Stingy Bison defense stymies Samford, NDSU rolls into FCS semifinals
North Dakota State advanced to the NCAA Division I FCS semifinals for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons.
FARGO — North Dakota State held high-powered Samford scoreless for three quarters Friday night at the Fargodome, giving the Bison offense time to solve an aggressive Bulldogs defense.
That stingy defensive effort vaulted No. 3-seeded NDSU to a 27-9 victory against Samford in the NCAA Division I FCS quarterfinals before 11,825 fans at Gate City Bank Field.
“I didn’t see (anything) new in us," said Bison cornerback Courtney Eubanks, who had a game-high 10 tackles. "It’s just the game that 'Code Green' plays and we’re going to keep doing it.”
NDSU (11-2) scored the game's first 24 points and advanced the FCS semifinals for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons.
The Bison (11-2) advanced to the FCS semifinals for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons. WDAY's Dom Izzo and Forum reporters Jeff Kolpack, Mike McFeely and Eric Peterson break it down.
For more coverage, visit the Bison Media Zone at https://www.inforum.com/sports/bison-media-zone
“I wouldn’t say there is any pressure," Bison quarterback Cam Miller said of another trip to the national semifinals. "This program is going to do what it does.”
The Bison play the Sacramento State-Incarnate Word winner next weekend at a site yet to be determined. NDSU would host Incarnate Word or travel to No. 2-seeded Sacramento State.
"We played a great football team," said Samford head coach Chris Hatcher.
The Bison gained 360 yards, rushing for 166 yards on 48 attempts, after a slow start in the first half. Miller completed 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown. Miller also rushed for 21 yards on 12 attempts.
The No. 6-seeded Bulldogs (11-2) entered the game averaging nearly 35 points per game.
“I thought defensively we did a really good job," said Bison head coach Matt Entz.
The Bison scored on the opening drive of the second half to start to pull away from the Bulldogs. Running back TK Marshall scored on a 7-yard touchdown run for a 17-0 lead with 10 minutes, 57 seconds to play in the third quarter. Tight end Joe Stoffel set up the score with a 47-yard reception from Miller that moved the ball to the Samford 7-yard line. Marshall scored one play later. The drive covered 82 yards and took seven plays.
The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Miller added a 1-yard scoring plunge on NDSU's next drive for a 24-0 lead with 2:02 to play in the third quarter. The Bison drove 63 yards on 12 plays, turning a Dawson Weber interception into points.
Samford kicker Zach Williams booted a 28-yard field goal to cut the Bison lead to 24-3 with 12:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Bulldogs quarterback Michael Hiers completed a 34-yard pass to receiver Chandler Smith that moved them to the NDSU 35 on a third-and-14 play that helped set up the field goal.
Bison kicker Griffin Crosa countered with a 22-yard field goal for a 27-3 lead with 6:04 remaining.
The Bulldogs found the end zone on the ensuing drive. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hiers zipped a 40-yard touchdown pass to Smith on a fourth-and-1 play to cut the Bison lead to 27-9 with 3:53 remaining.
"They made it tough in there," Smith said. "A great defense, a tough defense and hats off to them."
NDSU scored first late in the first half after both defenses dominated for most of the opening half. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Stoffel caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Miller to give the Bison a 7-0 lead with 1:25 to play in the second quarter. That capped a 69-yard drive that took 12 plays. Wide receiver Zach Mathis had a key play on the drive with a 19-yard catch that moved the ball to the Samford 5 on and third-and-9 play. Three plays later, Stoffel hauled in a pass in the end zone.
Crosa added a 44-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to for a 10-0 lead. That play was set up after Samford was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball to the Bulldogs' 25 for an untimed down.
The Bison defense was stingy in the opening 30 minutes, limiting Samford to 85 yards on 30 plays. NDSU blocked a 34-yard field goal late in the first quarter to help hold the Bulldogs scoreless in the first half.
"We looked out of rhythm," Hatcher said.
The Samford defense was also stout for most of the opening half, limiting the Bison to 61 rushing yards on 24 attempts. Miller completed 9 of 12 passes for 92 yards and a TD before halftime.
"Early on, I thought our defense played lights out," Hatcher said.
NDSU had two players — running back TaMerik Williams and backup quarterback Cole Payton — leave the game with injuries in the first half. Both players were injured on plays in which they carried the ball. Wide receiver RaJa Nelson was injured on 6-yard reception in the third quarter. Nelson was taken off the field oin a cart. All three appeared to be lower-body injuries.
Samford finished with 336 yards on 71 plays. The Bulldogs gained 227 of those yards on 31 plays in the fourth quarter after NDSU built a 24-0 cushion late in the third quarter.
"They lived up to their reputation," Hatcher said. "There's no question about it."