By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
How were the Bison viewed in the preseason?
I did the Missouri Valley Football Conference preview for College Sporting News and thought that NDSU would finish second in the conference to last year’s champion Northern Iowa. After a 9-5 season last year, I felt the Bison would again make the postseason after they lost at eventual national champion Eastern Washington in the quarterfinal round.
The preseason poll by the coaches, media, and sports information directors also picked NDSU second behind Northern Iowa. The squad was ranked 12th nationally in the consolidated polls.
How did the Bison finish 10-1 within the 2011 regular season?
The highlights of the regular season had to be their win over Football Bowl Subdivision Minnesota and a home win over preseason favorite Northern Iowa.
NDSU defeated the FBS Gophers 37-24 in a game that showed early on that the Bison had the potential to be one of the top FCS schools this year.
NDSU defeated traditionally tough Southern Illinois 9-3 on the road and then defeated 2010 MVFC champion Northern Iowa 27-19, and a road win at then playoff hopeful Indiana State by a score of 27-16 later in the season to propel the Bison to the top ranking of the Gridiron Power Index (GPI).
A late loss at home to Youngstown State by a score of 27-24 cost the Bison the overall #1 seed in the playoffs, but a loss by then #1 Montana State propelled Sam Houston State to that spot and NDSU wound up with the #2 playoff seed.
The Bison used a strong defense led by All-MVFC performers in defensive end Coulter Boyer, cornerback Marcus Williams and linebacker Chad Willson to propel to the best scoring defense in the country.
Boyer, a senior, recorded 36 tackles including 16 solo stops and led team with 10 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries and seven sacks. He added two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
Sophomore Williams led the Valley and tied for third nationally with 7 interceptions. He scored three times on interceptions and once on a kickoff return this season.
Senior Willson, led the Bison with 65 tackles including 36 solos. He has five tackles for loss, a pair of sacks plus one interception. Willson has forced one fumble and one fumble recovery.
The offense was headed by senior All-MVFC offensive tackle Paul Cornick. He headed an offensive line that opened holes for a run-orientated West Coast offense.
Sophomore quarterback Brock Jensen ran the offense and senior D.J. McNorton and sophomore Sam Ojuri were the top running backs. But Jensen also used senior wide receiver Warren Holloway to have a more balanced attack in the passing game.
Head coach Craig Bohl was also the MVFC Coach of the Year.
The Bison have been injured in some key areas throughout the season in just about all positions but the three weeks off between the semi-final round and the championship game have helped heal many of these injuries.
How did North Dakota State win its opening round playoff game?
Following a bye, the second seeded Bison faced James Madison from the Colonial Athletic Association, who had defeated Eastern Kentucky in the first round game.
NDSU started slow but used D.J. McNorton, who rushed for 154 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, to defeat the Dukes James Madison 26-14.
Sam Ojuri added 61 yards and two scores for the Bison.
James Madison used a trick pass play to pull within 19-14 with 7:26 left in the game.
McNorton's touchdown run came on North Dakota State's next play from scrimmage, after an out-of-bounds kickoff gave the Bison the ball at their own 40.
North Dakota State held a 329-301 advantage in total offense yardage including 219 yards rushing. Brock Jensen completed 11 of 18 passes for 110 yards. Warren Holloway caught seven passes for 78 yards.
Ryan Jastram kicked a 53-yard field goal to put the Bison up 10-7 at halftime. He added a 44-yarder in the third quarter.
North Dakota State's defense held James Madison in converting just one of their four fourth down conversions including a pair of stops in the second half.
Linebackers Willson and Preston Evans each had 10 tackles to lead the way. Free safety John Pike recorded his fourth interception of the season to end the game
North Dakota State advanced to the quarterfinals to face Patriot League champion Lehigh.
How did the Bison beat Lehigh in the quarterfinal round?
Brock Jensen accounted for three touchdowns and North Dakota State's defense produced a shutout in its 24-0 victory over the Mountain Hawks.
Sam Ojuri rushed for 136 yards to aid in the victory.
Jensen scored on a pair of one yard sneaks. He also found Holloway for a 38 yard score in the second quarter. Holloway tied a career-high with eight receptions.
Jastram kicked a 31 yard field goal just before halftime to give the Bison a 17-0 lead at the break.
North Dakota State recorded its first shutout since 2006 against Mississippi Valley State (45-0), and its first shutout in a playoff game since the 1990 Division II quarterfinals against Cal Poly (47-0).
The Bison moved on to the semi-final round to host third seeded Georgia Southern.
How did NDSU defeat Georgia Southern in the semi-final round?
Jensen accounted for 231 total yards despite playing with the flu and Holloway scored twice to help the Bison defeat Georgia Southern 35-7.
North Dakota State had 314 yards on the ground compared to 186 for Georgia Southern and its nationally famous triple option. It was the Eagles' second-lowest running total of the season.
The Bison outgained Georgia Southern 246-71 on the ground in the second half.
The Bison had a 451-333 yardage advantage in total offense. NDSU forced three turnovers and turned them all into touchdowns.
Holloway scored on a 19-yard reception from Jensen in the first quarter and a 17-yard run in the second quarter. Both came after Georgia Southern miscues, including a kickoff out of bounds late in the first half after the Eagles had tied the game 7-7.
Holloway's end-around rush gave the Bison a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Jensen gave the Bison breathing room with a 55-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter on a third down-and-3 play that made it 20-7.The touchdown capped a 96-yard drive after Travis Beck recovered a fumble when the Eagles were threatening to score.
Running backs Ojuri and McNorton, who combined to rush for 194 yards, added touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Jensen finished with a career-high rushing total of 94 yards.
NDSU advanced to their first Division I national title game with this win.
What is the prior history of postseason play for North Dakota State?
The Bison have made it to the FCS playoffs just once before and that was last year when they advanced to the quarterfinal round before falling 38-31 in overtime to eventual national champion Eastern Washington. NDSU won two games against Robert Morris and Montana State prior to that loss.
But NDSU has a storied Division II playoff history—making that division’s playoffs 17 seasons from 1976 to 2000. NDSU also played in six bowl games prior to the D-II playoffs starting in 1973.
In total, NDSU has won eight national titles in 1965, 1968, 1969, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, and 1990. NDSU also finished as the runner’s up in 1967, 1981 and 1984.
NDSU has a 30-12 record in the D-II playoffs and won five of their six bowl games.
Of the national championships during the D-II playoff era, NDSU went undefeated three times in 1986, 1988, and 1990 en route to those year’s national championships.
NDSU transitioned to Division I starting in the 2004 season.
Ready for Frisco
The Bison, like their opponent of Sam Houston State are been a relatively young team this year that has gelled after their playoff run a season ago. NDSU has just seven senior starters on their team this year and underclassmen play key roles as I mentioned above.
NDSU is only in its third year of being playoff and championship eligible so it is quite remarkable that the Bison are in the national title game. But as can be seen from their storied history, making playoff runs and championship games is something that this program is known for. We shall see January 7th in Frisco if the Bison will hoist their first Division I trophy.