Urzendowski's clutch playoff catch against SDSU earns him spot in Bison football folklore

North Dakota State and South Dakota State have played three previous times in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs heading into Friday's semifinal matchup at Gate City Bank at the Fargodome.
North Dakota State's RJ Urzendowski gets a lift from teammates Luke Albers and Zach Vraa (82) after scoring on a 27-yard touchdown reception against South Dakota State on Saturday, Dec.6, 2014, during the Division I FCS playoffs at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Former North Dakota State wide receiver RJ Urzendowski was only months into his college career when he cemented himself firmly into Bison football folklore.

A true freshman, he caught the winning score in a instant NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff classic against rival South Dakota State in the 2012 second round. His 12-yard touchdown catch with less than a minute remaining vaulted the Bison to a 27-24 victory, which eventually led to a fourth consecutive NDSU national championship.

"As a freshman, you don't realize how important it was, but when you look back at the scope of a career, it was a pretty important play," said Urzendowski, now an undergraduate student assistant coach for the Bison. "It's something that's pretty special now."

Urzendowski caught two touchdowns in that dramatic second-round victory, the first playoff game in his stellar Bison career. It was the second of three FCS playoff matchups the Bison have had against the Jackrabbits.

"I still remember the energy in the dome that day, it was a pretty special game," said Urzendowski, who finished his playing career last season. "A lot of good memories there."

The Bison-Jackrabbits fourth FCS postseason matchup is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. This time it's the semifinals with a trip to Frisco, Texas, and the national title game appearance at stake. It's the deepest into the playoffs the rivals have met in the FCS postseason. NDSU has won the three previous playoff games.

North Dakota State's RJ Urzendowski snares a 12-yard touchdown pass against South Dakota State defender Dallas Brown late in the fourth quarter Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, during the Division I FCS playoffs at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

"When you get a chance to play them in the playoffs and you can knock them off and end their season, on both sides, it's even more intense," Urzendowski said. "That's kind of hard to believe based on the intensity of the regular season."

The Bison earned a 28-3 victory against the Jackrabbits in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. In 2016, NDSU earned a 36-10 victory against SDSU in the quarterfinals. Urzendowski had three catches for 47 yards in that 2016 game.

Former Bison wide receiver Trevor Gebhart was a senior in 2014. Those playoff games held extra significance for Gebhart, who was from Sioux Falls, S.D., and had family that lived near Brookings, where SDSU is located.

"I really can't put into words how meaningful those playoff games were for me," Gebhart said. "I had personal relationships with those guys from South Dakota State. ... That adds another component because you don't want to lose to your friends."

The Jackrabbits had the three-time defending champion Bison on the ropes in the 2014 playoffs. SDSU took a 24-20 lead after redshirt freshman wide receiver Jake Wieneke caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Austin Sumner with 3:18 to play in the fourth quarter. The Jackrabbits had trailed 14-0 earlier in the game.

SDSU senior running back Zach Zenner helped his team rally, rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

"I remember the big dogs on SDSU, Zenner and Wieneke, having big games," said Chase Morlock, a sophomore running back for the Bison on the 2014 team.

The Bison countered the Wieneke go-ahead score with a 76-yard drive that took eight plays. Urzendowski caught a 12-yard touchdown over an SDSU defender near the sideline in the end zone to give the Bison the winning points with 54 seconds remaining.

"He just had ice in his veins," Gebhart said of Urzendowski.

"It's right up at the top in terms of importance," Urzendowski said. "It was probably my most important catch in my career."

In 2012, Bison junior quarterback Brock Jensen threw two touchdown passes to senior tight end Garrett Bruhn as NDSU cruised to victory. The Bison defense limited the Jackrabbits to 217 yards, including 21 rushing yards.

North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen hugs Garrett Bruhn after scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown against South Dakota State University during the Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, FCS playoff game at the Fargodome. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Jensen said Friday's semifinal game shapes up to be one of the best in the rivalry.

"If I could come back for one more game, this would be the game I would want to play in," said Jensen, who helped lead the Bison to national titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

"That Friday night semifinal game is always pretty special no matter who you're playing," Urzendowski added. "I expect the dome to be rocking. I expect a great matchup."