Bison headed back to Frisco for the 10th time
Bo Mitchell, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Roberson, Jeremiah Briscoe, Eric Barriere; add Lindsey Scott Jr. of Incarnate Word to the list of greatest players to ever play the Bison in the playoffs. The 12,569 in attendance and the countless others who watched on ESPN2 got the privilege of witnessing an all-time great play inside the Fargodome. Scott worked his magic early on as Incarnate Word stormed out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter. However, it would be the Bison erasing a 16-point deficit, playing the fiddle, and getting the last laugh despite Scott’s efforts.
“I think he’s the best quarterback we’ve had to face from a dual-threat standpoint,” Entz said of Scott Jr. “I think he’s better than some other guys that we’ve seen and we’ve seen some really good ones.”
There was little hope to be had for the Bison early on. On Incarnate Word’s first drive of the game, Scott drove his team right down the throat of the Bison. On this particular fourth and goal from the 1, Scott connected with Darion Chafin for his eighteenth score of the year. After forcing the Bison into a three-and-out, Incarnate Word smoothly drove 85 yards on six plays and finished with a 15-yard run from Jarrell Wiley.
Although it seemed it couldn’t get any worse for the Bison, Braylon Henderson stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line on the ensuing kickoff and TK Marshall was subsequently tackled in the end zone for a safety. At the 7:33 mark in the first quarter, the Bison were in a hole, down 16-0.
“Last thing we could do is lose our cool on the sideline,” Entz said on recovering from the deficit. “That would have sent the exact opposite message we needed to send at that time.”
While the offense continued to struggle mightily, Dawson Weber and the defense came up with big plays. Weber, who previously made a big fourth down tackle on a previous drive, recovered a muffed punt that hit a Cardinals’ player at the two-yard line. The Bison’s hopes ended in vain as they were forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal after a holding penalty took away a touchdown. Nonetheless, the Bison were on the board with 2:15 to go in the first quarter.
Shortly after the Bison got the goose egg off the scoreboard Incarnate Word appeared to boost their lead to 22-3 with 11:27 in the second quarter. Scott rolled to his right and connected with Taylor Grimes in the back of the end zone. With the score, the Bison were being written off once again.
However, as Destin Talbert shoved Grimes out of bounds, an undetected bobble became apparent, prompting a review. When the call on the field was overturned, the Cardinals elected to go for it on 4th & Goal from the 1-yard line. As the Cardinals found, the only optimal part of playing in the Fargodome is the temperature. Those who vowed to trudge through the blizzardous conditions made their impact, causing a miscommunication between Scott and his center. After the ball hit off Scott, Loshiaka Roques picked up the rolling pinball, giving the Bison hope.
Although the Bison forced the biggest fourth down stop of its season after Grimes’ overturned touchdown, the offense was no help again as they were being outgained 225-2 in total yards to that point. However, as he would all day, Dawson Weber came to save the day and salvaged the hopes of Bison Nation. Weber picked off Scott along the sideline at his own 7-yard line. This appeared to be what North Dakota State needed as they proceeded to embark on a 93-yard scoring drive.
After Cam Miller ripped off runs of 35 and 16 yards, Kobe Johnson did the rest. Following a 21-yard run, Johnson was in the end zone on a 4-yard score. The Herd was now rolling and a 3rd down sack by Spencer Waege helped even more but not as much as Jayden Price’s 41-yard punt return that set the Bison up at the 17-yard line. Shortly after, it was Miller on the rollout who ran in a 2-yard score. Miller, despite just 1-12 passing on the day, utilized his legs quite well, rushing for 132 yards.
“I told the coaches on the headset, ‘I’m not throwing the ball well, you’ve got use my legs,’ just to kind of get me in the rhythm of the game,” Miller stated. “I love carrying the football, I think it gets me into the game more.”
Just like that, the Bison, previously on the verge of a blowout, led 17-16 with 0:47 to go in the half. As Spencer Waege sent his team to the locker room with another sack, the Bison’s energy was immense. Barely two minutes into the second half, Kobe Johnson struck again by ripping off a 49-yard score to extend the lead to 24-16.
“Gutty, tough,” Entz described of Johnson’s performance. “I don’t know how healthy he really was but he wasn’t going to tell you. All I got all week was ‘I’m fine.’
Anyone who had seen Incarnate Word’s shootout the week before knew they wouldn’t go down quietly. Along with forcing a punt, the Cardinals went up-tempo for two straight drives and capped off each with a 1-yard touchdown run from Scott to regain a 29-24 lead.
“Not the funnest,” Bison defensive end Spencer Waege said of defending Scott. “Whenever you’re playing a guy that can run around like that and can make plays with his legs that really dictates what kind of pass rush moves you can throw.”
The Bison would respond by narrowly closing the gap. After a couple of chunk plays, the drive ultimately stalled and forced the longest field goal attempt of Griffin Crosa’s career. Crosa nailed a 47-yarder to cut it to 29-27. Incarnate Word would do the same on a 41-yarder from Carson Mohr with 9:38 remaining.
Aided by a kickoff out of bounds, Miller and Johnson made quick work of the Cardinals’ defense. After Miller broke a 34-yard run, Johnson burst down the seam for a 31-yard score, his third of the game. The Bison converted on the two-point conversion on a pass from Henderson to tight end Joe Stoffel via trick play. The Bison’s lead was now 35-32 with 8:11 remaining in the game.
This was now the Bison defense’s time to shine, led by their seniors. On 4th & 4 from the NDSU 22, Michael Tutsie swiped a pass out of Kole Wilson’s grasp for a turnover on downs. They weren’t done just yet, as Dawson Weber had more to do on his career day. With under a minute and a half to go, Scott recoiled and launched a pass deep down the field for Grimes, but there was Weber who high-pointed the ball, and just as Destin Talbert did on last year’s Friday night semifinal, came up with the game-sealing interception.
“The ball seemed like it was in the air for 30 minutes,” Weber stated. “I jumped up, high-pointed it and came down with it.”
Weber and Tutsie proved to be the difference makers for the Bison on Friday night. 20 total tackles, a fourth down stop, fumble recovery, pass breakup, and of course Weber’s interceptions were the key plays the sixth-year seniors made.
“Probably why I have gray my beard, gray on my head because of (Dawson Weber) and Michael Tutsie as 18- and 19-year-olds,” Entz joked. “But it’s fitting for a guy like (Dawson) to be able to have a big pick to finish the game. The leadership they provide is pretty special.”
The win for the three-seeded Bison gets them to the national championship in Frisco, Texas, for the 10th time since the start of the 2011 season. This will be Entz’s 7th trip to Frisco and 3rd as head coach and with all the injuries the Bison faced this year, might be the most impressive.
“They had a chip on their shoulder,” Entz stated. “You go back to mid-October, I think some people wrote them off and I think they got pissed off.”
The next three weeks, as Entz stated, will give many players an extended period of time before the big game. Just like in 2015, when the three-seeded Bison welcomed back Carson Wentz for the championship against Jacksonville State.
“I think the break will definitely allow some guys to get healthy,” Weber stated. “Having this break and having these three weeks off to prepare and to really hit winter camp on a grind, knowing that Christmas is cancelled now is very exciting.”
After the loss to South Dakota State on October 15, the Bison dropped to 5-2. However, the Bison have since played their best football and won seven-in-a-row on their way to Frisco to play, you guessed it, the top-seeded Jackrabbits from Brookings.
“That game could have been the best thing for us,” Miller recalled. “I think it brought us closer together and these guys would die for one another and I would die for any one of these guys.”
This matchup could very well be the greatest yet of the dynasty. The Bison, rolling since the Dakota Marker, now get a shot to avenge their loss to their biggest rival on the game’s biggest stage. For now, the Bison are just excited to head back south.
“Going to Texas was our goal at the beginning of the season,” Weber stated. “Just knowing that we’re going back and knowing that people doubted us the whole season, it means a lot.”
Kobe Johnson; 15 Car 136 Yds 3 TD; Cam Miller; 18 Car 132 Yds TD
Spencer Waege; 7 Tck 2 Sck; Dawson Weber; 7 Tck 2 INT FR