It had to happen at some point.
James Madison University beat North Dakota State 27-17 Friday night, ending the Bison’s season. There was no way NDSU would win every FCS championship. Five straight is impressive, a feat likely not to be touched for a while.
The quest for six ended like it started, a game in the Fargodome, against James Madison. The Bison won that night in 2011, and it started something special.
But after five years, 90 games, it was that same James Madison program that would end it. To add to it, the Dukes did it with pure Bison football.
Khalid Abdullah finished the Friday night in Fargo with 180 yards for the Dukes. He did it with a power, run-right-at-you style that has graced Bison running backs in the past. His quarterback, Bryan Schor, threw for another 242 yards and three touchdowns. He scrambled, and made plays when it seemed he was dead to rights.
And yet, the Dukes held a 17-0 lead. The mighty Bison were not going quietly. In what ended up being his final game, Chase Morlock got the Bison on the board with a touchdown run before halftime.
The second half led to the Bison moving the ball, and King Frazier’s 16-yard run knotted the score. Soon after Schor would throw an interception. As Bison cornerback Robbie Grimsley made his way down with the ball, one could not hear themselves think.
All the momentum was on the Bison side, but innocent little pass to John Miller went for 35 yards leading to a go-ahead field goal. Next drive, Abdullah breaks a 55-yard run to set up Schor’s third touchdown pass to make the lead 10.
And that would be that. 27-17 in favor of the visitors.
The reign of the Bison had run its course. And it was time, considering all that this team had been through this year. It proved to be just too much.
“All the adversity they battled through, on the field, off the field,” said head coach Chris Klieman.
Seeing the top linebackers, Nick DeLuca, go down early. He was the only Butkus Award watch list player in the FCS in the preseason. How about the next guy in line leadership-wise, Nate Tanguay go out against Youngstown State? Or Pierre Gee-Tucker at the end of the regular season?
That was the on the field. Add to that the death of the father of a senior captain. Chase Morlock proved to be one of the toughest running backs this season.
Follow that up with a loss to the biggest rival, and that is more drama than almost any year at NDSU.
“Not many people thought we could get to this moment, but those guys were going to get to this moment,” Klieman said.
They were not going to be denied. The schedule was the most difficult of any years prior. It started with not one, but two shootouts that ended in overtime. Follow that up, a last second win at FBS ranked Iowa.
Through the struggles of the offense in the early part of the conference schedule, the Bison got the job done. And yet, here we are, mid-December, and the Bison are still around. Six straight national semifinals; that is nothing to hang your head about.
“You are not defined by a moment, you’re defined by a body of work. That is as good of a body of work there is,” Klieman said.
Part of the group that won five national championships, not a lot of people, in any sport at any level, can say that. 83-7 record isn’t bad either since the start of the run. That is still more wins than Alabama has in college football since 2011.
But now the questions turn to next year. Easton Stick will be one more year developed. The backfield losses two in Frazier and Morlock, but Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson are still around. Darrius Shepherd, RJ Urezendowski, and Dimitri Williams are all back, along with three offensive line starters.
Defensively, the Bison lose just three players. Pierre Gee-Tucker, Brad Ambrosius and MJ Stumpf are big time players, and will be missed, but the rest of the team is there.
Considering all the trials that NDSU went through this year, it does not come as too much of a shock that the streak is over. But BisoNation should be proud of what has been accomplished, and look forward to what is still to come.