Bison notebook: NDSU punter Steindorf becomes unlikely runner
NDSU runs fake punt that gets first and leads to touchdown in third quarter
FARGO — Kaedin Steindorf will forever have an 18-yard run in the North Dakota State record books. Which isn't bad for a 181-pound freshman punter.
Steindorf and the Bison ran a fake punt in the third quarter against South Dakota on Saturday at the Fargodome, with the play netting a first down and eventually leading to a touchdown in NDSU's 52-24 victory in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
"We work on it twice a week and it's something you have in your back pocket," Steindorf said.
That said, the redshirt freshman from Sherwood, Ore., had never run a fake punt during a game.
"You never expect it," he said. "It's always whenever they feel necessary. It was insane. Next thing I knew, it was called and needed to stretch it and cut it like I did. ... I'll love it forever."
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Facing fourth-and-4 from the USD 49-yard line, Steindorf took the long snap at the Bison 38 and took off running to the left. A wall of blockers, including tight end Noah Gindorff, guard Nash Jensen and defensive tackle Costner Ching, was out front and Steindorf took advantage.
"It was exciting to see that," said Bison running back TaMerik Williams.
He cut inside the blocks and sprinted to the Coyotes 31, where he was hit hard and undercut by USD's Carter Bell.
"I'll hurt tomorrow," Steindorf said.
The first down kept NDSU's drive alive and it capitalized four plays later when quarterback Cam Miller ran in from the 8 for a touchdown to give the Bison a 38-10 lead. Bison head coach Matt Entz said the play was dictated from watching USD film during the week and had to do with how a USD player was aligned in the defensive formation.
"We knew we could get the edge," Entz said. "Great job by our freshman punter, probably the hardest hit he's ever had in his life. He hopped up and he was good. I think he got stepped on and he was concerned."
Steindorf said he really didn't feel the hit, saying adrenalin took over. His teammates weren't shy on congratulating him.
"They were excited, just knowing the punter got a rush," he said.
Tale of 2 fourth-and-1s
Both teams had fourth-and-1 conversion opportunities in the first quarter that had differing results. It led to an early NDSU 7-0 lead.
The Coyotes, after taking the opening kickoff, found themselves with a fourth-and-1 at the Bison 38-yard line. Too short to punt and too far for a field goal, USD sent running back Nate Thomas up the middle for no gain.
That jump started the Bison with their first possession. A 12-yard run by Christian Watson and a 10-yard pass to Watson on third-and-7 were big plays that got the Bison to a fourth-and-1 situation at the USD 3-yard line.
TaMerik Williams gained 2 yards, then scored from there on the next play and the Bison led 7-0.
"That was a big momentum shift just to start the game," Williams said. "I think anytime you can do that to a defense, that can be demoralizing so I think we did a really good job right there."
The Bison rushed for 303 yards on 47 attempts, coming off a 454-yard rushing performance against Youngstown State the game before.
"I think our offensive line has gelled a ton in the last month," Entz said.
USD dealt with sickness during week
South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson said some sort of "bug" went through his team this week and affected his team's depth. For one, running back Travis Theis, the team's go-to ball carrier in recent games, had only one carry for zero yards.
The Coyotes came into the game with a chance for a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title, but didn't appear to have the gusto it had last week in beating rival South Dakota State on a dramatic game-ending "Hail Mary" touchdown.
"We had three or four guys who couldn't play today because of it," Nielson said of the sickness. "Couple other guys who probably shouldn't have played. Just a bad time for that."
Punt return gives USD lift
Leading 28-3 to start the third quarter, NDSU had a chance to drop the hammer on USD after receiving the second-half kickoff. Instead, it was the Coyotes who gained the momentum.
NDSU went three-and-out on their first possession of the second half, which included a 14-yard loss on a basic sweep run by running back Kobe Johnson, and the Bison punted.
Steindorf's kick from the Bison 5-yard line was caught by USD returner Carter Bell at the Coyotes 47. Bell cut right, weaved back to the left and ran nearly untouched into the end zone for a touchdown to get USD within 28-10 with 12:42 left in the third quarter.
It was NDSU's first punt return touchdown allowed since 2007 at SDSU.
Combined with a lost fumble that stalled a Bison drive late in the second quarter, it kept USD closer than it could've been had NDSU played clean.
Another big day for Watson
Bison receiver Christian Watson didn't have any home-run catches for which he's become known this season, but he did have a home-run sprint and a big day catching the ball.
The senior receiver had a 43-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the second quarter among his three rushing carries. Watson also caught six passes for 61 yards.
It was his most receptions in a game this season, eclipsing the five he had against Northern Iowa on Oct. 9. Watson's career high is the seven catches he had in the NCAA playoff quarterfinal win over Illinois State in 2019. Those receptions totaled 107 yards.
While Saturday was a dink-and-dunk day for Watson, this season has been anything but. He's had four TD catches of more than 65 yards, including a 71-yarder from Miller last week at Youngstown State. The three previous ones came from quarterback Quincy Patterson, including a season-long 85-yard TD play against UNI.
Odds and ends
Saturday's NDSU Team Makers 50/50 raffle winner won a record $98,000. The $44,951 pot from the Bison's last home game carried over since nobody claimed the winning ticket. Team Makers is a nonprofit organization that raises scholarship money for student-athletes. ... Bison fullback Hunter Luepke did not play after reinjuring his hamstring last week at Youngstown State. ... After initially indicating he would return for another season, Bison tight end Josh Babicz has decided to leave NDSU after this season and prepare to play in the NFL. Babicz is a 6-6, 255-pound senior from Barrington, Ill. ... Defensive tackle Lane Tucker of Gillette, Wyo., also will not return for another year with NDSU. Like Babicz, his name was not included in the list of departing seniors released by NDSU earlier in the week. "I'm extremely transparent with them," Entz said. "I'm going to try and get every information from the NFL and the decision is on them. One thing I made sure apparent to all of those guys if they wanted to come back, there is room to come back." ... Outgoing NDSU President Dean Bresciani was awarded the honor of flipping the pregame coin toss. Bresciani for years escorted the coin flipper to midfield, but this time did it solo in recognition of what he's done for the university. ... Saturday's attendance was 16,252, just the second time this season NDSU drew more than 16,000 fans. The season high was a crowd of 18,536 against Northern Iowa for homecoming.