Six years ago, NDSU and Eastern Washington played a game for the ages
FARGO—It will forever go down as one of the most controversial plays in the history of North Dakota State football. And the answer to the question depends on whether you played for NDSU or Eastern Washington.
Was it a fumble?
The 2010 quarterfinal FCS playoff game in Cheney, Wash., had more drama than a season's worth of Kardashian reality TV shows—and that was before the final play. But with the red turf at Roos Field looking pink as the result of falling snow, with both teams exhausted from an epic afternoon battle that ended under the lights, the referees and subsequent replay booth official ruled that NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen did fumble in overtime, thus preserving a 38-31 Eagles win.
"I remember the lows were as low as can be and the highs were as high as can be," said Bison defensive line coach Nick Goeser. "But that's the way a lot of good football games are against really good opponents."
Those opponents will meet for the first time since that December day this Saturday, Sept. 10, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Certainly, YouTube may get a few views of the 2010 game this week by fans and former players of both teams.
The cast of characters from that game still remember it well. Even before a CFL game. Once, when Ottawa played Edmonton, the Redblacks' Jensen went up to Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt after the game and replayed their college battle.
Sherritt was the Eagles linebacker who tackled Jensen on the last play.
"We didn't talk specifically about that play but Brock came up to me and said you broke my heart," Sherritt said. "But he has more rings so we called it even."
Eastern went on to win the FCS national title in 2010, while Jensen led the Bison to the next three FCS championships.
For Jensen and the Bison on that December day in Cheney, it came down to one play. It was one NDSU was successful several times, especially over the course of the second half. Jensen appeared to call an audible before the snap, turning to fullback Andrew Grothmann and running back Mike Sigers to make sure they knew the call.
He took the snap, reversed pivoted and started an option play to the left side. Grothmann took out one of the inside linebackers with a successful block near the line of scrimmage while Sigers was the trailing back waiting for a pitch.
He would not get the ball.
Jensen saw a gap and immediately headed for the goal line before Sherritt tackled him around the 3-yard line. Jensen powered through Sherritt, but cornerback Allen Brown came in with some help and the two defenders got the spinning quarterback down just inside the 1.
That's when the ball came out.
NDSU receiver Warren Holloway appeared to have the first shot at a recovery, but couldn't get a handle on it in the wet snow. Linebacker Zach Johnson didn't let it get away and he came out of a small pile running with the ball and proclaiming a recovery.
The Eastern sideline was jumping all over the place, for a few moments anyway. NDSU head coach Craig Bohl was vociferously calling for a review, which happened.
"The replay took for ..... ever," Sherritt said. "I couldn't believe how long it took."
Meanwhile, Goeser was looking at the replay and saying, "Man, no way that could have been a fumble." He told the assistants through the headsets that he believed the Bison offense would get another chance. The initial reaction of the television play-by-play announcer was Jensen was down before the ball came out. The color analyst said the same thing during slow-motion replay.
On the other hand, Sherritt said he figured at the time that the review would stand because when he tackled Jensen, the quarterback came down on top of him.
"I knew we had a shot because it felt like his knees landed on top of me instead of on the ground," he said. "If it's close you have a good shot to win it."
NDSU assistant Tim Polasek wasn't as confident for his team, noting that there weren't very many camera angles to look at.
"You look around and you didn't see a ton of cameras," he said. "It just felt like it wasn't going to happen."
The officials confirmed the call and the EWU sideline celebrated. Jensen knelt in disbelief.
Now, nearly six years later, the players and coaches involved in that game remember not only that play but a game that featured two talented teams.
Polasek said it was a lesson learned for his quarterbacks, to not reach out with the ball toward the goal line on anything other than fourth down. That was a second down play.
Sherritt said it remains to this day one of the more physical games he's played in. Several are still playing professionally. For NDSU, besides Jensen, it's cornerback Marcus Williams (New York Jets), receiver Ryan Smith (Winnipeg Jets) and offensive tackle Billy Turner (Miami Dolphins), all of whom were freshmen that season.
Eastern, besides Sherritt, has Taiwan Jones with the Oakland Raiders, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell with the Calgary Stampeders and cornerback T.J. Lee III with the British Columbia Lions.
"Most of the (FCS) guys have a tight-knit bond," Sherritt said. "As long as we're not trying to beat each other, we're rooting for each other."
Sherritt said he's hoping for an Eastern win on Saturday so he can use it as friendly trash talk with Jensen and Smith. Jensen's Redblacks were on the road this week followed by a bye next week and couldn't be reached for comment.
That Eastern game was a rare defeat for the winningest quarterback in FCS history.
NDSU may have lost the game, but Polasek and Goeser both are convinced that was the origin of the five straight titles. It was NDSU's first time in the FCS playoffs and after beating the Bison showed they could compete with anybody.
"That was the start of all this stuff," Polasek said. "It didn't go our way but what momentum it created for the future of North Dakota State football."
Up next: Eastern Washington at NDSU
When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10
TV: NBC N.D. Network / ESPN3