Bison football suffers 'shocking' loss in FCS playoffs: Late defensive breakdown, Jensen fumble pivotal in OT defeatCHENEY, Wash. — Bo Levi Mitchell threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Hart on the first play of overtime and Eastern Washington recovered a goal-line fumble by quarterback Brock Jensen to beat North Dakota State 38-31 in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs Saturday.
By: Jeff Kolpack, INFORUM
CHENEY, Wash. – The light coating of snow turned the red Sprinturf field a shade of pink. It was the one color you probably wouldn’t associate with this game.
North Dakota State was 90 yards and 2 minutes, 29 seconds from hosting a semifinal game in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. But Eastern Washington wouldn’t have any of that, driving that distance to tie the game.
The Eagles scored on the first play in overtime. And that held up after the Bison fumbled into EWU’s end zone on their possession in a 38-31 quarterfinal victory before 4,060 cold fans at Roos Field. It was a heartbreaker for NDSU, which saw its season end at 9-5.
There was more action than a Bruce Willis movie. Each team returned a kickoff for a touchdown, NDSU’s Mike Sigers blocked two field goals and Bison cornerback Marcus Williams returned an interception for a touchdown.
“It was a crazy game,” said Bison running back D.J. McNorton. “It was a tough game. Up and down. So close.”
So close on the game’s final play in overtime, too, a fumble by NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen that went to a booth review. It was ruled not enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, and the players and fans from Eastern Washington swarmed the field.
Some NDSU players dropped to a knee, others took their helmets off and stared at the crowd. Some started walking, slowly, toward the locker room.
“I felt like we had that game,” said Bison linebacker Preston Evans. “All we had to do is get off the field in 90 yards. They were No. 1 in the poll, so you have to beat the best to be the best and today we didn’t do that.”
Leading 31-24, NDSU punter John Prelvitz pinned the Eagles at their 10-yard line with 2:29 remaining. With Eastern’s offense struggling in the second half and running back Taiwan Jones – who had 230 yards rushing – out with an injury, the Bison looked in good shape.
“It’s a little shocking,” said NDSU defensive end Coulter Boyer. “We’re up a touchdown with two minutes left and end up losing. You go from being happy and ecstatic to being down. A lot of my best friends are seniors and it makes us sad we can’t keep playing. They just executed at the right time.”
There were two fourth-down heroics by the Eagles on the drive and the first came on fourth-and-3 at the 17. A 6-yard pass from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to Ethen Robinson got the first down with 1:47 remaining.
The second was more remarkable on fourth-and-10. Mitchell pinpointed a pass across the middle to Greg Herd for 21 yards to the 44.
“All year we had to make teams go the long, hard way,” Evans said. “They did it. Usually, teams make mistakes. I don’t know what to say about it. We have to do better than that.”
The long pass of the drive was 44 yards to Nicholas Edwards that got to the 16 with 43 seconds remaining. But the Eagles still faced third-and-12 when Bison cornerback Freddie Banks was called for pass interference in the end zone.
“Two minutes to go and 90 yards … I don’t get into doubt or not,” said EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. “I get in, ‘This is where we’re at.’ ”
The Eagles tied it on the next play, a nice fade pass to the 6-3 Edwards. That brought on NDSU’s first overtime game since 2003 and first overtime playoff game since a three-overtime win over Pittsburg State (Kan.) in the 1994 Division II first round.
The college rules dictate each team gets the ball at the 25-yard line. NDSU won the coin toss and opted to go on defense first. It didn’t last long.
Mitchell found an open Tyler Hart for a touchdown, meaning the Bison had to score on their possession or the game was over. McNorton converted a third-and-6 from the 14-yard line with a 7-yard run. On third-and-9, Jensen picked up 9 yards and the Bison were first-and-goal from the 4.
McNorton got to the 3. The next play proved to be NDSU’s last of the season.
Eastern Washington will host Villanova, which defeated Appalachian State on Saturday. NDSU will have to call it a “good run” in its first-ever FCS playoff appearance.
“It’s a disappointing loss, but we’re pleased to get into these playoffs and go as far as we did,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “You know going in at the end of the day four teams are left playing and we got eliminated by a good football team.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia