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Kolpack: One fourth quarter drive rescued an ill-looking offensive Bison day

NDSU finds its old time-of-possession self to defeat Southern Illinois on the road

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North Dakota State's TaMerik Williams carries against Southern Illinois during their football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Carbondale, Illinois.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.
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Carbondale, Ill.

North Dakota State didn’t invent the time of possession statistic, although the Bison dang near perfected it for the last decade or so. Pound the rock, take time off the clock.

By the fourth quarter, opposing defenses were waving the white flag. So imagine the shock with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter, after Southern Illinois scored on a Jacob Garrett one-yard run to go up 10-7. The Salukis had the ball for 27 minutes, 53 seconds.

The Bison had it for just 11:49.

A virtual West Coast offense horror movie.

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“We had some guys on offense come together and say, you know what, this is unacceptable,” said NDSU quarterback Cam Miller. “I felt like our defense was playing really well and we didn’t want to let them down. We just had a group of guys who came together and said this is it, we’re going to go down, we’re going to score and they’re not going to stop us anymore.”

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North Dakota State's TaMerik Williams makes a touchdown against Southern Illinois during their football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Carbondale, Illinois.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.

And that’s exactly what they did. The Bison went 13 plays, 12 of them were running, taking almost eight minutes off the clock and that touchdown drive that ended with a TaMerik Williams 3-yard run with 4:40 remaining in the game gave NDSU a 21-18 win over Southern Illinois before 4,575 cold fans at Saluki Stadium.

For three quarters, most of the home team fans figured this game was theirs. NDSU’s doctorate degree in ball control was anything but. There were signs in the first half of expanding a 7-0 lead, but the lack of sustaining a couple of drives stalled that. A past couple of games that seemed to generate some momentum was nowhere evident.

The Bison didn’t reach the red zone (inside the 20) until Williams’ 13-yard run with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

NDSU’s first touchdown was a 27-yard pass from Miller to Kobe Johnson. From that point until their second possession of the third quarter, NDSU had 33 yards of total offense and had 98 yards rushing going into the final 15 minutes.

So what happened?

The Bison put together that patented 75-yard drive like it had been doing it all game. With former NDSU offensive tackle Cordell Volson watching from the Bison sideline with his Cincinnati Bengals on a bye week, Volson’s old college mates on the offensive line delivered.

“I think we recommitted ourselves to getting the ball downhill,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz, in reference to running straight ahead. “And I think our guys up front just said, the hell with it, we gotta go win this thing, we have to go and dominate the line of scrimmage.”

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Johnson got the first two carries, taking the second one eight yards for a first down. An apparent first down pass to Zach Mathis was called back because of an ineligible receiver downfield penalty and after Cole Payton was stopped for no gain, NDSU faced third-and-12.

There was no reason to think the way this game was going it was going to be one more play and punt.

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North Dakota State's Jake Lippe gestures for a first down against Southern Illinois during their football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Carbondale, Illinois.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.

But Miller rifled a perfect pass to receiver Jake Lippe over the middle for 13 yards to near midfield. The first option was Mathis, Miller said, but he was covered. A second receiver wasn’t open and Miller was about to take off and run for it before he saw Lippe get open.

“I sat in the pocket and made a pretty good play and Lippe made a great play,” Miller said. “The kid works hard. Honestly, I think he’s probably the hardest worker on the team. Just to see him make big plays like that brings a smile to my face.”

The offensive line took over from there, getting help from an unnecessary roughness penalty on SIU. A tackle on Johnson after his 13-yard gain drew a flag and the Bison had a first down at the 14.

Williams gained six yards to the 8 and another five yards to the 3. It was Williams who probably got the call for the tough yards after Hunter Luepke came out of the halftime locker room with his arm in a sling.

“I told him I’m going to do my part to hold down the fort until he gets back,” Williams said.

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Williams got the touchdown on the next play and the Bison led 21-10 with 4:40 remaining in the game.

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The 7:38 drive time was exactly two minutes less than the Bison had the ball the entire first half. The Salukis scored late, but James Kaczor recovered the onside kick and NDSU left Carbondale with an 8-2 overall record, 6-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

It wasn’t a four-quarter, fluid-looking offensive show by any means. But when it counted, when the Bison offense needed to produce, it did.

“That was awesome, and that’s Bison football right there,” said Kaczor, a defensive machine all day from his linebacker spot with 14 tackles. “There’s nothing better than being a defender sitting on the sideline watching the offense take eight minutes off the clock.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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