Bison rally in the fourth quarter for road victory against stingy Southern Illinois
NDSU scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally for a Missouri Valley Football Conference victory.
CARBONDALE, Ill. — North Dakota State survived a trip to Saluki Stadium to keep in the running for a high seed for the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs.
The Bison scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 21-18 victory against Southern Illinois on Saturday in Missouri Valley Football Conference play before 4,575 fans.
"I thought it was a good win for our guys," said Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "They do a good job. They've got a lot of skill."
The last time the Bison played in Carbondale the Salukis rolled to a 38-14 victory in February 2021 to end NDSU's 39-game winning streak. That thought was still on their mind.
"Yeah, it definitely added another edge to the game today," said Bison linebacker James Kaczor. "We talked about it and we didn't want that same feeling to happen so I'm glad we took care of business today and it didn't happen again."
The Bison (8-2, 6-1 MVFC) have won three consecutive games heading into the final game of the regular season. NDSU hosts the University of North Dakota at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Bison could be in position to earn a top-four seed in the FCS postseason if they are able to win the season finale against their in-state rivals.
"They're all big at this point of the year," Entz said. "You're just trying to finish the year out right. I think we've seen some glimpses of steady improvement over the last two, three weeks. I'm excited about that. ... We're not by far a finished product."
NDSU running back TaMerik Williams scored on a 3-yard touchdown run for a 21-10 lead with 4 minutes, 40 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. That capped a time-consuming 75-yard drive that lasted 13 plays and took more than seven minutes off the clock. The Bison scored the first 14 points in the final quarter.
The Salukis answered in the game's final minute.
SIU wide receiver D'Ante' Cox caught a 6-yard TD pass from quarterback Nic Baker to cut the Bison lead to 21-18 with 39 seconds remaining. The Salukis converted a fourth-and-22 play to keep that scoring drive alive. Wide receiver Avante Cox caught the 2-point conversion to cut the Bison lead to three points.
SIU needed 14 plays on that 81-yard scoring drive. NDSU linebacker James Kaczor recovered the ensuing onside kick to help seal the victory.
The Salukis finished with 307 yards on 67 plays.
"They've been scoring 30-plus points a game," Entz said. "I think they've got a really good quarterback, one of the most dynamic in our league. ... Four four quarters, all three phases had to play really hard."
The 5-foot-9, 204-pound Baker completed 14 of 23 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
"Did we play perfect? No," Entz said. "We kept the ball in front of us. We made them earn everything."
The Bison responded in the fourth quarter after SIU had surged into the lead earlier in the second half.
Salukis fullback Jacob Garrett scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give SIU a 10-7 lead with 5:18 to play in the third quarter. That capped a 60-yard drive that lasted 13 plays. The Salukis converted a key third-and-14 after Baker completed a 15-yard pass to Pop Jones III to the Bison 14-yard line.
The Bison took the lead back on the ensuing drive. Quarterback Cam Miller scored on a 5-yard touchdown run for a 14-10 lead with 14:21 to play in the fourth quarter. NDSU started at its own 46 after two SIU penalties gave the Bison 30 extra yards on the drive start.
"We talked about that there's going to be a critical penalty at some point that is going to give us some life and there was two of them right there," Entz said.
The Bison scored on their first drive of the game after running back Kobe Johnson caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Miller for a 7-0 lead with 6:02 to play in the first quarter. That capped a 78-yard drive that took six plays. Fullback Hunter Luepke — who later left the game due to injury — had a 23-yard run on the march that helped set up the Johnson TD catch.
The Salukis answered late in the first half after Jake Baumgarte made a 28-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 with no time remaining in the second quarter.
The Bison defense had a solid first half, limiting SIU to 157 yards on 37 plays. The Salukis had more than a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession in the opening 30 minutes.
NDSU's offense stalled after its strong opening drive and had 102 yards on 19 plays in the first half. Miller completed 2 of 6 passes for 39 yards and a touchdown by halftime.
Miller finished with 6-of-11 completions for 80 yards and the score, including some key third-down passes in the second half. The Bison avenged their loss on their previous trip to Carbondale.
"It was huge," said Bison defensive end Spencer Waege. "I mean, even just for last time we were down here and the feeling that we had when we left so it was just something that a lot of guys in that locker room wanted to get."