Up Against a Stacked Deck

It has been nearly one month since the North Dakota State Bison had their streak snapped. Looking back on that fateful game against James Madison, and on the season as a whole, there is one conclusion to be made.

This was the year the streak ended, and it was always going to be.

This is not a good thing or a bad thing, it is just a statement. Just look at all the Bison had to put up with this year.

Perhaps the biggest thing missing was the departure of Carson Wentz. He left some large shoes to fill, and Easton Stick was up to the job. Stick finished the season with decent numbers, 169 for 288, 2,331 yards, 19 TDs and 9 INTs. Still, Stick was learning this year, his first full year as a starter. It is worth remembering this kid was only a redshirt freshman, and will continue to grow.

This year also brought something unprecedented to the Fargodome: a very high degree of competition. In the regular season, the Bison played seven ranked opponents, one of which was an FBS team. Looking back on the first three games of the year, the Bison could have easily started the season 0-3, not 3-0. Of the non-ranked teams the Bison played, three of the four were road games, including a trip to UNI. This is easily the most difficult schedule the Bison have faced in a long time.

That difficulty took its toll. The injury bug was all over the Bison, in all areas of the game. The most noticeable was Nick DeLuca. He elected to have surgery after the Iowa game; perhaps the best linebacker in the FCS was done for the year. Next year, he will return after being granted a medical waiver.

Matt Plank performed well in his absence, but it is worth a thought about how much of an impact losing a leader had. The next leader up was Pierre Gee-Tucker, who missed some time late in the season. Offensively, last year’s spark plug, Bruce Anderson, hardly got onto the field with ankle issues. Brock Robbins was out most of the year at fullback. Punt returner Erik Perkins was also out for an extended period.

And yet, the Bison started 5-0, and BisoNation became a little bit complacent. It had been that way for most of the season. There was a feeling the Fargodome was not as an intimidating place to play. Charleston Southern’s first trip to Fargo ended in OT, as did Eastern Washington’s. The noise did not affect them too much. And then there was the Dakota Marker. With the Bison leading throughout, most of the student section left, and it got quiet. The Jacks came back to win late, and it served as a wakeup call to the fans.

Jump ahead to the JMU game, the perfect microcosm of the Bison’s year. The defense struggled early, the crowd was sucked out of it, and the Dukes looked in control. Then, a 17-point run to tie it up for the Bison, and the Dome was ready to explode. But, an issue had plagued the Bison all year, no points in the fourth quarter. NDSU had all the momentum in the world, and the Dukes won, on their way to winning the whole thing in Frisco.

This was the year the deck ended up stacked against the Bison, and this was the year the streak ended.

Moving forward, however, this team went through the toughest gauntlet the program has seen and is young and battle-tested. A January trip to Frisco will be on the team’s mind, and it will not be a surprise to see them there.

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