Game Day notebook: Injured Bison defensive end Waege plans on returning, gets motivational advice from Menard
Senior North Dakota State defensive end tore his ACL last month, but intent on playing in 2022.
FARGO — North Dakota State defensive end Spencer Waege and Bison head coach Matt Entz had a talk before the season on Waege’s extra season of eligibility in 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing was decided.
That decision may have become more clear in the last few weeks for an unfortunate reason: Waege tore his ACL last month at Towson University (Md.).
“Now with my injury, more than likely I’m going to be back now,” he said.
While that’s good news for the Bison defense next season, the tough news is Waege has a lot of work ahead of him to get back to health. He knows it. He’s not going through it alone, either, with former Bison players and defensive line assistant coach Buddha Williams paying close attention.
One example: Former Bison standout defensive end Greg Menard called Waege to share his experience. Menard tore his ACL during the first week of practice in the 2017 season, but returned for a first team All-American season in 2018.
Menard led NDSU that season in quarterback sacks and tackles for lost yardage.
“He just told me to keep your head up,” Waege said. “He said it sucks but with the rehab you’ll come back better than ever, so don’t hang your head on it too much.”
Waege hopes to start walking in about six weeks. Entz said the hope is Waege will be back for summer workouts.
“Injuries are never fun to deal with,” Waege said, “but it’s part of playing football and a risk that every football player knows can possibly happen. It’s part of the game and I just have to deal with it now.”
Spack says NDSU has 'elevated' MVFC play
Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said NDSU's high level of play has been good for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Bison have won eight NCAA Division I FCS national championships and nine conference titles since the 2011 season.
"I think they’ve really elevated the league in my opinion," Spack said. "Everybody is trying to match that and when you try to match that it makes the league get better and better and better. You either match it or you get run out of the stadium every time you face them."
The Bison have won 10 consecutive games in the series, but the programs have had some epic matchups in the playoffs. In 2019, the Bison earned a 9-3 home victory in the FCS quarterfinals en route to a 16-0 season and national championship.
NDSU edged the Redbirds 29-27 for the 2015 national championship at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz scored the game-winning touchdown with 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I think that kind of set the table for the games that followed," Spack said. "That was a great football game, one of the best games that I’ve ever lost. ... We’ve had some great battles with them."
Bison QB Patterson a 'handful' to tackle
NDSU leads the MVFC conference in rushing, averaging 289.8 yards per game, and scoring defense, limiting opponents to 8.6 points per game. Spack said those have become hallmarks of the Bison program, a strong running game paired with a salty defense.
"There’s two words that kind of sum them up, it’s physical, physicality, and effort," Spack said. "They do a great job of that and they have good players and good coaches."
Running back Dominic Gonnella and quarterback Quincy Patterson are the top two rushers for NDSU through five games. Gonnella has rushed for 287 yards and two touchdowns on 41 attempts. The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Patterson has rushed for 266 yards and five TDs on 53 carries. Patterson had multiple key power runs in a win against Northern Iowa last weekend.
"The quarterback is a big guy. He runs big. He runs downhill. He’s a handful to tackle," Spack said. "He’s a different style runner than maybe what they’ve had in the past. He’s a little bit more of a power guy."
Spack also raved about Bison fullback Hunter Luepke and wide receiver Christian Watson. The 6-foot-5, 208-pound Watson has 14 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Watson is averaging 25.9 yards per catch.
"I don’t think there’s a better one in the league than him," Spack said. "I think he’s the best receiver in the league and he’s a great kickoff returner."
Odds and ends
- The Redbirds are celebrating their 100th homecoming Saturday against the Bison at Hancock Stadium. “I’ve never been at a place that does homecoming like this place does," Spack said. “It’s awesome because if you’re an alum of the school you feel a lot of pride when you come back.”
- NDSU leads the FCS in red zone defense allowing two rushing touchdowns and one field in opponents' seven trips inside the 20-yard line. Bison opponents have two turnovers on downs, one interception and one fumble in the red zone.
- The Bison have won 10 straight in the series, but the last two have been close. NDSU held on for a 21-13 win last spring at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Bison won at ISU 37-3 in the 2019 regular season, but the rematch in the FCS playoffs in Fargo was a hard-fought 9-3 Bison win.