Two weeks ago the Bison found themselves trailing South Dakota 17-10 at halftime largely due to the Bison “getting in their own way.” While North Dakota State (5-1, 3-0 MVFC) pulled away to a three-score victory in that game, this week’s contest in Terre Haute, Ind. nearly had a different outcome. Following a touchdown reception by Indiana State’s Dante Hendrix to trim the Bison lead to 31-26, the game hinged upon the arms of the Bison hands team to recover the onside kick to avoid a potential upset by the Indiana State Sycamores.
The Bison came into Saturday fighting the injury bug on both sides of the ball. Along with defensive end Jake Kava being ruled out for the season with a pectoral injury, the Bison were also without offensive players Kobe Johnson, Jalen Sundell, and Phoenix Sproles due to injury.
The injury-plagued Bison offense would go three and out on their first two drives before finding some life. Dominic Gonnella, who took an extended role with the absence of Kobe Johnson, appeared to take the Bison into the red zone before Indiana State’s Rylan Cole forced Gonnella to cough up the rock. Cole, along with the forced fumble, recorded 19 tackles on the day passing teammate Geoffrey Brown for most tackles in a game by a Missouri Valley player this season.
The turnover provided some juice to the Sycamore offense, who drove 80 yards in 10 plays capped off by a 14-yard touchdown catch by Dante Hendrix from quarterback Cade Chambers. The passing touchdown by Chambers, who started in place of Gavin Screws, marked just the second receiving touchdown of the year for the Sycamores. The Sycamores’ two-point try would fail, leaving the Sycamore lead at 6-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.
Just two drives later, the Bison would respond and cut the Sycamore lead in half with a 34-yard field goal from Griffin Crosa. For the third straight week, Crosa has been perfect on his field goal attempts and is now 5-5 on the season.
The ensuing drive by the Sycamores was aided heavily by luck and Bison miscues. A defensive pass interference penalty on Courtney Eubanks and a dropped interception by Oscar Benson gave the Sycamores a chance to extend their drive. On the very next play, Chambers would connect with Dante Hendrix for a 36-yard catch that mirrored the Jermaine Kearse catch in Super Bowl XLIX. Chambers himself would run in a 1-yard touchdown shortly after to extend the Sycamore lead to double-digits 13-3.
The Bison wouldn’t take long to respond, reaching the end zone in just four plays and a minute in change behind running back TaMerik Williams. A 38-yard run by Williams followed by a 26-yard connection from Cam Miller to Jake Lippe set the Bison up first and goal from the 2-yard line. Williams would run the ball into the end zone on the very next play for his first touchdown of the season. Although the score was trimmed to 13-10, the 29.5-point favorite Bison would trail on the road at halftime for the third straight game.
Williams would continue to pound the rock on the Bison’s opening drive of the second half. After nine plays and 83 yards, Williams gave the Bison their first lead of the day with a 16-yard scamper right through the middle of the Sycamore defense.
Indiana State would reciprocate the Bison touchdown, this time only taking a dozen seconds off the clock. The Sycamores took back the lead on an 82-yard touchdown run by Justin Dinka. The run marked the first time the Sycamores have ever scored 20 points against the Bison and is also the longest play against North Dakota State since 2015.
The Bison offense that accumulated over 500 yards of total offense on Saturday would continue to respond and help their defense out. For the third straight possession, TaMerik Williams would find the end zone. On his longest touchdown run of the day from 27 yards, the senior transfer from Southern Methodist University gave the Bison the lead back 24-20 just over halfway through the third quarter.
The following possession, the Bison defense would finally come up with the big stop they so desperately needed, or so we thought. On the Sycamore punt, returner Braylon Henderson muffed the punt which was recovered by the Sycamores at the NDSU 12-yard line. Just a few plays later, however, Will Mostaert would block a 31-yard field goal to keep the Bison lead at four. With the block, Mostaert would garner MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
To start the fourth quarter, the Bison passing game which has been inferior to the running game all season long, started to open up on their first full drive of the fourth quarter. The Bison would go 3-3 on third downs in the drive, all of which came on pass plays. The biggest came on 3rd & 19 when Bison receiver Zach Mathis hauled in a 28-yard catch to give the Bison a new set of downs. Mathis, who recorded a career-high six catches on Saturday, ended his day with a 10-yard touchdown catch from Cam Miller to put North Dakota State ahead 31-20 with under six minutes to play.
Just a few minutes later, Dante Hendrix would reach the end zone a second time, this time from 1 yard out to trim the Bison lead to 31-26. Now with just two minutes to go, the game fell on the Bison hands team to recover the onside kick. Joe Stoffel, the man who has come in for the injured Noah Gindorff, recovered the kick and fell to the ground. The Bison would need one more first down to officially seal the game away. The Bison’s go-to guy, Hunter Luepke, would do just that with a short run and send the Bison into victory formation.
Indiana State, despite committing zero penalties and winning the turnover margin 3-0, was disappointed they didn’t come away with the victory.
“We didn’t come here to be close or to almost beat North Dakota State,” Indiana State quarterback Cade Chambers said. “We played today to beat North Dakota State.”
Despite nearly knocking off the number one team in the country, the Sycamores (1-4, 0-2 MVFC) know the rest of the MVFC isn’t a slouch by any means.
“If we play how we know how to play, we can compete with anybody in the country and the conference,” Dante Hendrix stated. “The Missouri Valley is no joke. Next week’s not going to be any easier. Coach Mallory always harps on the price of poker always going up when you’re in the Missouri Valley. Every team is great.”
The Bison will play at home next week on Saturday, October 15 against #2 ranked South Dakota State at 2:30 p.m. at the Fargodome. Student tickets are available at GoBison.com/Students.
TaMerik Williams; 13 Car – 145 Yds, 3 TD; Cam Miller; 21-27 – 210 Yds, 1 TD;
Zach Mathis; 6 Rec – 88 Yds, 1 TD; James Kaczor; 10 Tackles, 2 Sacks