FARGO – Senior defensive tackle Brian Schaetz bear-hugged Northern Iowa quarterback Aaron Bailey in the end zone late in the fourth quarter Saturday, stamping a lockdown second half for the North Dakota State defense.
- Relive the action with our LIVE Blog
- Kolpack: MVP performance by LeCompte rewarded with ESPN love
- McFeely: Bison victory so strange, yet so familiar
- Schnepf: NDSU, UNI football truly have respect for each other
That safety produced the final points in NDSU's 23-13 victory against the gritty Panthers in the NCAA Division I FCS quarterfinals before a raucous 18,041 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
"We said we needed to have our best 30 minutes of the season, and I thought we did," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said of the second half.
The Bison (11-2) advanced to the FCS semifinals for a fifth consecutive season and are set to host Richmond (Va.) next weekend.
"I know that is our expectation to be here, but doggone it, it is hard," Klieman said. "It is unbelievably hard to do this for five years."
NDSU made it hard on the Northern Iowa offense over the final two quarters. The Bison limited the Panthers to three points and 71 yards in the second half, rallying from a 10-7 halftime deficit. Northern Iowa was forced to punt after three plays on its first four drives after halftime. The Panthers were limited to 19 plays in the second half.
"It hurts," Northern Iowa senior defensive back Deiondre' Hall said.
Northern Iowa (9-5) had been averaging 46.2 points per game in its previous five games before Saturday's matchup against the Bison. The Panthers finished with a season-low 221 total yards.
"We had great game plan," said NDSU linebacker Nick DeLuca, who finished with a game-high 16 tackles. "Our focus was to limit the big play."
Bailey rushed for for 157 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, when the teams played during the regular season. The Bison rallied for a 31-28 home victory on Oct. 10.
Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Bailey was limited to 33 rushing yards on 18 carries.
"I thought if we could eliminate the explosive run, we would have a good chance," Klieman said.
Bison freshman Bruce Anderson had the explosive play of the game, returning the opening second-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That gave NDSU a 14-10 lead, and it never trailed after that.
"That was another great football game. It comes down to that kickoff return," Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley said. "We fought until the bitter end to try to win that football game."
The Bison had their best drive in the fourth quarter, marching 90 yards on seven plays for a touchdown. Junior running back King Frazier, who ripped a 51-yard run earlier in the drive, capped that march with a 4-yard scoring run that gave NDSU a 21-10 lead with 6:40 remaining. Freshman quarterback Easton Stick completed two passes for 27 yards on that long scoring drive. Stick was efficient completing 13 of 17 for 116 yards with no interceptions.
"He kept his poise and I think he played a really good football game," Klieman said of Stick.
The Panthers trailed 21-13 with 3:02 remaining when Bison punter Ben LeCompte pinned Northern Iowa at its own 7-yard line. On the next play, Schaetz sliced through the line and tackled Bailey in the end zone. That gave NDSU a 23-13 lead with 2:57 to play.
"It was field position and who could land the knockout punch," Klieman said.