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Bison, Redbirds putting youth on the line in Valley football matchup

Wisconsin tight end Gabe Lloyd, son of great NDSU running back, announces intent to transfer

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North Dakota State cornerback Josh Hayes breaks up a pass intended for Missouri State's Jeremiah Wilson on Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Springfield, Mo. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO — It’s the annual Trees Bowl on Saturday afternoon and if both Illinois State and North Dakota State resembled the theme, there would be a bunch of saplings on hand. Both football programs are on the same path from previous years: trying to reload veteran teams with younger players.

It hasn’t worked so far for the Redbirds, who are 0-2 heading into the 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Illinois State started nine freshmen or sophomores last weekend at Northern Iowa. That didn’t include the players they had to plug in after the loss of eight players this spring to either graduation, training for the NFL Draft or opting out.

The Bison traveled so many true freshmen to Missouri State last weekend that head coach Matt Entz wasn’t certain of the exact number. It was somewhere around 10. Five are already in the two-deep chart with running back Dominic Gonnella, offensive linemen Grey Zabel and Mason Miller, linebacker Cole Wisnewski and cornerback Courtney Eubanks.

In the last five plays of the 25-0 win over the Bears, the Bison had seven true freshmen and two sophomores on defense.

“And the fact those guys were able to keep them from moving the football, they’re getting that experience,” Entz said. “It’s unusual to say the least but I think we’ve gone about it the right way. We’re going through the season with a little bit of a spring ball roster. This would normally be the time for Grey Zabel to be the backup in the fall but now he’s thrust into having to be the right guard in a critical down and distance. Regardless of that, no one is feeling sorry for us.”

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NDSU had at least 40 players play at least 10 snaps against the Bears. Entz said true freshmen running backs Nathan Goldade and TK Marshall both traveled to Missouri State with Marshall getting over a knee injury that slowed him.

“For us to go on the road and get a shut out, that’s a step in the right direction,” Entz said.

It’s a step in the right direction after the 38-14 loss at Southern Illinois two weeks ago. At 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Bison are still in good shape for a postseason look.

But with just eight games in the spring, there isn’t much room for error.

The Bison moved up one spot to No. 5 in the Stats Perform top 25 media poll, flip flopping with Villanova, a 16-13 winner over Stony Brook. The University of North Dakota also moved up one spot to No. 3 setting up a possible showdown in two weeks if both programs win on Saturday. The Fighting Hawks are at winless Western Illinois.

NDSU also picked up a win in the transfer department on Monday when tight end Gabe Lloyd from the University of Wisconsin announced on Twitter he’s going to finish his career with the Bison. Lloyd is the son of former Bison running back Doug Lloyd and Fargo South graduate Angela (Malme) Kornowski.

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The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Gabe Lloyd saw action mostly on special teams in 2017 and 2018 and missed the 2019 season with an injury. He’ll have at least one year of eligibility remaining.

Related Topics: MATT ENTZ
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