Dominant 2nd half leads Bison to victory over South Dakota 34-17

During Coach Matt Entz’s weekly press conference, he stressed the significance of not allowing one loss to turn into another by maintaining solid preparation and energy as the Bison move into conference play. After the first half of the Bison’s conference opener against the University of South Dakota Coyotes, the Bison did not appear to be prepared after falling behind 17-10 at halftime. However, the Herd came out firing in the second half scoring 24 unanswered points to defeat the Coyotes 34-17 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

By putting the defense on the field first, the Bison gave themselves a great opportunity to get some momentum for their offense. On a 3rd down, they would do just that thanks to a huge sack by linebacker Luke Weerts. The Bison would then immediately drive all the way down into the red zone putting themselves in a prime position to score. That is until Bison quarterback Cam Miller was picked off in the end zone by the Coyotes’ Myles Harden. Prior to the play, Miller had attempted 85 consecutive passes without being intercepted and was his first interception since NDSU’s first playoff game last season.

The Bison offense would be without two of their biggest pass catchers, Phoenix Sproles and Noah Gindorff on Saturday. Sproles, who traveled with the team to Vermillion, was sidelined with a hamstring injury. As for Gindorff, he was not with the Bison due to an undisclosed injury.

“Previous injury just has not healed up,” Entz said of Gindorff’s absence. “I don’t have all the details yet. He wasn’t with us Thursday or Friday.”

The Coyotes (1-3, 0-1 MVFC) would benefit from Bison miscues and penalties. The first of those being a roughing the punter penalty on safety Dawson Weber which prolonged a Coyote drive that had stalled deep in their own territory. Another Bison penalty would allow South Dakota to get deep into NDSU territory the Bison defense would hold the Coyotes to just three points on an 18-yard chip shot by Eddie Ogamba and the Bison would trail just 3-0.

The red zone stop for the Bison defense appeared to give the Bison a shift in momentum as they would proceed to go on two consecutive scoring drives. To get the Bison on the board, Griffin Crosa would tie the game at three a piece with a 26-yard field goal, the first Bison field goal of the season. On the very next play from scrimmage, Dawson Weber made up for his earlier miscue by forcing a fumble from South Dakota tailback Travis Theis which was recovered by Michael Tutsie. Tutsie, who started his 45th consecutive game at safety, led the Bison in tackles with seven along with the fumble recovery.

The Bison would take advantage of the short field and punch the ball into the end zone with a 2-yard touchdown run by Kobe Johnson to give NDSU a 10-3 lead halfway through the second quarter.

Following Luke Weerts’ first career interception, it looked as if everything was going the Bison’s way. However, the Bison would do themselves no favors and turn the ball right back over after a Jalen Bussey fumble. The Bison defense would hold their ground, though, and force a three and out from the Coyotes.

Another Bison miscue, however, put life into the DakotaDome and Coyote fans. NDSU’s Hunter Brozio would be called for an unsportsmanlike foul and give South Dakota the ball at midfield. The Coyote offense led by Theis and quarterback Carson Camp would pick up the tempo and drive all the way to the end zone in less than two minutes of game time to tie the game at ten apiece.

The Bison’s nightmare would go on unfortunately after yet again another turnover. Tailback Dom Gonnella coughed up the rock at his own 28-yard line and gave South Dakota one more chance to score before the intermission. The Coyote offense wasted no time and scored on a 28-yard connection from Camp to receiver Wesley Eliodor on the very next play to give South Dakota a 17-10 going into halftime.

Three turnovers and fifty yards worth of penalty yards are certainly not the championship-level performance Bison fans are used to. In fact, the most recent occurrence with the Bison committing multiple turnovers in the first half dates back to a 2014 game against Missouri State. Luckily for the Bison, however, they do have one player that no other team in the Missouri Valley has, and that is Hunter Luepke.

Luepke was a key piece of NDSU’s first drive of the second half. He was one of six Bison to get a touch on the drive that concluded with a 13-yard touchdown run from Cam Miller. Luepke would then be an even bigger piece of the following Bison possession. After a gritty 17-yard run down to the 2-yard line, Luepke punched the ball in on the very next play to give the Bison a 24-17 lead and extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown to seven dating back to last season.

NDSU running back Hunter Luepke with a carry against South Dakota | Photo Credit Tim Sanger

“He’s one of the best players we’ve had in recent years,” Entz stated of Luepke. “He’s a pretty special athlete, big body that can move really well and has great balance and vision.”

The Bison’s lethal combination of a dominant run game, which collected 200 second-half yards, and ball-hawking defense was the key to the second half. North Dakota State possessed the ball for 22:26 of the 30 minutes of the second half. Over 100 rushing yards from Hunter Luepke and two forced turnovers by the Bison defense early in Coyote drives made it possible for the Bison to possess the ball for ¾ of the second half.

“That’s where they thrive,” South Dakota Head Coach Bob Nielson stated postgame. “They’ll hold the ball for four or five, six minutes in a drive and that was not the kind of football that we could play in the second half even though we went into halftime with the lead.”

Following another Griffin Crosa field goal, the Bison defense would force those previously mentioned turnovers on two consecutive possessions. Just three plays after the field goal, Dawson Weber would yet again force a Coyote fumble, this time by Carson Camp. The Bison would score their final touchdown of the game to take a 34-17 lead via a 3-yard touchdown run for Luepke, his eighth total touchdown of the year through just four games.

A Logan Kopp interception would seal the game and complete the Bison’s second-half comeback after a poor 1st half showing.

“Bison Vs. Bison. That was the only team I was worried about,” Entz said in his halftime message to the team. “We needed to do what we needed to do, and I thought you saw that in the second half. Solid defense, we created the takeaways, and we were able to move the ball and really do a nice job in the red zone. It was on us. They were not doing anything. We were getting in our own way.”

The win marked the 12th straight conference-opening win for the Bison and was also the 6th straight game NDSU ran for over 300 yards against South Dakota.

The Bison (3-1, 1-0 MVFC) will play at home next Saturday, October 1 against Youngstown State at 1:00 p.m. at the Fargodome. It will be homecoming for the Bison. Student tickets are available at

Game Stats:

Hunter Luepke; 20 Car – 146 Yds, 2 TD; Dawson Weber; 6 Tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FF; Luke Weerts; 7 Tackles, Sack, INT.

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