The outcome on Saturday afternoon was determined the day Valparaiso signed the contract to play a game at North Dakota State. It’s just the way college football is in the nonconference.
Football is hard.
The Bison learned that lesson in 2016 when they opened with consecutive overtime wins over highly regarded FCS teams Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington. That was followed with the historic win at the University of Iowa. That season ended with a semifinal loss at home to James Madison and three nonconference grinders didn’t exactly help the health status of that Bison team in December.
Why play Valparaiso? Why did Alabama play Mercer on Saturday? Why did South Dakota State play Lindenwood (Mo.)? The Missouri Valley Football Conference is hard enough for eight straight weeks in October and November. Like it or not, the good programs have nonconference formulas.
In NDSU’s case, it’s play a lower-level team like Valparaiso and take a 64-0 win. It wasn’t free; it cost the Bison a $240,000 guarantee. Add to that an FBS game (which will happen next year at Arizona) and a good FCS game (which will happen next week at Towson).
Opponent aside, the Bison played well for four quarters.
“It was awesome,” said Bison safety Michael Tutsie. “We always respect any opponent that comes in here. From the get-go, from Play 1, we were playing fast and physical.”
There were other highlights, like the NDSU students chanting “USA, USA.” They understood the significance of Sept. 11. Four first responders from the area led the Bison out of the locker room in the pregame intro.
About the only suspense was an official review at the end of the first quarter when Bison fullback Hunter Luepke let go of the ball a half step after reaching the end zone. As soon as Luepke came to the sideline, he was given a headset to have a chat with an assistant coach in the coach’s box high above the field. Safe to say the young man will hold onto the ball well past the goal line the next time he crosses it.
The call of touchdown was confirmed and the Bison had a 22-0 lead, ending a first 15 minutes that was dominant, as expected. NDSU averaged 12.4 yards per rush, needed only one 10-yard pass from Quincy Patterson and weren’t hesitant to pull out a bit more of the playbook than last week.
“I thought we played with good energy,” said head coach Matt Entz. “One of the things we challenged our players all week long had nothing to do with our opponent and everything to do with us.”
Wide receiver Braylon Henderson opened the scoring with a 28-yard end around touchdown.
On the extra point, holder Cam Miller, in a now familiar formation, took the center snap and got the two-point conversion over the right side. Why? Entz likes to make teams prepare for more than just the basic West Coast offense.
Next week, Towson will need to prepare for Bison receiver Christian Watson, who took a “fly sweep” short pass behind the line of scrimmage and sprinted around right end for a 65-yard touchdown play.
The Tigers will need to prep for running backs Kobe Johnson and Jalen Bussey. And Patterson, who ended the half with a 52-yard sprint off a scramble down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 43-0 advantage. NDSU has speed.
It meant the second half was the Backup Bowl for the home team. It meant a bunch of guys trying to win a job worthy of backing up a starter when it counts, like backup running back TaMerik Williams carrying half the Beacons on the first series of the second half for a 15-yard gain.
“It’s awesome to see different guys, younger guys getting in there and owning their role,” Tutsie said.
Those same story lines were played out in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Morgantown, W. Va., and Cheney, Wash. The Crimson Tide beat Mercer 48-14. West Virginia led FCS newbie Long Island (N.Y.) 59-0 halfway through the third quarter. Eastern Washington handled Division II Central Washington 56-7.
Auburn played Alabama State; 62-0 final. South Dakota State scored 20 on Lindenwood before a few blinks of an eye. It happens. It’s just the way it is because football is hard.