FARGO - It wasn't over until North Dakota State cornerback C.J. Smith leaped as high as he could and pulled in an interception with just over a minute remaining. It sealed NDSU's 24-23 come-from-behind win over Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
For a while this week, it looked as if Smith wasn't going to play at all. He dislocated his shoulder in practice on Tuesday.
"I thought it would be a long time before he would be able to play," said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. "For him to play the way he did and make that last interception, that was a great effort."
It was part of a Bison pass defense that limited UNI quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen to 12 of 33 passing for 128 yards. Kollmorgen came into the game completing 70 percent of his passes on a schedule that included FBS Iowa State and FCS top-10 ranked McNeese State (La.).
"Our secondary is doing a good job and we were getting heat up in there," said NDSU defensive end Kyle Emanuel, referring to a relentless Bison pass rush.
Bison forced to alter
offensive line look
At first, it looked as if NDSU was reverting to a formula it had used in the past against a 3-4 defense: a heavier player at center.
But the reason starting center Josh Colville didn't play, however, was because of concussion symptoms and a bad cut above his eye from a car accident on Friday night, Bohl said. It gave junior center Jesse Hinz his first start since his freshman season in 2010.
Also, freshman Jack Plankers got his first start when starting guard Tyler Gimmestad suffered meniscus damage to his knee during the week. Gimmestad played in the second half when Plankers left with an injury. Bohl said after the game he was uncertain of the extent of several Bison injuries.
"It's a M.A.S.H. unit in there," he said.
NDSU first did the center-guard switch against a 3-4 defense in 2011 when Austin Richard was moved from guard to center against Missouri State and Joe Lund took the repetitions at guard. It came during a season when NDSU struggled against the 3-4 looks of Southern Illinois and Illinois State.
Ability to block kicks
plays into decision
It was one of those fourth-and-1 situations head coaches are faced with from time to time. NDSU was at the UNI 31-yard line with that dilemma with 1:28 remaining and holding the 24-23 lead.
Bohl opted to go for the first down instead of attempt a field goal or punt.
"They've been really good in the past as far as blocks," Bohl said of the Panthers. "We just had one blocked last week. It was a decision on my part and I felt we were not going to gain that much from punting."
The Panthers stuffed running back Sam Ojuri at the line of scrimmage for a 3-yard loss and UNI had one last chance.
But Smith picked off Kollmorgen's third-and-10 pass.
"I thought Northern Iowa did a great job of stopping us," Bohl said.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found