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Bison receiver Zach Mathis healthy, making most of opportunities for big plays

NDSU wide receiver Zach Mathis has two TD catches in two games this season.

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North Dakota State's Zach Mathis breaks free for a 31-yard touchdown against Drake at the Fargodome on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — When Zach Mathis caught his first career touchdown pass at North Dakota State earlier this season, the senior receiver had one of his best friends and former teammates to congratulate him on the sideline.

Christian Watson — who now plays for the Green Bay Packers — was at NDSU’s season-opener a couple weeks ago at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

“That definitely was amazing for me because he’s one of my best friends,” said Mathis, who is from Tampa, Fla. “For him to be there truly meant a lot to me.”

The 31-yard touchdown catch against Drake was memorable for another reason.

“That was the same exact play that (Watson) caught his (first) touchdown on,” Mathis said. “Me and Christian, we share a lot of weird stuff like that. If his knee is aching, my knee is aching. It’s weird.”

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The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Mathis has been efficient this season with both his receptions going for touchdowns, one in each of the first two games. The Bison play at 10 p.m. (CST) Saturday at the University of Arizona, the first NDSU game against an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team in six years.

“He’s made the most of his opportunities because we have a lot of depth at the position,” said Bison offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl. “From a personnel standpoint, he’s been in the right spot at the right time and when the ball is thrown his way, he’s made the play.”

Mathis is in his fifth season with the Bison and has played in 25 games, with injuries playing a role in keeping him off the field, especially early in his career. This season he has two catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

Last season, he played in 12 games and caught eight passes for 112 yards.

“The development piece has been going on for a while, unfortunately he’s been banged up,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “People just haven’t had the opportunity to see him on the field.”

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Mathis said he still talks to Watson regularly even though he’s playing in the NFL.

“He’s definitely been helping me even from Wisconsin,” said Mathis, who had a 40-yard touchdown catch against North Carolina A&T last week.

Mathis’ touchdown against Drake came on a wide receiver screen, which Mathis said is the same play that Watson scored on a 42-yard TD reception against Illinois State during the 2019 season in Normal, Ill.

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“What are the odds of that?” Mathis said.

Mathis gives the Bison a unique target with his size. He could be a key pass catcher for NDSU against Arizona and heading into the Missouri Valley Football Conference season the following week against South Dakota.

“A big, long receiver like him, regardless of how fast a defensive back is, sometimes when you have a length advantage it kind of nullifies some of the speed advantage that a corner might have,” Entz said. “He’s still a big red-zone threat for us.”

Bison quarterback Cam Miller said he’s spent extra time with Mathis outside of practice working on the chemistry with his big target.

“We are going to need to lean on him a little bit more,” Miller said.

Mathis said his early success this season has been important and hopes he can parlay that into more production as the season progresses.

“Confidence-wise it’s a big thing for me," Mathis said. “Hopefully, I’ve gained some trust with the coaches and stuff like that and I’m trying to do what I can to help the team week to week.”

Mathis is excited to get a chance to play against an FBS opponent, but that hasn’t changed his focus and preparation.

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“I don’t think you can take a different mindset into any game,” Mathis said. “There’s a little more edge, we know it’s an FBS opponent obviously, but I think we did a great job Week 1 and Week 2 not looking ahead. Now that Arizona is here, you can just feel it in the building, everybody is ready to go.”

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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