FARGO — The 2013 Division I FCS season ended with the North Dakota State football players on the north stage of Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, celebrating a third straight national title. Brock Jensen, the Bison quarterback, was among them.
It ended an unbeaten 15-0 season for NDSU in a year when the FCS had some star power. One of those star players, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, will take center stage on Sunday in the Super Bowl when his San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Garoppolo won the Walter Payton Award in 2013 that goes to the best offensive player in the FCS. Jensen finished fourth that season in one of the most impressive individual statistical years in FCS history. Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdown passes against nine interceptions.
Eastern, however, eventually fell to Towson in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.
“I’d take the wins and rings any day of the week and twice on Saturday over the Payton Award,” Jensen said Thursday.
Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams, who finished second, threw for 4,600 yards and 53 touchdowns and also rushed for 540 yards. Towson running back Terrance West was third in the voting after rushing for 1,875 yards and 31 touchdowns.
This year’s passing leader, Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus, threw for over 1,000 yards fewer than Garoppolo did in 2013.
Garoppolo was the far-and-away winner with 74 first place votes. Jensen had eight.
“It definitely was a strong and competitive field,” Jensen said. “I had a great stat year but it didn’t hold a torch to Jimmy. He did throw the ball on first, second and third down though. Think that helps the stat line a bit?”
Jensen completed 218 of 329 passes (Garoppolo attempted 568) for 2,793 yards and 34 touchdowns. He ran for 479 yards.
“I also played until halftime in about five, six games that season,” Jensen said. “But I agree. Those two guys (Garoppolo and Adams) had and are still having great careers. Kudos to them.”
West played for four different NFL teams, the last with the New Orleans Saints in 2018. Adams was the starting quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL last season and threw for 3,942 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was named the team’s most valuable player.
Sunday will be a rare Super Bowl year in the last several years where there isn’t some sort of Bison connection.
Linebacker Ramon Humber played for the New England Patriots last year. He also played for Indianapolis in his 2009 rookie season. Quarterback Carson Wentz, although hurt, was part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl winning team in 2018.
There are a few NDSU/FCS connections to this year’s game, however. The backup defensive tackle for the Chiefs is Khalen Saunders, who at Western Illinois in 2018, made life tough on the Bison.
The starting and backup tight ends for the 49ers both played against NDSU; George Kittle at Iowa in 2016 and Ross Dwelley at San Diego in the 2017 playoffs. San Francisco receiver Kendrick Bourne played at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in 2016 when the Bison edged Eastern Washington 50-44 in overtime.
Garoppolo, according to STATS.com, is the seventh FCS quarterback to start in a Super Bowl joining Morehead State’s Phil Simms (New York Giants), Northern Iowa’s Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams), Delaware’s Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) and Rich Gannon (Oakland Raiders), Alcorn State’s Steve McNair (Tennessee Titans) and Northeast Louisiana’s Stan Humphries (San Diego Chargers).