FARGO — North Dakota State and Eastern Washington have only met four times in their Football Championship Subdivision history, but three of the games have been among the most memorable in the Bison's NCAA Division I history.
Will Saturday's FCS playoff first-round game be added to that list? The Bison and Eagles are scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. at the Fargodome, the third postseason meeting between the programs.
The four previous games between the teams include:
- Eastern Washington's classic 38-31 overtime win over the Bison in the 2010 playoff quarterfinals in Cheney, Wash.
- NDSU's rollercoaster 50-44 overtime victory over the Eagles in September 2016 at the Fargodome.
- The Bison's easy 40-13 win at Eastern Washington in September 2017.
- NDSU's 38-24 victory over the Eagles in the FCS title game to cap the 2018 season.
There are a handful of players left on each team from the most recent game, which was played in January 2019 in Frisco, Texas, but Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best said not to put much stock in that.
"I would guard against that team versus this team playing," Best said. "There is a lot of new personnel. I don’t look at past games determining future results."
EWU 38, NDSU 31 (OT)
A game that Bison fans still allow to grind their gears. NDSU took a 31-24 lead with 2:29 left in the fourth quarter and pinned the Eagles at their own 10-yard line. But EWU drove the length of the field for a late TD and scored on the first play of overtime to make it 38-31.
Then came the play that will live in Bison infamy. Quarterback Brock Jensen fumbled on NDSU's OT possession and the Eagles recovered in their end zone. NDSU insisted Jensen was down. Replay was inconclusive. The ruling on the field that Jensen lost the ball stood and the Eagles moved onto the semifinals, eventually winning the national title.
"There was more action than a Bruce Willis movie. Each team returned a kickoff for a touchdown, NDSU’s Mike Sigers blocked two field goals and Bison cornerback Marcus Williams returned an interception for a touchdown," The Forum's Jeff Kolpack wrote.
"It was a crazy game," said Bison running back D.J. McNorton. "It was a tough game. Up and down. So close."
It was the game that was said to have launched NDSU's current dynasty. The Bison wouldn't lose another playoff game until 2016, winning 22 in a row. NDSU won five straight national titles in that span.
NDSU 50, EWU 44 (OT)
The Bison and Eagles didn't play again until September 2016 in a nonconference game at the Fargodome. The stakes weren't as high as the first meeting, but the entertainment value was.
"Four hours and six minutes, nine official reviews, one overtime and two offensively explosive teams that combined for over 1,000 total yards later, North Dakota State looked almost too tired to celebrate a stirring 50-44 win over Eastern Washington Saturday afternoon, which turned into early Saturday evening," Kolpack wrote. "It can’t be confirmed, but there were almost 19,000 fans leaving Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in need of oxygen."
The game ended when running back Lance Dunn scored on the first play after NDSU’s Tre Dempsey picked off Eastern Washington on its overtime possession.
EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud threw for 450 yards, helped by the fact his receiving corps included three future NFL receivers. Dunn ran for 128 yards. Bison linebacker Nick DeLuca returned an interception 40 yards for a TD.
NDSU 40, EWU 13
The least entertaining of the four previous meetings, thanks to dominant performances by the Bison's offense and defense. NDSU ran for 375 yards and outscored the Eagles 21-3 in the second half to cruise.
Some Bison fans who traveled to Cheney brought signs referencing EWU's overtime victory in 2010.
Columnist Mike McFeely wrote:
"Bison fans have long memories, apparently, and wanted revenge for a game that happened seven years ago. They got it, although in the end it was probably a little unfulfilling.
"The expectation was that Saturday’s FCS Division I football game between NDSU and Eastern Washington was going to be clash of titans.
"The expectation was that it was going to match the excitement of the first two times the teams met — that time in 2010 and last year’s overtime thriller in Fargo.
"The expectation was that it was going to be a battle of a high-flying offense and a lockdown defense.
"It was none of those things. It wasn’t even close to any of those things. It was just plain ugly for the home team."
NDSU 38, EWU 24
The Bison won their seventh FCS title (they've since won their eighth) by overpowering the Eagles at Toyota Stadium in Texas. It was Easton Stick's last game as NDSU's quarterback and Chris Klieman's last game as Bison head coach. Stick ended his career 49-3 as a starter and is in the NFL. Klieman is coach at Kansas State.
NDSU led the entire game and went up 31-17 on a 78-yard TD pass from Stick to Darrius Shepherd. EWU made it 31-24 after recovering an onside kick and going on a quick scoring drive, but the Bison iced it when Stick sprinted 46 yards for a touchdown with 1:16 left.
"These senior-laden Bison finished 15-0, an unblemished season just like the Bison of 2013," McFeely wrote. "This team vaulted itself into the discussion as one of the greatest FCS teams in history, just like the seniors and Klieman talked about last July when they gathered for a preseason dinner. Reality met destiny.
"This was a movie that had to end just so, and it did. Klieman, the popular coach who is leaving NDSU for a new job at Kansas State, won the big game. It was clinched when his most popular senior, quarterback Easton Stick, dashed 46 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to secure the outcome.
"Stick slowed down as he approached the end zone, seeming to savor the moment, before crossing the goal line and thrusting both hands into the air as a wide smile came across his face. The winningest quarterback in FCS would go out a winner.
"A perfect ending.
"'Fifteen and oh. To end it with a national championship. Boy, it doesn’t end any better than that. The story is complete,' Klieman said."
There will be more chapters in the NDSU-EWU book no matter how Saturday's game turns out. The Bison and Eagles are in discussions to play a nonconference game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in 2023.