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McFeely: Left for dead by some (ahem), Bison rally for another trip to Frisco

Down 16-3 with Incarnate Word on the march again, NDSU finds a way to save itself.

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North Dakota State's Tyler Roehl leads the cheers in the locker room after the win over Incarnate Word during the NCAA FCS semifinals at the Fargodome on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — Lindsey Scott Jr. hit Taylor Grimes with a missile of a pass along the back line of the end zone and the officials thrust their arms into the air to signal a touchdown. Incarnate Word's offense stayed on the field readying for a 2-point conversion to make the score 24-3, a three-touchdown game.

There were 11 minutes, 27 seconds left in the second quarter of Friday's Football Championship Subdivision semifinal at the Fargodome.

And North Dakota State was dead.

The Bison defense was staggered after getting blitzkrieged by Scott. NDSU's offense looked two steps slow against the Word's aggressive defense and had a total of 9 yards.

Dead, I tell you.

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North Dakota State fans celebrate as Incarnate Word's Isaiah Paul sits dejected after the NCAA FCS semifinals at the Fargodome on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

It led your intrepid columnist to have a (another?) "Dewey defeats Truman" moment. Look up what that means, kids. The tweet went out a little after 7 p.m.

"This one is over in Fargo."

It was moments later when the officials decided to review Grimes' alleged touchdown. Replays showed he perhaps bobbled the ball before stepping over the end line.

Indeed. The play was overturned. No touchdown. The ball was placed back on the 1-yard line. The Word would go for it on fourth down from there. The game was still a yard from being over.

This led to a hurried tweet in response to the previous one: "Not so fast, my friend."

No matter. The original tweet lives in infamy.

What followed for the next couple of hours was one of the great rallies in NDSU football history, ensconced in one of the wildest games the old Fargodome has ever seen.

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North Dakota State's RaJa Nelson, top, celebrates with Jake Lippe following their defeat of Incarnate Word in their FCS semifinal championship football game Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, in the Fargodome.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.

After being down 16-0 before the 12,569 fans who braved the roads (and the complacency) could settle in their seats, the Bison staged a furious comeback to win 35-32 and earn another trip to Frisco, Texas, for a shot at their 10th national championship.

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This might be the most unlikely trip yet.

The game had chunks of everything, including slices of previous dome playoff games against Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina, South Dakota State, James Madison, Northern Iowa and whatever other classics of which you can think.

Dead in the second quarter.

And "If You're Gonna Play in Texas" shaking the building after quarterback Cam Miller took a knee to ice it at the end of the fourth.

That was a turnaround for the ages.

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North Dakota State's Dawson Weber celebrates the win over Incarnate Word in the NCAA FCS semifinals at the Fargodome on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

"Grit," Bison head coach Matt Entz said when asked to put a perspective on this season that's seen an all-star cast of players go down with injury and doubters circling his team's grave. "Grit. They have a chip on their shoulder. You go back to mid-October and I think some people wrote them off and I think they got pissed off."

There were more than a few writing off NDSU on Friday when its offense was slogging, Miller was struggling, Scott was dealing against a dazed defense. It appeared some on the Incarnate Word sideline, including coaches, were screaming choice words across the field at the Bison when the Cardinals led 16-0.

If Grimes doesn't juggle Scott's pass, there's a chance the game's history is written differently.

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But he did. And instead of talking about the mighty Bison falling short of Frisco, we're rehashing Miller's gutty running performance and Kobe Johnson's three touchdowns despite being banged up and all the injuries and a fumble that Word says it recovered and a punt hitting a Word player and the Cardinals' decision to kick a field goal and Jayden Price's big punt return and Dawson Weber's game-saving interception and NDSU's fourth down stand late in the fourth quarter and ...

You get it.

Oh, and did we mention glorious Bison offensive lineman Cody Mauch playing the fiddle as the game clock showed 0:00 and the fans who bothered to show up roared another semifinal victory for the home team?

It was exhausting to watch. It's exhausting to write about.

Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

Incarnate Word didn't finish the job. Left a pulse, as faint as it might've been. And as every other FCS team has learned since 2011, you don't give the Bison a chance.

The Word headed home to San Antonio, Texas, after the game, its season finished.

NDSU is headed to Texas in three weeks, back to its second home in Frisco, its season not done yet after all.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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