TaMerik Williams, Raja Nelson, and Cole Payton remain “day-to-day” for Bison
Last Friday evening, North Dakota State welcomed the prolific offense of the Samford Bulldogs to the Fargodome and came away with a 27-9 victory. This Friday, also at the Fargodome, again at 6:00 p.m., another high-octane offense will trudge through a Fargo blizzard for a chance to play in Frisco for the national championship. Last week, the Bison were able to control the game and hold the Bulldogs to single-digit points. This time around a rare bird is flying up north, this one led by a quarterback responsible for nearly 70 touchdowns on the season.
Leading the Cardinals under center is seventh-year quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. Scott, along with nine scores on the ground, has an FCS record 59 passing touchdowns this season through 13 games. In eight of his last nine games, Scott has passed for at least four touchdowns. On the year, Incarnate Word is averaging 53 points and over 580 yards of offense per game and has not scored less than 30 points in any game this season.
“Probably the most prolific or at least (most) productive player in FCS football,” Bison Head Coach Matt Entz said in praise of Scott. “Anyone who averages 50 points a game and 600 yards is going to demand some respect immediately. It’s going to be a challenge to get stops. It’ll be exciting, they do a lot of good things and you see why they’ve been so successful.”
Following North Dakota State’s victory last Friday, the Bison had to stand by for a few hours to see the winner of Incarnate Word and Sacramento State. In a shootout that encompassed over 1,300 yards of offense and 129 points scored, ‘The Word’ earned their first-ever semifinal berth with a 66-63 road victory capped off with a 21-yard score from Scott to Taylor Grimes with under a minute remaining. Despite being outgained by 159 yards and dominated in time of possession, the Cardinals took advantage of Hornet miscues and scored 21 points off four forced turnovers. Winning the turnover margin is something the Bison emphasize each week and is even more imperative come playoff time.
“They’re especially huge this time of year but turnovers are always huge,” Bison cornerback Jayden Price stated. “Just give our offense an extra possession to put points on the board. Changing up these pictures for the quarterback and make him make a mistake and throwing into a coverage that he doesn’t think we’re playing and just allowing him to hopefully give us one.”
While the Bison only turned the ball over one time in last week’s quarterfinal win, they had a tough time making sufficient progress offensively in the first half. The Bison were unable to score until 1:25 remaining before halftime but from that point on dominated the rest of the game. This week, with the potent Incarnate Word offense coming to town, it’s important for North Dakota State to not crawl itself into a hole.
“We’ve got to go out there with a ton of energy,” Bison running back TK Marshall stated. “They’re going to come in there and give us our best just like every other team. I feel like we just got to stay true to who we are.”
That task may be even more challenging with injuries to some of the Bison’s playmakers. TaMerik Williams, Raja Nelson, and Cole Payton all suffered injuries in last week’s win and remain “day-to-day” for the time being. With the possibility of Williams being absent from the backfield, Marshall would step in his place. Marshall rushed for 47 yards and a score on a season-high 11 carries in last week’s win, all in the second half.
“After the game I start preparing myself with the potential of possibly playing more, having to step up my role,” Marshall stated. “I’ve been going in with the younger guys, we’ve been looking over some extra film. Just getting ready for the week just like any other week.”
If those players are unable to go, the possibility of activating freshmen stills remains. With the roster limit now set at 64, it becomes more difficult to balance the number of players at each position. And with some players still maintaining their redshirt eligibility by playing four games or less, it adds an element to the decision. Although Barika Kpeenu has already utilized his redshirt season, the possibility of dressing him has not been ruled out.
“He’s been with the offense,” Entz said of Kpeenu. “He’s prepared, he understands the offense and if someone can’t dress then Barika would provide some depth.”
Despite the injuries, one thing North Dakota State can be thankful for is another opportunity to play in the Fargodome. As soon as Incarnate Word flies in through the treacherous blizzard tarped over the state, they’ll be in the warmth of the Dome. In 2015, North Dakota State was the third seed in the FCS playoffs but were fortunate to not have to travel on the road to Illinois State thanks to the Richmond Spiders, who the Bison ultimately beat. Now with an oddly similar situation in 2022, the Bison and their seniors will get some closure as they definitively play their last game at the Fargodome.
“Talking to Cody Mauch this week he walked in my office and was like, ‘Man that could have been my last game in the Dome and I don’t know if I appreciated it enough,’ Entz stated. “Well, now you get a chance to have truly some closure, especially the guys who are seniors and going out with their last home game.” The semifinal matchup between the Bison and Cardinals will kick off from the Fargodome at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, December 16. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and on the radio you can listen to Rob Hipp on the play-by-play and Bison legend Phil Hansen on the commentary at Bison1660-AM or 107.9 The Fox.