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There’s No Place Like the Dome

Down four points. With three minutes left.

On a fourth and goal. From the five-yard line.

Former Bison Brock Jensen took a quarterback draw right up the gut to rally North Dakota State to a FCS National Championship appearance beating the vaunted Georgia Southern triple option in the 2012 semifinals.

Down four points. With 54 seconds left.

True freshman RJ Urzendowski snagged a 12-yard touchdown pass from now-quarterback Carson Wentz in the back corner of the end zone to lift the Bison to a win over South Dakota State in the second round of the 2014 FCS playoffs.

Down four points. With seven seconds left.

Former-QB Steve Walker pump-faked and threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kole Heckendorf in front of the student section to cap a dramatic victory over Oklahoma transfer quarterback Rhett Bomar and Sam Houston State in 2007.

Can you see a pattern?

Drama. Four point deficits. And Bison touchdowns.

These three games are the most dramatic games I can vividly remember witnessing inside the Fargodome, and thanks to redshirt freshman Darrius Shepherd, we can add Saturday’s Homecoming Game to the list.

Down four points with 35 seconds left, Shepherd hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Wentz while being draped by two University of Northern Iowa defenders to give the Bison the win against No. 10-ranked Panthers.

The Fargodome is home for the Bison, and ever since Oct. 13, 2012, the visiting side has left the hostile confines of Gate City Bank Field dejected.

With the win Saturday, NDSU extended its home winning streak to 26 games, passing the 1989-1992 UNI teams with 25 games to take the 8th spot in FCS history. Georgia Southern sits on top of that list with two separate streaks of 39 and 38 wins in 1997-2001 and 1985-1990, respectively.

A win against the premier FCS conference, the Missouri Valley, or the other powers of the FCS in the playoffs requires clutch performances in crucial game situations.

Clutch performances seem to be commonplace now in NDSU football with guys stepping up when needed most to etch their names in Bison lore.

Consider the final drive Saturday when the Panthers had just missed a field goal to go up seven points.

Starting at their own 21-yard line and being pushed back to their own 11-yard line on a holding call, Wentz completed a 12-yard pass to Urzendowski to make a manageable fourth and eight. Then, Wentz hit toe-tapping Zach Vraa on the sidelines for a cold-blood connection.

Faced with another fourth down later in the drive, Wentz found a hole in the Panther’s secondary to complete a 23-yard pass to Urzendowski.

After another first-down pass to Vraa, Wentz lofted a ball to where only Shepherd could have come down with it through double coverage for the game-winning touchdown.

Wentz was responsible for every single yard of the 11-play, 79-yard drive in only a 1:55, a reoccurring theme for the 2015 Bison season.

The NFL prospect has combined for 18 total touchdowns this year, an impressive accomplishment knowing NDSU as a team has scored 22 touchdowns.

Urzendowski and Vraa have already left their mark in NDSU history. The latter took over the top spot on NDSU’s all-time receptions list and sits at No. 2 in receiving yards and touchdowns. But Darrius Shepherd stepped up with two touchdowns Saturday, both impressive catches in the back of the end zone being covered by two Panthers.

Finally, there’s the offensive line, which does not get enough credit. Looking back at the four game-winning drives, the Bison did not give up a single sack. In obvious passing situations, that is a feat in itself.

Flip sides and on three of the four drives above, and seemingly every other drive in the Fargodome where NDSU’s opponent needs a late game-winning drive, the Bison defense steps up with a sack, turnover or blocked field goal.

There wasn’t enough time in the Sam Houston State game for a Bearkat drive in response to Heckendorf’s touchdown with seven seconds left. But chances say that one would’ve followed the same script if time allotted a Bearkat drive:

Drama, four point deficits, Bison touchdowns and NDSU victories in the Fargodome.

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