FARGO — Maybe there was something in the lights at Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday night that illuminated the North Dakota State football players. Whatever it was, the first night game of the season for the Bison turned into a blowout at Youngstown State.
The 56-17 win was the worst home loss in the proud history of Youngstown football. If you would have asked NDSU head coach Matt Entz at the beginning of practice on Wednesday that the Bison would be that sharp, he may have had other thoughts.
It didn’t go so well in preparing for the Penguins.,
“I challenge them at the end, if you want to practice like an 8-4 team, then that’s the expectation,” Entz said. “But if not, we need to get better. I think that was heard by everyone, especially our upperclassmen. I do think our upperclassmen needed to realize they needed to do a better job of leading as well as our coaches of course. We’re getting down to the last three games of the season and we need to make every one of them count.”
The next one is Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Western Illinois at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Bison, 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, will be heavy favorites against the Leathernecks, who won their first game last week with a 38-34 win over the University of South Dakota.
WIU scored on a nine-yard run by Clint Ratkovich with 45 seconds left in the game.
“Anytime you play a Missouri Valley football team, I consider it a challenge,” Entz said. “And the message I’ll pass on to our kids today is Western Illinois had the same record we did last week and that was 1-0 so we need to make sure we’re ready to go. I don’t care what they’re record is; I’m sure they don’t care what ours is and they’ll come in here and give us everything they can.”
NDSU’s last appearance at the dome was a so-so 22-0 win over Missouri State. The Bison defense stuffed the Bears all day while the NDSU offense struggled to convert good field position into points.
Those factors aside, Entz said he’s getting a different vibe with his team in November than he did last month.
“I think our kids finally are starting to feel where they can be at,” Entz said. “Not that they’re content but they see the level of play that if they just show up and have a little bit of energy we can be special on any given Saturday.”
That energy was better than it was the previous eight games, Entz said, and at Youngstown resulted in a 42-7 halftime lead.
“If I could find a way to bottle that energy that was on the sideline, I would be a millionaire,” he said. “So that becomes the challenge for myself, my staff and our players and captains is how can we have that same energy again at home.”
Entz said he thought the locker room atmosphere was “louder” before the game than what it normally is.
“And that’s OK,” he said. “It’s a different team and you’ve heard me talk about you have to treat every year slightly different from the previous. Maybe this is more of a talkative group when you don’t have as many seniors or upperclassmen on it.”
Nationally, the Bison retained their No. 1 ranking in both the FCS coaches and STATS.com media polls. Northern Iowa made the biggest gain moving to No. 5 in the STATS and No. 7 in the coaches poll after a 27-10 win at top-10 team Illinois State.
It means the game of the week in the Valley on Saturday is Illinois State at South Dakota State, with the winner being in good position for the FCS playoffs.
Weber State had the other national splash victory last Saturday with a 36-17 win at Cal State Sacramento. It gives the Wildcats the inside track to the Big Sky Conference title with the University of North Dakota coming Weber this weekend.
Entz said safety/linebacker James Kaczor has an abdomen injury. His status for WIU has yet to be determined.
“He told me on the flight home I’ll be playing next week,” Entz said. “We’ll see if he’s at practice.”