Jensen, defense lead NDSU to title
Bison take down Bearkats, win first FCS national championship
FRISCO, Texas -- North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen made the most of the big plays by special teams and defense, and the Bison are finally champions again.
This title comes at a higher level.
Jensen threw a touchdown pass right after a fake punt, then had a 1-yard keeper for another score after a long interception return and the Bison beat top-seeded Sam Houston State 17-6 in their first FCS championship game Saturday.
“There was a real resolve and determination, especially by our seniors. We had a couple of tough years here,” coach Craig Bohl said. “Our guys wanted to make sure we returned Bison football to national prominence. It’s not easy to do. I want to thank them because today we returned Bison football to national prominence.”
The Bison (14-1) won the last of their five NCAA Division II national championship game victories in 1990, and claimed three other titles before the first championship game was played in 1973. This was their first title game since moving to the higher division in 2004.
“To come in and hold a team like Sam Houston to six points is a big deal,” linebacker Chad Willson said. “This is the best defensive game we’ve played this year.”
Sam Houston (14-1) had its lowest-scoring game of the season, 33 points below its FCS-best average, and was denied an undefeated season and its first Football Championship Subdivision title. The Bearkats had only 210 total yards.
North Dakota State wasn’t much better on offense, with only nine first downs and 235 total yards. They didn’t even have a first down on their last four possessions before halftime, and started the third quarter facing another fourth down.
That’s when punter Matt Voigtlander, who also is listed as a running back, took off and ran 27 yards on fourth-and-4.
“We had not run a fake all year. It was something we kept in our hip pocket,” Bohl said. “We needed to establish some momentum. We were disappointed we couldn’t get a first down in a normal way. Things were right and our players executed a right idea.”
Voigtlander made the call for the fake when he looked outside and saw a wide-open lane.
“As open as it was, just about anyone could have done what I did,” he said.
On the next play, Jensen threw a screen pass to D.J. McNorton, who then ran straight up to the field for a 39-yard touchdown play and a 10-6 lead.
“It was a momentum changer,” Bearkats coach Willie Fritz said. “We’re not a team that’s used to playing from behind.”
North Dakota State had only one more first down after that until starting at the 1 following linebacker Travis Beck’s interception and 63-yard return. Beck picked off the underthrown pass by Brian Bell, who managed to keep Beck out of the end zone despite his desperate leap trying to score.
On the next play, Jensen plunged in for the touchdown with 8:45 left.
“It hit me right in the chest,” Beck said. “I said, `I better catch this one.’ I did what I could, but I couldn’t get in. Luckily, the offense finished it off.”
Jensen finished 10 of 20 for 120 yards passing with an interception. Bell threw two interceptions and completed 12 of 31 passes for 115 yards.
It is the fourth consecutive year with a first-time FBS champion.
A crowd of 20,586 packed the professional soccer stadium in the suburb north of Dallas. The crowd was split fairly evenly among fans from Sam Houston State, which has its campus about 200 miles south, and North Dakota State located more than 1,000 miles north.
This was the second of a three-year commitment for the game in Frisco after 13 years in a row in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Sam Houston State opened with its lowest-scoring half of the season, but led 6-3 after Craig Alaniz kicked two field goals in the final 2:18 of the first half. The Bearkats, who failed to convert two earlier turnovers into points, followed that with a scoreless second half.
Alaniz kicked a 24-yard field goal with 2:18 left in the first half, capping a 41-yard drive on which Tim Flanders had carries of 15, 13 and 10 yards before being stuffed for no gain and a loss of 1 after Sam Houston got to the 6.
Flanders, who had 287 yards on 26 carries in the semifinal victory over Montana, ran 21 times for 84 yards in the finale.
After a three-and-out by North Dakota State, the Bearkats to a 31-yard field goal from Alaniz with 40 seconds left.
The Bearkats took over at the North Dakota State 41 midway through the first quarter when Sam Ojuri fumbled in the backfield after taking a handoff.
Flanders ran for 9 yards on the next play, but Sam Houston didn’t gain another yard on that drive. Brian Bell was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-1 keeper when he ran into a wall of defenders at the line and was unable to surge forward.
North Dakota State led 3-0 when Ryan Jastram kicked a 19-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter, ending a drive when Matt Veldman had a 29-yard catch lunging with his arms full extended and Ryan Smith’s 14-yard catch on third-and-6 when Jensen threw just before being hit from behind.
Jensen threw only his fourth interception of the season early in the second quarter. Kenneth Jenkins picked off an underthrown ball at the 35, but the Bearkats had only one first down before punting.
“Obviously, we would have liked a better outcome. North Dakota State did a heck of a job. Their defense played well and we really struggled,” center Travis Watson said. “They played us well and got us out of our rhythm.”