Bison notebook: Price makes explosive play with big punt return
North Dakota State special teams make big plays, including blocking a PAT kick in fourth quarter
FARGO — North Dakota State seems to be getting younger as the spring Missouri Valley Football Conference season is progressing. Or maybe it's younger players making more explosive plays.
One that got the Bison a lead they never gave up in the 21-13 win over Illinois State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome Saturday afternoon was turned in by sophomore Jayden Price. He did it on special teams.
Price returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter.
"Everyone had a key block," Price said. "It wasn't just me. I caught the ball, looked up and saw everybody was connected (with blocks) and I just made one person miss. That was it, I knew I had to run as fast as I could and ended up in the end zone. I had 100 percent trust in everybody with their blocks."
The return tied for third longest in school history, equaling Ryan Smith's return in 2013 against Missouri State. The record is 98 yards by Fritz Hanson in 1934.
"That was an outstanding play," said Bison head coach Matt Entz. "We put a large amount of time in practice on special teams. We put a lot of pride in it."
Bison block critical fourth-quarter PAT
Illinois State had a chance to tie the game early in the fourth quarter before Bison defensive lineman Spencer Waege got his hands in the way.
The Redbirds cut the Bison lead to 14-13 after running back Tyler Pennigton powered into the end zone on a 1-yard scoring run with 11 minutes, 59 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing point-after attempt, Waege got penetration in the middle of the line of scrimmage and blocked Aidan Bresnahan's kick to keep the NDSU lead at one point.
“You can see the soul of a football team by the effort they give on PAT block," Entz said. "If you’ve got a team out there that doesn’t go very hard, they’re probably not very good.”
Bison punter Garret Wegner also had a big game with five punts, averaging 51.8 yards per kick. He also had four punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
“He’s one of the best punters in the country in my opinion because of situational things," Entz said.
The Bison did have a special teams gaffe late in the first half after the Redbirds recovered a muffed punt that hit NDSU's Cole Jacob, who was blocking when the ball bounced and hit his leg. ISU recovered at NDSU's 42-yard line with 1:06 to play in the half, but couldn't capitalize on the miscue.
“All of a sudden it becomes a stressful moment right there at the end of the half," Entz said. “We can’t have that poor of communication. ... We need to do a better job.”
Bison deal with multiple injuries
NDSU changed kickers after Jake Reinholz was successful with his two extra-point kicks in the first half. Entz didn't get specific on any injuries after the game, but he said he was hopeful Reinholz will be back for the University of North Dakota game next Saturday.
Wegner handled kickoff duties in the second half and Griffin Crosa was successful on the extra-point kick in the fourth quarter.
NDSU starting left guard Nash Jensen left the game in the second half. Senior Cordell Volson played his third position of the season, moving from right tackle to Jensen's guard spot. Redshirt freshman Jake Rock came in at right tackle.
The Bison did avert an apparent injury to star wide receiver Christian Watson late in the second quarter when Watson got popped on a tackle with 3:43 left before halftime. It appeared Watson took a blow to the head, but the NDSU training staff was looking at his leg. He hobbled off the field, but returned to full speed in the second half.
TV broadcaster Shawn returns to booth
NDSU television play-by-play announcer Brian Shawn returned to the football broadcast booth for the first time since last October's dome game against Central Arkansas.
Shawn, 42, had surgery for colon cancer in early February after being diagnosed Jan. 29. He missed some NDSU men's and women's basketball broadcasts, which he does for Midco Sports Network and didn't call the football team's first three games of the spring season. Lee Timmerman, usually Shawn's color analyst, took over play-by-play duties.
Shawn did some studio work for Midco in the meantime, but Saturday's game was his first live event since the Bison basketball team hosted Denver in mid-January.
"I'm just really excited to be back and feeling really good," Shawn said before kickoff. "It has been a wild month, but I am glad to be through that step and will get ready for the next one."
The first penalty of the game (that wasn't declined) was a crucial offsides call on NDSU when Illinois State was lined up to punt in the fourth quarter. ... Freshman safety Ty Satter from Fargo Davies switched uniform numbers from 13 to 32. ... NDSU was favored by 12.5 points, according to the online betting website Bovada.