For most of the first quarter on Saturday, South Dakota State kept its momentum against the Bison going. The Jackrabbits quickly put up 10 points, looking to stun North Dakota State in the Fargodome once more this season.
But then that Bison defense played lights out, and the offense came to life, scoring 36 unanswered points to beat SDSU 36-10 in an FCS quarterfinal matchup.
The Bison avenged its only loss of the season to advance to the semifinals for a sixth straight year. Early on however, it looked like the Jacks were going to run rampant on the Bison defense. On the opening two drives, the SDSU offense that struggled last week moved at will. It took just seven plays and less than four minutes for the Jacks to take the lead.
That lead came with some tricks. Running back Brady Mengarelli lined up kneeling right behind the offensive line, next to quarterback Taron Christion, who was under center. Christion took the snap and handed off before standing up. He then ran right, along with the running back in the backfield. Mengarelli stood up and ran left into the end zone.
The Jackrabbits moved again the next drive, this time another seven plays and 71 yards. They settled for a field goal, giving the Bison a double-digit deficit. SDSU gained 162 yards in just the first quarter.
Easton Stick and company responded. Stick found RJ Urzendowski on third and 15 for a 17-yard reception. This helped set up the big play the Bison needed to reignite the Fargodome crowd: a Lance Dunn 49-yard touchdown.
After a defensive stand, the Bison found its groove, doing so by taking its sweet, sweet time. Stick engineered the longest drive (in terms of time) of the season, methodically driving 82 yards down the field to take the lead. Twenty plays and 12 minutes, nine seconds later, Stick was in the end zone with a three-yard run. The drive included three third down conversions and another two penalties on the defense on third.
That included a third and 23 conversion on another Urzendowski catch.
“I thought we did a really good job on keeping them off-balance on third and medium. Running the ball and running the jet (sweep),” head coach Chris Klieman said after the game.
Now playing with the lead, the Bison defense went to work. The long drive left just under two minutes remaining for the Jacks. It didn’t matter as Greg Menard got to Christion, getting the sack and forcing the ball out. He recovered the ball at the SDSU one yard line.
But a failure of clock management by Stick led to a missed chance. A false start and ten second clock runoff set back the Bison. Stick attempted to scramble on the next play and was stopped short as time expired.
“That was not a good situation for us at the end of the second quarter. But instead of anyone going ‘oh no’ it was ‘we have this,’” said Klieman.
The second half was all Bison. The offense picked up right where they left off. The Bison were knocking when Stick’s pass was picked off by Nick Farina at the SDSU one yard line.
It looked like another opportunity had passed the Bison. Two plays after the pick, Grant Morgan put points up on the board, leveling Mengarelli in the end zone for the safety.
“It was a huge play by Grant… I think it made the crowd more electric, and we were up 16-10 and it was deafening,” said Klieman.
The defense kept up that pressure for the whole game. SDSU was not on the field for more than 10 minutes after the first quarter. In that time, the Jacks tallied just 30 yards on offense.
“SDSU always comes out with some great plans on their first two drives … then they went back to what they have done all year, and we were ready,” said Tre Dempsey.
The Bison meanwhile ran wild. King Frazier punched to get 101 yards on the afternoon. Dunn added 91, and Stick had 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It was just really clicking today, all the running back. Easton, he was running angry today,” said Frazier. “I felt like we came out today with a chip on our shoulders.”
Darrius Shepherd appeared for the second half, sitting the first due to a hamstring issue. He needed just a quarter and a half to set a career-high 105 yards receiving. That figure included a 67-yard touchdown on a wide reciever screen and a great block by Dimitri Williams. That score was the icing on the cake for the Bison, making the score 36-10. Stick finished the day with 188 yards and a one touchdowns.
Next, the Bison will now play host to No. 4 James Madison, who thrashed No. 5 Sam Houston State 65-7 on Friday, next weekend at the Fargodome.