FRISCO, Texas — It only makes sense to keep the football in the hands of the best offensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision in the national title game.
So that's what North Dakota State did.
Bison quarterback Trey Lance carried 30 times for a game-high 166 yards and a touchdown Saturday, Jan. 11, to lead NDSU over James Madison 28-20 in the championship game at Toyota Stadium.
Lance's and NDSU's previous high for carries in a game was 18 at South Dakota State in October. He had 16 by halftime against the Dukes.
"It would probably not be wise to take the ball out of the hands of the best offensive player in FCS football," Bison offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl said. "He can rest up for awhile after this one. Keep the ball in his hands. He's a heckuva a player. You really can't say much more about the kid."
Lance was named the FCS Walter Payton Award winner on Friday night, given to the player voted best offensive player in the division.
NDSU quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg said running Lance a lot was the plan since the Bison and Dukes qualified for the title game in December. The Bison often had fullback Hunter Luepke in the backfield to provide a lead blocker for Lance.
"That was the plan. We knew we were going to run him. We didn't have any games left, so we knew we were going to run him," Hedberg said. "Thirty times? We thought 25 would probably be the number. It worked out well, that's for sure."
The last time a player rushed for more than 150 yards against James Madison was when Elon's Malcolm Summers had 185 in Oct. 2018. The Dukes entered the championship game allowing an FCS-low 61 rushing yards per game.
"He's hard to tackle sometimes. He can be. But we had opportunities to get him down but we just didn't," JMU defensive lineman Ron'Dell Carter said.
Sproles' TD was 3 weeks in the making
Bison sophomore receiver Phoenix Sproles said the NDSU offensive staff changed up the playbook for the JMU game, the result of three weeks to prepare for an opponent. He specifically pointed to offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl for “cooking up new plays for this game.”
“We had a lot of other plays we took out of the playbook just for this game,” Sproles said. “We wanted to be ready with everything we could to put some points on the board.”
Sproles did his part on the first play of the second quarter. He faked a reverse to receiver Christian Watson, a play that appeared to momentarily freeze the JMU defense, and went 38 yards down the left side for a touchdown. It gave the Bison a 14-7 lead that they would never surrender.
“It started up front with the offensive linemen, those guys were killing it and everyone made their blocks,” Sproles said. “Christian sold the fake. We had been running it for three weeks in winter camp and it worked out perfectly.”
It was just the fourth time Sproles has carried the ball this season, but he has two touchdowns.
James Madison trick play doesn't pay off
James Madison dipped into its bag of tricks on the Dukes final drive in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Ben DiNucci, who was lined up at wide receiver, caught a lateral pass from reserve quarterback Gage Moloney. DiNucci was then pressured and sacked by Bison linebacker Jabril Cox for a loss of eight yards.
That play gave the Dukes a second-and-18 from their own 43-yard line. James Madison overcame the big loss, eventually getting a first down three plays later to extend the drive.
"The trick play obviously didn't work," James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti said. "We'll put that one away for a long time. The last two times that one hadn't worked, but we overcame it."
Reinholz returns for Bison
Jake Reinholz returned as the Bison's kicker, replacing Griffin Crosa. Reinholz began the season as the Bison's No. 1 kicker, but sustained a leg injury in the season-opener against Butler at Target Field.
Reinholz kicked four extra points against the Dukes.
"We were excited to have Reiny back today. It had been a long year for him. But we felt good about it," Bison coach Matt Entz said.
Crosa was the Bison's leading scorer with 93 points. He made 11 of 15 field goals and 60 of 61 PATs this season.