one matchups, especially up front.”

The Penguins finally cracked the scoreboard late in the third frame, scoring on a 21-yard completion. As a team with nothing to lose, momentum was firmly on YSU’s side. Heading into the fourth quarter in a tied game, NDSU’s ritual of holding up four fingers took on added significance.

Once the Bison regained the lead, their defense made sure to slam the door on YSU. Again, it was the defensive ends that gave Mays and Pelini fits.

Immediately following the decisive touchdown, Tuszka came up with a pair of game-defining plays. On first down, the junior from Warner, South Dakota drilled McCaster for a 6-yard loss. On the next play, he dropped Mays for a 1-yard loss. Deep behind the chains on third-and-a-mile, Menard hurried Mays, which resulted in a dropped pass. It proved to be an early dagger for the Penguins.

“Derrek Tuszka made two big-time plays,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “Menard was getting constant pressure … We hit Mays a ton.” Mays limped off the field following the series and did not return.

The Bison defensive line made a final stand, as YSU made a vain attempt to cut into the deficit with less than two minutes to play. Defensive tackle Blake Williams sacked Notre Dame-transfer Montgomery VanGorder for a massive 13-yard loss. On the Penguins’ final play, VanGorder was flushed from the pocket. With Menard chasing him, he frantically threw an interception.

In total, Code Green came up with five quarterback hurries, four sacks and nine tackles for loss. Add to that line a major assist in bailing out their offense en route to claiming at least a share of the Missouri Valley title for the Bison.

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