Herd rolls past Samford 27-9 in quarterfinal matchup

Bison overcome slow start to advance to 11th semifinal in 12 seasons

Coming off a 453-yard rushing performance in a 49-26 win over Montana last week, the three-seeded Bison looked primed to plow over a Samford team that was ranked 84th in run defense prior to Friday’s game. However, the Bison rushing attack was stymied for much of the game as they ran for just 166 yards on the day. Picking up the slack for the Bison was their continually improving defense. Despite the absence of middle linebacker Luke Weerts with an ankle injury, the Bison held the high-octane Bulldog offense under 10 points for the second time this season.

“We go through the same thing every week,” Bison cornerback Courtney Eubanks stated. “We really preach about our defense, Code Green ball. Going against an offense that throws is nothing special because we’ve got great secondary D and our d-line is going to get home.”

The Bison defense, led by Eubanks’ career-high 10 tackles, shut down the Bulldog offense in the first half, forcing three straight three-and-outs to start the game. While the Bison could not get much going themselves offensively, the first scoring opportunity came late in the first quarter for Samford. On a 34-yard field goal attempt, Zach Williams’ kick was blocked by All-MVFC defensive end Spencer Waege to preserve the 0-0 tie.

“We knew exactly where they were going to rush from,” Samford Head Coach Chris Hatcher stated. “It wasn’t something that we didn’t work and that was a big concern that they would overpower our left side and they did.”

Two possessions later the Bison went on a scoring drive that took over seven minutes off the clock. Leading the drive was quarterback Cam Miller, who on the drive went 4-4 with 48 yards through the air. On the twelfth play of the drive, tight end Joe Stoffel hauled in a 2-yard touchdown from Miller to give the Bison a 7-0 lead with 1:25 to go in the half. Stoffel, who has started much of the year, reached the end zone for the first time in his career despite a nagging knee injury.

NDSU tight end Joe Stoffel hauls in a 2-yard TD pass from quarterback Cam Miller in the first quarter of Friday night’s NCAA quarter-final game against Samford. The Bison defeated the Bulldogs 27-9 to advance to their 11th semi-final in the last 12 seasons. Photo Courtesy | NDSU Athletics

“He’s played two really good games in a row,” Entz stated of Stoffel. “He’s just getting healthier and healthier as he goes along.”

As the Bison forced another three-and-out, they were given one last chance to add points before halftime. After a couple of extended plays, it appeared the drive would stall but as Miller launched a Hail Mary, Samford was called for a personal foul hit on Zach Mathis. The penalty gave an opportunity for Griffin Crosa to knock through a season-long 44-yard field goal, which he did. As the kick sailed through the upright at the horn, the Herd held a 10-0 lead at the half.

Coming out of the break, the Bison received the kickoff and made quick work of the Bulldog defense. After two solid runs from Kobe Johnson, Miller connected with a wide-open Stoffel over the middle for a 47-yard gain down to the 7-yard line. On the next play, TK Marshall ran in a 7-yard score that was nearly a carbon copy of his touchdown last week. In about six minutes of game time, the Bison lead had ballooned to 17-0.

NDSU running back TK Marshall rushes for a short gain against Samford in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA FCS playoffs last Friday at the Fargodome. The Bison defeated Samford 27-9 to advance to their 11th semi-final in the last 12 seasons. Photo Courtesy | Hayden Austin, the Spectrum

“I see Cam working the other side and I see him look my way I just threw both hands up because I knew nobody was around me,” Stoffel recounted. “Luckily, he threw it and I just tried to turn on the burners, but I guess I’ve got to unhook the trailer.”

To start the second half, Samford made a change at the quarterback position. Freshman Quincy Crittendon started the game but went just 8-17 with 52 yards in the first half. Relieving Crittendon was Michael Hiers, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. Coming into Friday, Hiers was leading the nation in completion percentage and had a TD: INT ratio of nearly 12:1. However, Hiers has been dealing with an injury that kept him out most of last week’s game.

“He’s got a broken wrist on his throwing hand,” Hatcher told of Hiers’ injury. “But I thought that we looked out of rhythm right there so the second half we let Mike go in there and he played really well.”

After nearly getting intercepted by Dom Jones on his first pass, Hiers would eventually be intercepted by Dawson Weber, his second straight game with an interception. The Bison proceeded to conduct a 12-play drive that ended with Cam Miller’s 14th rushing touchdown of the year from one yard out. With 2:02 to go in the third quarter, North Dakota State’s lead was up to 24-0.

Another concern for the Bison was the multitude of injuries suffered on the day. During the previous drive, receiver Raja Nelson had to be taken off the field after sustaining a leg injury on a six-yard catch. TaMerik Williams, Spencer Waege, Cole Payton, and Zach Mathis were also found on the ground needing assistance. Despite the injuries, Entz stated that there were no broken bones suffered. Even if the Bison are without some key players, they are keeping their same mentality.

“Next man up,” Entz stated of the injuries. “Nobody feels sorry for the Bison. It’s part of the game that you hate to see. We’ll get back to work and find who’s healthy and put them in a situation where they can help us.”

After Samford finally got on the board with a 28-yard field goal, Crosa and the Bison responded with a chip shot of their own from 22 yards out. Samford and their unique offense would find the end zone for the first time on a 40-yard score from Hiers to Chandler Smith, who recorded his 100th catch of the season on Friday. However, with just 3:53 to go the Bulldogs’ still trailed 27-9.

Although Samford got the ball back, they chewed up a lot of clock and gain what Coach Entz stated as ‘incidental yardage’ in the waning stages of the game. As the final pass fell incomplete, the 11,825 in attendance watched the Bison earn yet another trip to the semifinals. After waiting past 1:00 AM to see who they would play, Incarnate Word finally defeated two-seeded Sacramento State 66-63. As the Bison have been to the semifinals many times, they know what it takes to prepare for a big game.

“We’re so process focused and we’re not worried about outcomes,” Miller stated. “Just worried about the process in getting better each day and I think that sort of eliminates some of the pressure that comes along with playing at such a great program.”

The Bison, just as they did in 2015, will host a semifinal game as the three seed, this time against another team with a dynamic offense, Incarnate Word. The Bison and Cardinals will kick off from the Fargodome on Friday at 6:00 p.m. NDSU student tickets are available at GoBison.com/students and are $6.50 with a valid NDSU student account.

Game Stats:

Cam Miller; 15-18 194 Yds, 1 TD; Rush TD; RaJa Nelson; 5 Touches 47 Yds;

Joe Stoffel; 3 Rec 60 Yds, 1 TD; Courtney Eubanks; 10 Tck; Javier Derritt; 2 Sacks

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