How we got here
Coming into the championship, everyone knew these defenses were among the best in the country. They lived up to the billing. If you like hard-nosed, scratch-for-every inch-you-get football, this game was for you. In fact, swap the jerseys and put these teams in the Superdome and you might see the same kind of outcome on Monday. It really was that hard to move the ball on these Ds. Twice the NDSU defense came up with a stop on fourth-and-1, both when the Bearkats were handing off to All-American RB Tim Flanders, and got a big interception on third down midway through the fourth to essentially seal it. In the end, the 23 combined points was the fourth fewest points scored in an FCS championship game in history.
Big man on campus
Cole Jirik, who came into the game with 9.5 TFLs and 6.0 sacks to rank second on the squad, had a key fourth-down stop in the third quarter when Sam Houston State looked to be gaining momentum. It changed the flow of the game as the Bison D was re-energized, and went on to shut down the top-ranked scoring offense in the country. Sam Houston came in averaging 39.1 ppg, but was shut out for the first time in the third quarter this season as NDSU won the period 7-0. Jirik finished with five tackles (four solo) and a sack, and helped the Bison post a second-half shutout.
Where it was won
While the defenses were spectacular, there’s no question special teams were the turning point. Both squads madeplays but the Bison came up with more, especially when Matt Voigtlander was on the field. First, the converted running back had a career-long 66-yard punt in the first quarter. Then he had another 53-yarder in the third that was downed at the 1-yard line. He finished averaging 44.2 yards per punt with three downed inside the 20 and four of at least 50 yards to help the Bison win the battle of field position all day.
Play you had to see
No one expected it, making it obviously the right call. On fourth down during the first series of the second half, the Bison perfectly executed a fake punt, at a time that seemed like it was predetermined before coming out of the locker room. Voigtlander, who has rushed for more than 600 yards in his first three seasons before starting to take on spot punting duties, swept around left end and down the sideline, converting a fourth-and-4 to give NDSU a first down at the Sam Houston 39. The next play was a bubble screen to D.J. McNorton that went for a touchdown, turning the momentum back in NDSU’s favor for good.
Someone forgot to tell the teams they could extend a drive by making third downs. Together, they combined to go 5 of 31 on third downs, including a paltry 1 of 13 by North Dakota State. Maybe the biggest play of the game was Travis Beck’s interception for NDSU in the fourth quarter on a Sam Houston third-down attempt.
As expected, yardage was hard to come by on the ground for both teams, but it didn’t stop Sam Houston State RB Tim Flanders from putting his name atop yet another rushing chart. This time the sophomore from Midwest City, Okla., broke a Southland Conference record, as he finished the day with 84 rushing yards, pushing his season total to 1,644 yards. It’s the highest single-season total in league history, bettering the previous mark of 1,593 yards set in 1997 by Southwest Texas’ Claude Mathis.
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