Coming into the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship game, NDSU wide receiver Ryan Smith said special teams would be key for the Bison’s success – a statement that proved to be accurate.
A blocked field goal late in the first half propelled the Bison to a 35-7 victory over the Towson Tigers on Jan. 4 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The win capped off a 15-0 season for NDSU, which concluded with its third consecutive title.
“I really think that created a ton of momentum and a ton of energy,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said of the blocked kick. “I think that was really special.”
The 41-yard try by D.J. Soven could have put the Tigers up 10-7 with under five minutes left in the first half.
Instead, Bison safety Colten Heagle stuffed the kick and Kyle Emanuel returned the ball back to Towson’s 5-yard line. Smith took the ball into the endzone on a jet sweep the next play and capitalized on the 10-point swing, pushing NDSU to a 14-7 lead.
“We made a mistake, and they made us pay for it,” Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said. “As I’ve said before, (NDSU) is perfect and the margin of error is small.”
Tigers quarterback Peter Athens had his squad driving back down within seconds on the following possession, but NDSU stole momentum once again when C.J. Smith intercepted Athens and returned it back to Towson’s 43.
NDSU’s offense took advantage with a drive that was capped off with a 12-yard strike from quarterback Brock Jensen to wide receiver Zach Vraa. The score pulled the Bison up 21-7 with 1:05 left to play in the first half.
“To get that 14-point lead was huge,” Bison defensive linemen Ryan Drevlow said. “It got the ball rolling our way and it sprung us.”
Jensen, who was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Game, went 13-for-18 with 135 yards and one touchdown through the air. But his biggest contribution may have been his calls in the run game.
Jensen also got in on the rushing attack, capping an eight-play, 88-yard drive with a 9-yard QB draw to put the Bison up 28-7.
“We had some checks in the run game that we thought we could take advantage of,” Jensen said. “I tried to the best of my ability to get us in the right play. A couple times I didn’t, but most of the time I did and we did a good job of making the best out of the plays.”
With a heavy lead in the second half, NDSU turned to their two-headed rushing attack of John Crockett and Sam Ojuri. The pair combined for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Crockett started things off with a 2-yard scoring run in the first quarter to put the Bison up 7-0. To close the game out, Ojuri ran in for a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, making the score 35-7.
“We prioritize ourselves on our rushing attack and keeping ourselves going whether it was me or him,” Ojuri said. “We were both selfless. It’s always about the team. It was just important that we kept this team going.”
The only Towson score came on a 77-yard drive ended by a 3-yard run by Terrance West – who was held to a minimal 99 yards – to tie the game at 7-7.
“I think we all kind of knew what kind of game it was at that point in the game,” Ambrose said. “Everything was moving in the right direction, at least for us. Head to head, (we) were pretty even.”
Towson won in various statistical categories, going off for 373 yards of offense compared to NDSU’s 345. The Tigers had 267 of those yards through the air while NDSU only passed for 135. Towson also won the time of possession battle 33:38-26:22.
However, the Bison took advantage of their opportunities, recording 2.5 more yards per play and going 5-for-6 in the redzone.
While Towson may have won on paper, the Bison took the title – and completed the three-peat – on the field.
“You don’t do the things we’ve done in the past three years without sacrifice,” Jensen said. “We all made a willing decision to make a lot of sacrifices to do something like this. It’s a team effort.”