Bison shake off mistake-marred 1st half, power past South Dakota
NDSU overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and rallied to victory in its Missouri Valley Football Conference opener at the University of South Dakota.
VERMILLION, S.D. — North Dakota State had three turnovers in the first half and gave up 14 points in the final minute of the second quarter that led to a seven-point halftime deficit Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
The Bison responded by scoring touchdowns on their first two drives in the second half to rally for a 34-17 victory against the Coyotes in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams before 6,530 fans. NDSU leaned on its power back Hunter Luepke to take over in the final two quarters.
"We got tired of getting in our own way and started playing Bison football," NDSU head coach Matt Entz said.
NDSU (3-1, 1-0 MVFC) bounced back from a 31-28 loss at the University of Arizona last weekend. The Bison haven't lost back-to-back games since the 2009 season. NDSU rushed for 356 yards against the Coyotes, surged into the lead in the second half and then pulled away for the 17-point victory.
"I thought we were playing a little tense," Luepke said of the first half. "I think people were just trying to do a little too much."
NDSU scored 24 unanswered points in the second half.
"We just needed to get out of our own heads," Luepke said. "We needed to step up and play football."
The Bison started fast in the second half with a 75-yard scoring drive that lasted nine plays. Bison quarterback Cam Miller capped the march with a 13-yard touchdown run that tied the score at 17-17 with 10 minutes, 28 seconds to play in the third quarter.
"That first possession drive of the third quarter is always a big drive and, you know, taking that ball down the field and scoring a touchdown, I'm sure put momentum back in their sails," USD head coach Bob Nielson said.
NDSU surged into the lead for good on its next drive that covered 84 yards in nine plays. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound Luepke capped that march with a bulldozing 2-yard TD run for a 24-17 lead with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Bison kicker Griffin Crosa added a 25-yard field goal for a 27-17 lead with 8:27 to play in the fourth quarter. That capped a 71-yard drive that took 15 plays.
Luepke added a 3-yard touchdown run for a 34-17 lead with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter. That score came after Bison safety Dom Jones recovered a fumble and returned it to the USD 43. Seven plays later, Luepke was in the end zone. He rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts.
Luepke has scored 14 touchdowns in his last seven games.
"It's all credit to the offensive line," Luepke said. "Without them I'm not getting anywhere. ... I'm thankful for those guys."
The Coyotes took an early 3-0 lead after kicker Eddie Ogamba hit an 18-yard field goal with 30 seconds to play in the first quarter. USD took advantage of a Bison roughing-the-punter penalty that extended the drive that covered 79 yards in 12 plays. The penalty moved the ball to the NDSU 46.
The Bison countered on their next drive with a 26-yard Crosa field goal that tied the score at 3-3 with 10:16 to play in the second quarter. That drive covered 67 yards in 11 plays. NDSU drove as deep as the USD 4 before the drive stalled.
The Bison then took advantage of a Travis Theis fumble, which safety Michael Tutsie recovered at the USD 35. Senior safety Dawson Weber forced the fumble. Six plays later, running back Kobe Johnson scored on a 2-yard TD run to give NDSU a 10-3 lead with 7:31 remaining in the first half.
The Coyotes countered late in the first half after a Bison penalty gave USD a drive that started at the 50. Seven plays later, Theis scored on a 2-yard touchdown run for a 10-10 score with 58 seconds to play in the first half.
Moments later, Bison running back Dominic Gonnella fumbled and USD recovered at the NDSU 28. One play later, Coyotes quarterback Carson Camp zipped a 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Wesley Eliodor for a 17-10 lead with 44 seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Bison had three turnovers in the opening 30 minutes.
NDSU outgained the Coyotes in the first half with 204 yards on 34 plays. USD had 177 yards on 32 plays. However, NDSU turnovers and four penalties for 49 yards helped the Coyotes surge into the lead with less than a minute to play before halftime.
The Bison, however, countered with a dominant final 30 minutes. NDSU shut out the Coyotes in the second half.
"I think the Bison just got angry and got mad a little bit and that's OK," Entz said.