North Dakota State Powers Past Robert Morris
Ahead 20-17 in the final period, North Dakota State wins its first Football Championship Subdivision playoff game with 23 points in four and half minutes to win 43-17
By Kent Schmidt
College Sporting News West Columnist
FARGO, N.D. — The first Division I football playoff game for North Dakota State may have been a long time coming, but the Bison will only have to wait a few days for another after downing Robert Morris 43-17 on Saturday night before 12,202 fans at the Fargodome in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
D.J. McNorton rambled for 220 all-purpose yards and two TDs as the Bison broke open a tight game over a four-and-a-half-minute span of the fourth period to turn a 20-17 lead into a blowout.
McNorton rushed 27 times for 110 yards and one TD and grabbed a pair of passes for 110 yards and another score as NDSU won a battle of two teams making their first NCAA Division I Football Championship playoff game.
"We're really proud of our football team," said North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl.** "I thought they showed great resiliency.*We were in the middle of a tough, tough game and we were able to break it open in the second half."
Brock Jensen threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as for the Bison (8-4), who play at No. 4-seeded Montana State (9-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Bozeman.
"I thought he got better as the game went along," said Bohl.*"We're really pleased with how he responded and I thought he went out there and wasn't playing scared."
Jensen, who was coming off a shoulder injury, was 10-for-24 for an NDSU playoff-record 229 yards and the Bison rolled up 482 yards of total offense. The old record was 206 yards set by Bruce Grasamke in the 1969 Camelia Bowl.
"He certainly was aggressive, pulled the ball down, took off and ran a couple times, which he needs to be commended on, because he does have a dinged-up shoulder right now," Bohl said.
Robert Morris (8-3), making its first appearance in the FCS playoffs, led 7-6 at halftime before Jensen, a redshirt freshman, hit on a pair of scoring passes in the third quarter.
Jensen tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway on third-and-12 and a short middle screen that McNorton took 49 yards for a score to put the Bison ahead 20-7.
McNorton reached 100 yards for the seventh time over the past nine games for NDSU.
Myles Russ ran 27 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns for the Colonials. Russ scored from nine yards out and Greg Langer hit a 46-field goal with 12:05 left to cut the Bison lead to 20-17 with 12:05 left in the fourth quarter.
Freshman linebacker Grant Olson led the Bison with 11 tackles in his first career start. NDSU recorded 11.5 tackles for loss led by Olson's three, and defensive end Coulter Boyer had five quarterback hurries and a pair of pass breakups. Bobby Ollman and Brandon Jemison each had fumble recoveries.
Ryan Jastram connected on two field goals including a career long of 51 yards with 1:51 left in the first half. It was the eighth time a NDSU kicker has hit from 50 yards or better and first since Shawn Bibeau's 51-yarder at Western Illinois in 2007.
North Dakota State improved to 31-12 in NCAA playoffs and 36-13 in all postseason games with the win over Robert Morris.
It was the first posteason win for the Bison since Nov. 25, 2000, when the Bison won 43-21 at Nebraska-Omaha in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
Bohl notched win No. 60 in his career. He is one of three NDSU coaches to reach the milestone, joining Ron Erhardt (61) and Rocky Hager (91).
But the win was far from easy for North Dakota State.
RMU took the opening kickoff 69 yards on 10 plays, with Myles Russ taking it the last five yards into the score. With 9:41 left, it was RMU 7, NDSU 0.
NDSU countered the RMU touchdown with a field-goal drive, going 57 yards before the drive stalled at the Colonial 17. Ryan Jastram's 34 yards attempt was good at the 4:25 mark of the first period.
RMU went down to the NDSU one-yard line on this possession but a fumble recovery on a fourth and goal at the one by NDSU linebacker Brandon Jemison kept the Colonials from scoring.
After a RMU punt, NDSU drove into field goal range and got on the board with another three with a career long Ryan Janstram from 51 yards out to make it 7-6 with 1:51 left before the half.
NDSU took the opening second-half drive 81 yards on six plays. The drive was ended by a Warren Halloway catch from quarterback Brock Jensen from 32 yard out.
Robert Morris fumbled a punt to set NDSU up at the five, but McNorton fumbled the ball on a fourth and one to give the Colonels the ball back at their own three with six minutes left in the third quarter.
RMU just punted and NDSU dodged another bullet with a muffed punt catch. But on the first play after the fumble, McNorton scored on a 49-yard catch to give the Bison a 20-7 lead with 2:04 to go in the third quarter.
The Colonials marched 78 yards in just six plays to bring them within six. Russ ended the drive with a nine-yard run to get the score to 20-14 with three seconds on the third-quarter clock.
RMU then intercepted NDSU's Jensen and to take over at their own 47. The Colonials pushed the ball to the Bison 28 before stalling, but kicker Greg Langer nailed a 46- yard attempt to draw the Colonials even closer at 20-17 with 12:05 left in the game.
But from there, the game turned completely the Bison's way.
North Dakota State drove 84 yards in six plays, with the big moment coming on a screen pass to McNorton for 61 yards that moved the ball to the five yard line.
NDSU scored on the next play on a quarterback keeper from five yards out by Jensen. to increase the Bison lead to 27-17 with 8:57 left in the game.
Making matters worse, RMU fumbled the kickoff and the Colonials started from their own two-yard line on the next possession.
On the first play, NDSU defensive end Matt Gratzek sacked Colonial quarterback Jeff Sinclair in the end zone for a safety. With 8:43 left in the game, the Bison lead increased to 29-17.
After the free kick, the Bison needed just four plays to go 55 yards, with McNorton taking the last 12 yards on the ground for the score to make it 36-17 with 6:24 left in the game.
North Dakota State cornerback Josh Gatlin intercepted the ball moments later — his team-high team-high fourth interception of the season — and NDSU scored again from 28 yards out on the ground from backup running back MIke Siegers on the next play to cap the scoring at 43-17 with 5:31 left in the game.
"I thought it was a good football up until the last eight minutes," said Robert Morris veteran coach Joe Walton* "They're a very good team, they're big and strong and fast.* Our conference might be a couple years away from being able to compete with this level of football."