By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
The Tigers feature a Payton Award finalist in Terrance West and Darius Victor as a dangerous change of pace while the Bison offense brings a two-headed monster of Ojuri and Crockett. And what is the most important attribute for a successful running game? That's right, execution.
North Dakota comes into this game off of the most impressive performance of the playoffs, a ruthlessly efficient domination of New Hampshire in the semifinals.
After a couple of early uncharacteristic turnovers that put the Bison in a hole, the two time defending champs played the game at a level few teams can match. For the rest of the contest, it seemed as if they were the better team on every single play.
It was a shining example of a team that prides itself on execution, possibly at a level as good or better than any team in FCS history.
Led by senior quarterback Brock Jensen, the Bison offense is run-first, but that term hides the fact that it is incredibly versatile, with a potent mix of play-action, misdirection and clever play design in the passing game that makes it a difficult unit to stop.
The Bison also excel on 3rd down, a critical attribute for a winning team and one of the main reasons that the champs lead the country in time of possession.
On the other side, it's a miracle that Towson is even here.
With 8 minutes to go in the semifinals, a 21-0 lead had turned into a 31-21 deficit and Eastern Washington was poised to bury the Tigers as starting quarterback Peter Athens watched helplessly from the sidelines.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Frisco and backup quarterback Connor Frazier grew up in a hurry, leading the Tigers on two touchdown drives, finishing the victory off in style with a quarterback sneak with less than 20 seconds to play.
With Athens still nursing the shoulder he injured in the semifinals, Frazier took most of the snaps in practice in the fortnight leading up to Frisco, but both are expected to be available for the Chipper.
It is hard to determine the impact this will have on the Tiger offense, but the Bison defense is not a gambling group, so the difference in styles between the two signal-callers should not fluster such an experienced group.
While the Bison has cruised to victory for most of the season, Towson has faced a number of gut-check situations over the season.
Facing large deficits against New Hampshire and Stony Brook in the regular season and Eastern Illinois and Eastern Washington in the playoffs, the boys from Maryland have shown themselves to have a strong reserve of resilience when the moment calls for it.
Plus, having knocked off the other two Payton Award candidates in consecutive weeks, they've gotten some payback for West not being handed the trophy.
In short, this team has dealt with every challenge they've faced this season, so it's only fitting that they've reached this point, with only the 800-poiund gorilla of the FCS standing between them and a title.
All season long, I have felt that Towson was the team that could defeat North Dakota State in the playoffs.
You're not going to defeat the Bison by outcoaching them or out scheming them, only by matching their physicality and execution on every play. Towson is the only team that has a chance to do that, with their physical, experienced offensive line and stout defensive front seven.
Plus, having a game breaker like West always gives a team a chance with the ability to make big plays.
It would be helpful for Towson if they had a sense they were catching the Bison at an overconfident moment but the two-time defending champs don't give off that aura. If anything this team's focus is even more intense right now. A lot of that has to do with being a senior-laden team but the fact that coach Bohl is moving on might have a lot to do with it as well.
There's a sense that North Dakota State has been building towards this game for four years.
There's an incredible opportunity here, to finish off a three-peat with a punctuation mark of an undefeated season, sending off their head coach in style and putting themselves in the argument with the greatest teams in FCS history.
Towson would like to get in the way of that history and they've got all the elements needed to pull off the upset.
However, there's just enough chinks in the armor to think it's going to be difficult.
The uncertainty at quarterback is coming at the wrong time and the Tigers secondary is not quite championship caliber.
Also, this is a team that has a tendency to turn the ball over and also to gamble on defense trying to force the other offense into mistakes. As New Hampshire found out, you might get a couple but over the course of the game, the Bison execution will win out.
It's been an incredible run for Coach Ambrose and there's a good chance he might be coaching his last FCS game as well, but it will be coach Bohl who will move on as a champion.
North Dakota State 34 Towson 24