FRISCO, Texas – NCAA.com – North Dakota State etched its name in FCS lore with back-to-back titles by doing what NDSU does best: grinding the ball while eating the clock, capitalizing on mistakes — and punching the ball into the end zone.
The Bison rushed for 300 yards and held the ball for 30:13, forced four turnovers and outscored Sam Houston State 39-13 on Saturday to win the FCS National Championship Game.
“Quite frankly I was a little bit surprised at the margin of victory in the second half,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said.
At least one of the Bison linemen wasn’t. “We went into the locker room at halftime and talked with our coaches and realized that we didn’t really have a lot of adjustments because most of the stuff we were doing was working and it was going the way that we planned it to,” NDSU tackle Billy Turner said.
“At halftime [the coaches] told us once we get back out there and get the ball, we’re just going to take it and start pounding it, and you know, like it worked all year long, once we get the ball in the second half and keep pounding the ball down the middle, eventually they start bending and breaking.
“And as you can see, things started moving and we broke a couple plays off, and then the next thing you know, the score ends up like it was,” he said.
Tied at 10 at halftime, North Dakota State flexed its muscle in the second half, scoring touchdowns — two on the heels of SHSU turnovers — on its first four possessions. Relying on its strength, NDSU controlled the final 30 minutes by rushing 30 times and attempting only four passes.
“We’re a really physical football team,” said Bohl, whose team has outscored Sam Houston State 49-3 in the second half of the past two championship games. “We’re going to be disciplined, play all three elements of the game. But when you really cut the veneer off the table, we’re going to be really hard-nosed.
“The legacy of North Dakota State through and through in years and years has always been a hard-nosed, blue-collar, tough mentality, and that’s who we are.”
Sam Houston State’s second-half turnovers were the difference, and Bearkats head coach Willie Fritz complimented NDSU for taking advantage. “I thought we had some opportunities. The ball didn’t bounce our way a couple times on some big plays,” he said. “But they did a very good job and really ran the ball well against us. I want to give them a lot of credit for doing a sensational job.”
Fritz was even more complimentary of the North Dakota State defense: “We’d compare them with [Texas] A&M and Baylor. They stay over the top, tackle real well, don’t make very many mistakes, got to earn every yard you get. They do an excellent job.”
The Bison yielded 116 rushing yards, 391 passing yards and held SHSU to 6 of 13 on third-down conversions and 0-for-1 on fourth down.
NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen, who was named the game’s most outstanding player, scored two times in the pivotal second half. He finished 9 of 16 for 115 yards passing and rushed for 44 yards and three TDs.
Jensen also guided the Bison to last year’s banner and reflected on how the coaches and players prepared to defend their championship trophy. “It’s got to be the hardest thing to do in sports — repeat a championship, go back-to-back, especially a national championship. … It takes a great deal of resiliency from a group of young men like us and also our coaching staff.
“[I] can’t say enough about them putting us in the right position, keeping us focused all year long, putting goals out there for us to be able to reach, and just driving us as hard as they can to just motivate us to reach those goals, because they know that coming into the year that there’s a lot of potential for this team. Just goes without saying how great these coaches are to really just motivate this team and make sure that we captured the goals that we had coming into the year.”
Jensen’s first score of the second half capped a 10-play, 60-yard drive that began after the Bison’s Carlton Littlejohn picked off Sam Houston State QB Brian Bell. The possession consumed 4:29 of the third-quarter clock and gave North Dakota State a 17-10 lead — an advantage the Bison would not relinquish.
SHSU had six possessions in the second half — three ended with interceptions, another was squelched on a fourth-and-1. The only points the Bearkats managed came from a 32-yard field goal by Miguel Antonio to trim the deficit to 25-13.
”The turnovers were really critical, us being able to control the line of scrimmage. That was really important,” Bohl said. “I thought defensively we gave up some yards but did a good job keeping them out of the end zone, and it’s very rewarding to win back-to-back national championships.”
North Dakota State is the fourth FCS program to win consecutive titles and the victory elevates the Bison program to an elite level. “It’s extremely hard to do, and it’s … once you do that, I think you now transition the program into a pretty premier program when you’ve been able to go back-to-back,” Bohl said.
For Sam Houston State, the second-half missteps will be replayed in the Bearkats’ mind’s eye — a painful reminder of what could have been.
“One of the things we talk about at Sam Houston, we have a plan to win, and the first thing in that plan to win is turnover/takeaway margin,” Fritz said. “In my 20-year career as a head coach, [when] we’re plus-1 we’ve won 92 percent of our games — and minus-4 [Saturday]. You’re just not going to win with minus-4.
“[North Dakota State] had some timely interceptions and we didn’t get any takeaways. It’s just hard to win. If it would have been zero, I think it would have been pretty close. So that was a big statistic in the game, along with the rushing, as well.”