NDSU to face Samford on Friday at the Dome
After receiving a bye in the first round of the playoffs, the Bison returned to the field to take on the Montana Grizzlies in the second round. The Grizzlies headed to Fargo in hopes of becoming just the second team to defeat the Bison at the Fargodome in the FCS playoffs. Behind an explosive 453-yard rushing performance, the Bison rolled to a 49-26 win in the second round. The 453 yards are the second most an NDSU team has recorded in the FCS playoffs.
To start his career-high 206-yard rushing day, Kobe Johnson ignited the Bison’s first scoring drive. After popping off two runs combining for 32 yards, followed by a 29-yard Randy Moss-like catch by Zach Mathis, Cam Miller picked up where he left off against UND, running in a 10-yard touchdown giving the Bison an early 7-0 lead. Following a three-and-out from the Grizzlies, Miller broke free yet again. For the thirteenth time this season, Miller reached the end zone to stretch the Bison lead to 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.
“They’re going to play single-high and when you use the quarterback in the run game you can run out of bodies really quick and put the post player on the quarterback,” Bison Head Coach Matt Entz stated.
Miller’s 68-yard run marked the longest run by an NDSU player this season but would soon be broken later in the game. Following that run, Montana responded right back with a 13-play drive that was consummated by a 1-yard touchdown run from Lucas Johnson. After the Bison were forced to punt, the Grizzlies drove right back down the field before ultimately settling for a 39-yard field goal by Nico Ramos. Less than halfway through the second quarter, the Griz had cut the deficit to just four.
The Bison defense would come up big on the ensuing Montana possession right before halftime. On second and long, Johnson was sacked by defensive lineman Kody Huisman. After being hit, the ball was forced out and after rolling back into the end zone, linebacker Cole Wisniewski fell on the ball for a touchdown.
“I would expect every single linebacker to be honest with you to go make the same play,” Wisniewski said of his fumble recovery. “Code Green in general is sprint to the ball, don’t stop until the whistle and I think everyone would handle that play the exact same way.”
Following a 36-yard field goal from Ramos right before the half, the Bison lead was just eight at 21-13 at the half. Early in the third quarter, Montana would respond with a defensive touchdown of their own. While looking for Eli Green, Miller was intercepted by cornerback Corbin Walker, who hauled his way to the end zone for a 58-yard pick-six. Just like that, the Bison lead was just one with 10:58 in the third quarter.
Breaking Miller’s mark for the longest touchdown of the year was Kobe Johnson who did so on the very next play. Busting his way through the line, Johnson depended on his incredible speed the rest of the way for a 75-yard score. That one-point lead lasted only 12 seconds and it was now Bison 28-20 after the score.
“They got it that way and we knew that we had to get it back on our side,” Johnson said of the run. “We went out there, we took some deep breaths before the drive and we just knew we had to execute, do what we had to do.”
In the next possession, safety Dawson Weber intercepted a pass to give the Bison the ball back. Just two plays later, TaMerik Williams broke free for a 68-yard score after appearing to be stuffed at the line. The career-long run for Williams stretched the lead up to 35-20 with 6:51 in the third quarter.
Following an injury to Luke Weerts, Nick Kubitz stepped into the middle linebacker position and made his presence known. Deep in the drive, Kubitz picked off a Grizzlies’ pass and returned it deep into Montana territory. The return was mostly negated because of a penalty but Kubitz nonetheless allowed the Bison to regain possession.
“Great cover two pick,” Entz said of Kubitz’s play. “That end zone must be made for Nicks having cover two picks. I remember another number 49 having a bunch of cover two picks in that end of the field a few years ago.”
However, the primary concern became the well-being of senior captain Spencer Waege. On the return, while on the ground, Waege took a cheap shot hit to the upper back/neck area and had to be helped off the field. Following the timeout, an animated Matt Entz called his team together to give his team a passionate message.
“We need to be smart, we can’t play at that level,” Entz clarified. “That’s a captain laying on the ground, so I knew exactly how our guys were going to respond. We needed to bring them in and make sure that they understood being smart and handling yourself appropriate is what Bison do.”
Following the interception, Kobe Johnson broke loose again for a 73-yard touchdown run. The fourth touchdown run of the game of 68+ yards for the Bison pushed the lead up to 42-20 early in the fourth quarter.
“The o-line, it’s a testament to them,” Johnson stated. “There’s not much that I can’t do when they’re making big holes for me and things like that.”
In the ensuing possession, the Bison would record their sixth sack of the game. The six sacks are the most for North Dakota State since March of 2021 against Missouri State.
“Effort,” Entz said on the key to getting to the quarterback. “They gave us some one-on-ones on the perimeter and our guys were fortunate enough to win.”
Reaching the end zone for the last time on the day was tailback T.K. Marshall with a 7-yard run with 5:24 to go in the game. The Griz would get one final score, but it was too little too late. Despite the absence of Walter Payton Award finalist Hunter Luepke, the Bison’s dominating rushing attack carried them into the quarterfinals in front of 12,929 in attendance.
“They were tired of practice, and it was time to see somebody else very similar to what you would anticipate,” Entz said of his players getting a week off. “Really excited about where we’re at.”
Next up for third-ranked North Dakota State is the sixth-ranked Samford Bulldogs. The Bulldogs will make the trip up to Fargo next Friday and will kick off from the Fargodome at 6:00 p.m. NDSU student tickets are available at GoBison.com/students and are $6.50 with a valid NDSU student account.
Kobe Johnson; 12 Car 206 Yds 2 TD; TaMerik Williams; 11 Car 101 Yds 1 TD