Bison hang on for 14-7 quarterfinal win over WoffordFARGO – The North Dakota State defense pitched another playoff shutout Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field.
By: Eric Peterson, INFORUM
FARGO – The North Dakota State defense pitched another playoff shutout Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field.
The No. 1-ranked Bison didn’t allow an offensive touchdown against Wofford, which featured a high-powered running game. That stinginess vaulted the Bison to a 14-7 victory against the No. 9-ranked Terriers in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals before 18,267 fans.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” said Bison junior linebacker Grant Olson, who had a school-record 29 tackles. “Any time you can do that, it is such an accomplishment at this level.”
The Bison (12-1) will play No. 7-ranked Georgia Southern in the semifinals next weekend in the Fargodome. The game is a rematch of last year’s semifinals, when NDSU earned a 35-7 victory in that matchup.
“It’s hard to do,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said. “Any teams that get back in the semis, you are doing some exceptional things. … We have a great deal of respect for Georgia Southern.”
The Bison defense has yet to allow a touchdown this postseason. NDSU earned a 28-3 victory against South Dakota State in the second round and followed that with Saturday’s 14-7 victory against Wofford. The Terriers’ points came off an interception return for a touchdown.
“We had guys who put their heart and soul into the game,” said Wofford head coach Mike Ayers. “I feel like it was a great game. I have great respect for North Dakota State.”
Neither team scored in the second half, even though Wofford drove the ball inside the Bison 10-yard line on two drives in the fourth quarter. NDSU blocked a 26-yard field goal attempt on one occasion and stopped Wofford on downs at the 6-yard line with 3:24 remaining in the game.
“They told us to leave our hearts out there, and that’s what we did,” Olson said. “That was just a phenomenal team win.”
The Bison defense forced two fumbles and recovered both.
“You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win games against the No. 1 team in the nation,” said Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein, who rushed for 135 yards on 24 attempts.
Bison sophomore linebacker Travis Beck caused the first one that stalled Wofford’s first drive of the game in NDSU territory.
Sophomore defensive end Kyle Emanuel caused the second fumble, which came on Wofford’s first drive in the second half. There was some confusion on the play, because when Emanuel punched the ball from Wofford quarterback Brian Kass, the ball popped high in the air and forward for around 20 yards. Some of the players downfield thought it was an incomplete pass, Beck said.
Bison senior cornerback Andre Martin recovered the loose ball at the Bison 19 with 11:42 remaining in the third quarter, helping NDSU preserve its 14-7 lead.
“We want turnovers every game,” Beck said. “Kyle, that was an amazing play.”
The Wofford defense also caused two turnovers, turning one into instant points. Terriers cornerback Blake Wylie intercepted a Brock Jensen pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown, which tied the score at 7-7 with 14:06 to play in the second quarter.
“In the end, it wasn’t enough to help us get the win,” Wylie said.
The Bison scored on their final drive of the first half when Jensen tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Zach Vraa to make it 14-7 with 1:02 remaining in the second quarter. The NDSU defense made that lead stand.
Seven points tied Wofford’s season-low for points in a game this season. The Terriers had a 24-7 loss against South Carolina, an FBS team that plays in the Southeastern Conference. The Bison’s 14 points also tied a season low. NDSU scored that same total in a 17-14 home loss against Indiana State in the regular season.
“I think both teams laid it on the line today. They got after it,” Ayers said. “When people say it’s a difficult place to play, they’re not kidding. … I was honored to be in this game.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.
Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com