FRISCO, Texas -- They came 16 years apart, fake field goals by North Dakota State, but both will have their place in Bison football laurels.
NDSU senior James Hendricks ran for a touchdown off a fake in the second quarter Saturday in the Division I FCS national title game against James Madison at Toyota Stadium.
It gave the Bison a two-possession lead and ultimately was the game-winning points in the 28-20 victory, NDSU’s eighth national title in nine years. The last time the Bison were successful on a fake field goal was in 2003 when Rod Malone threw a touchdown pass to a diving Mike Wieser in the 25-24 upset at the University of Montana.
NDSU was a Division II school in those days and the Grizzlies were the power of the FCS. It was considered the game that jump-started NDSU’s Division I transition. On that play, holder John Bonicelli flipped the ball to Malone who then tossed a pass in the back of the end zone to Wieser with 2:13 left in the game.
That play covered 20 yards.
Hendricks scored from the same distance against JMU.
“Coaches had confidence in us to make plays like that,” said Bison tight end Ben Ellefson. “James is a smart guy, smart football player. So it was a look that we had been running this whole week. When you’re prepared like that, it makes it easy to go out there and cut it loose. We just had to cut it loose and make the play.”
The play was actually three weeks in the making, put together as the result of preparing for JMU since the semifinal victory over Montana State. The assistant responsible for coaching it, AJ Blazek, said the play was called “Bison fake.”
“You’re just trying to find something on film you liked, little wrinkles they showed during the season,” Blazek said of JMU. “Our kids bought into it, watched the heck out of the tape and they were ready for it.”
NDSU was ready for a jolt of something when the play happened. Leading 14-10, the Bison overcame a second-and-20 at their own 9-yard line with the help of a facemask penalty on the Dukes. The drive reached the JMU 18-yard line and it appeared the Bison scored on a touchdown pass to Ellefson.
But it was called back because of an ineligible receiver downfield penalty, making it second-and-11 from the 23.
At that point, Blazek said head coach Matt Entz told offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl to make sure to have two plays “dialed up.” Blazek said he reminded Entz at that point “don’t forget the fake field goal.”
Quarterback Trey Lance got three yards on third down making it fourth-and-8.
“And we turned around, (Entz) looked at me with the big eyes and said, ‘Bison Up,’” Blazek said. “The kids knew it, it was on the hash, it was ready to go and it was everything we prepared for.”
“James Madison has not let very many people score touchdowns,” Entz said. “But the one thing they had shown is they lined up the exact same way every time after a touchdown to block extra points and/or a field goal. We knew we had the numbers over there so we took advantage of it.”
The normal holder for the Bison field goal team is punter Garret Wegner. But in this case, Hendricks trotted on the field.
On the other side of the field, JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said his team was in “a block that was very sound, not high risk.”
“We just had guys not do their job on the offensive left side, our right,” Cignetti said. “We have a morning coaches meeting before every game. Today was at 6:30. We talked about the fake field goal.”
Hendricks took the snap, got up off of one knee and immediately found an opening to the left side. Ellefson had a key block knocking out the JMU player on the left edge. Hendricks easily scored making it 21-10.
“It helped us because we were struggling a bit in the red zone,” Blazek said. “Matt ‘The Riverboat Gambler’ Entz.”