FRISCO, Texas — Carson Wentz may have thrown his final pass in a North Dakota State uniform two years ago but the Wentz name lives on in Fargo as the Bison go for their sixth FCS championship in seven years Saturday against James Madison.
Tight end Connor Wentz, Carson's cousin, is one of 20 seniors on the Bison's roster that's hungry for another title. And after finishing with just 15 combined catches over his first three seasons, Wentz has become an improved all-around contributor this year for the second-ranked offense in the nation.
Wentz finished with career-highs in receptions (12), receiving yards (186) and touchdowns (five) for the 13-1 Bison. Despite the limited targets, he finds himself second on the team with those five receiving touchdowns — including a 48-yard score in this year's playoff game against Wofford. His increased threat as a receiver, to go along with his already exceptional pass blocking skills, has been a welcome sight in Fargo.
“In the offseason, I worked really hard on getting in and out of breaks and trying to speed up things and really knowing what I needed to do to win on routes," Wentz said at Thursday's FCS Championship media day. "Pass blocking, I’ve always been proud of myself on that, and that always stay true.”
Wentz said he's looking forward to a rematch with James Madison, who stopped NDSU's five-year title streak in last year's semifinals. He added that the key to approaching JMU's dangerous secondary is to keep them off-balance with a healthy dose of running plays and short passes.
“We know as a receiving corps, we have to take that out of play. We have to get the ball to our receivers and let them run with it," he said. "Pass protection also has to be perfect because their D-line is really good too. But that secondary, we have to slow them down with run action, quick game, that kind of deal.”
The Dukes have forced a new FCS single-season record 43 turnovers on the year — including 10 in their semifinals win over South Dakota State.
Wentz was honored as a first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection (at fullback) for his work this season. That's an achievement that even his cousin, a Pro Bowler for the Philadelphia Eagles this season, never accomplished.
Wentz said that he hasn't talked to Carson yet this week about the game but wouldn't be surprised if the former Bison quarterback sends a message before Saturday's kickoff. He added that Carson would "absolutely" tune in to watch the game.
“I haven’t talked to Carson but I’m sure he’ll have something Friday or Saturday for us to give us a little bump of encouragement," Wentz said. "But he knows we’ve been here before, he knows what the coaches expect from us and he knows we know how to go out here and win a ballgame.”