Backups stand tall for Bison defense in season opener

FARGO -- North Dakota State had just committed its only turnover of the game against Cal Poly, a fumble, and the Mustangs took over at the Bison 7-yard line in the season opener two weeks ago. It was the fourth quarter and the visitors' first tou...

FARGO - North Dakota State had just committed its only turnover of the game against Cal Poly, a fumble, and the Mustangs took over at the Bison 7-yard line in the season opener two weeks ago. It was the fourth quarter and the visitors' first touchdown was well within sight.

Moreover, NDSU had its backups in the game. In the case of defensive ends Spencer Waege and Logan McCormick, they were considered third-stringers. You would have never known it.

Waege and linebacker Jackson Hankey combined to stop Cal Poly quarterback Kyle Reid for a two-yard loss. Waege tackled Reid for a three-yard loss on the ensuing play. On fourth-and-goal, McCormick sacked Reid and the Bison held the Mustangs out of the end zone.

"It means a lot," Waege said. "It shows we have depth at our position and a lot of guys can play."

The defensive stand, head coach Chris Klieman noted, came against several Cal Poly first line players.

"Our defensive line pushed it back all four plays," Klieman said.

McCormick is a sophomore and Waege a redshirt freshmen. They're behind seniors Greg Menard, Caleb Butler and Stanley Jones and junior Derrek Tuszka at the two end spots.

"The older guys are great," Waege said. "They're great to learn behind. You can see how they prepare and get ready for games every week. To learn behind them is a big deal."

UNA QB an immediate hit

It didn't take North Alabama quarterback Christian Lopez long to make a difference. He transferred from Mesa Community College (Ariz.) arriving in Florence, Ala., on July 4. Two days before the season-opener at Southern Utah, he was voted by his teammates as one of four captains.

"That's impressive," said UNA head coach Chris Willis. "That tells you how he won his team over. He was actually the third vote getter out of four. That's impressive."

He's had an impressive start on the field, especially late in games when the Lions needed him most. In the 34-30 win at SUU, he engineered two scoring drives in the fourth quarter to overcome deficits, the last a 75-yard, nine-play beauty hitting Dexter Boykin with the game-winner with just 12 seconds remaining.

Last week, a three-play, 51-yard scoring drive that took just 32 seconds was the difference in beating Alabama A&M 25-20. Lopez suffered an apparent knee injury in that game in the first half, but came back to play the final two quarters.

He's expected to play against the Bison, Willis said.

"He's a tough guy," he said. "He has that Brett Favre-mentality so to speak."

Around the Valley

• Western Illinois may be in a must-win game if it wants to be a serious contender for postseason play. The 0-2 Leathernecks, who have already lost to Montana State, host Montana.

• South Dakota State quarterback Taryn Christion went over 10,000 career yards in total offense in the 45-14 win over Montana State last week. He's just the second player in the Missouri Valley Football Conference to do so.

• Southern Illinois scored on all six first-half possessions and finished with 629 yards of total offense against Mississippi last Saturday, the sixth-most in school history. The problem was defense. Ole Miss won 76-41.

• South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons is third in the FCS in passing yards and second in total offense. He threw for 462 yards and rushed for 80 more in a 43-28 win over Northern Colorado.