The first half stat line looked like a dominating performance for the No. 1 ranked North Dakota State football team. The Bison had a big margin in every stat category compared to No. 3/4 Montana, but that did not reflect on the scoreboard. Four Adam Keller field goals set the tone in the first half as the Bison outlasted the Grizzlies 22-10 Saturday in front of 18,890 fans at the Fargodome.
Keller finished the game with more field goals than toes on his kicking foot. The four-toed kicker hit five field goals, setting a single-game record in NDSU history.
“A couple guys said it’s never a good thing if the kicker is the player of the game,” joked Keller. “But it’s always fun to be able to be a part of the game as much as possible.”
The Bison had double the plays, three times the first downs, a 288-162 total offensive yards advantage and held the ball for 20 minutes in the first half. But Montana’s defense played with a bend but don’t break mentality. All five first-half possessions saw the Bison drive down the field at a methodic pace.
But Montana came up with stops when they needed to, holding NDSU to four field goals and stuffing Carson Wentz on a fourth-and-1. That left Keller with a busy half, nailing field goals of 41, 22, 32 and 47 yards.
“My number was called and I was able to deliver,” Keller said.
Feeding off the playoff-like atmosphere, the Bison defense was sharp. But one big play got the Grizzlies on the board. Down 9-0, quarterback Jordan Johnson hit Jamaal Jones for a 72-yard connection. Jordan Canada took the next play three yards into the endzone to make it 9-7 at the 10-minute mark in the second quarter.
“A couple things we thought we had to do to win the game, we knew it was going to be a four-quarter game,” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said. “We had to eliminate explosive plays, win on third down and control the line of scrimmage. In the first half, we lost the explosive play battle. They had two big ones on them and that kept them in the game.”
NDSU responded with a 10-play, 45-yard drive that Keller capped with a 47-yard field goal. Montana added their own field goal with 52 seconds left in the first half to make it 12-10.
“You don’t want to lean on (Keller) for five field goals, but he was awesome today,” Klieman said. “He was spot on today. He’s kicking with so much confidence.”
The second half saw less action on the scoreboard, but NDSU chewed up the clock on lengthy drives and held strong on defense. The lone Bison touchdown came on their first possession of the second half. A 10-play, 57-yard drive resulted in Wentz finding tight end Kevin Vaadeland in the corner of the endzone from three yards out.
“We have a great connection,” Wentz said on Vaadeland. “He’s big time for us. Big time tight end, big target and I love throwing to him. He’s always on point with where he needs to be. It was almost a broken play and he found the opening in the back of the endzone and I found him.”
Montana had their chance to respond and threatened to do so. The Grizzlies drove down to the Bison 17-yard line, but on third-and-5, safety Christian Dudzik out jumped a Montana receiver in the endzone for the interception.
That’s as close as the Grizzlies got. NDSU put the final nail in the coffin with under two minutes left in the game when Keller knocked in his fifth field goal from 31 yards to make it 22-10.
The Bison had a 39-minute time of possession advantage and finished the game with 447 yards of offense despite only scoring one touchdown.
“You don’t have to score 50 points if you’re going to hold the thing for 39 minutes,” Klieman said. “If you hold it for 39 minutes, you’re wearing them down and that’s what we wanted to do.”
NDSU improved its winning streak to 28 games and is 4-0 heading into a bye week. The Bison travel to Western Illinois Oct. 4 to begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play.