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Montana hit startled Waege but Bison senior ready for quarterfinals

North Dakota State defensive end was concerned because of a past ACL injury, returned to practice from stiff back

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North Dakota State head football coach Matt Entz exchanges words with the Montana bench as trainers attend to Spencer Waege after he took a hit during Nick Kubitz's interception return in the NCAA FCS playoffs at the Fargodome on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
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FARGO — There was a period following North Dakota State’s second round win over the University of Montana last weekend when Bison defensive end Spencer Waege probably got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a retirement home. He felt old.

The senior took a shot in the back during teammate Nick Kubitz’s interception return in the second half, a blow while he was essentially in a sitting position on the Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome turf. The hit bent him to an uncomfortable position.

How did he feel Sunday morning?

“Not as bad as I thought but I was still pretty sore and pretty stiff,” Waege said.

He was in full practice mode on Tuesday and will be in the lineup Friday night when the Bison host Samford University (Ala.) in the Division I FCS quarterfinals. By then, he’ll have gone through all necessary back rehabilitation methods, including a dry needling procedure on Tuesday.

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The worst he felt was right after the game and X-rays on Sunday revealed no further damage.

“Just doing whatever I can to loosen it up,” Waege said.

NDSU head coach Matt Entz said the hit probably shook Waege mentally as much as anything. Waege missed most of last season after tearing his ACL in the third game of the year against Towson University (Md.).

He said the first thing he checked after the Montana hit was his knee, which was fine.

“Just the position I was in on the ground, I had to kind of check everything,” he said. “But especially now in the playoffs, there is no chance I’m sitting out.”

The Montana play, which was taken as a cheap shot by players and fans, seemed to rally the Bison in an unusual way. As if the intensity of any playoff game is one thing, it got turned up a couple of notches after Fargodome video boards showed replays.

Bison running back Kobe Johnson scored on a 73-yard run not long after that and NDSU led 42-20.

“It was one of those things I didn’t realize until after I got back to the sideline of what all played out, what really happened,” Waege said. “It was cool to see the offense go right back out and we broke that long touchdown run. Just seeing all the extra energy that came through the dome, although preferable it wasn’t on a play that ended up with me getting hurt but it was cool to see that everybody is going to take care of everybody on this team.”

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Waege had a quarterback sack and two tackles for lost yardage against the Grizzlies. The 6-foot-5, 282-pound veteran will be counted on to be disruptive again Friday against a Samford offense that plays at a high-pace, no-huddle tempo.

Entz felt last Saturday that his defense — at times — played as fast as it has all season.

“It’s been something that we’ve been slowly building toward,” Waege said. “I think this past weekend’s game was the best it’s shown. We’ve talked about it, we’ve played well for a quarter and a half, we played well for three quarters. We just really haven’t been putting it all the way there. We still haven’t gotten that full four quarters in yet but we’re on the right track right now.”

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