Frick's return sparks Bison in first quarter

CEDAR CITY, Utah - As if the thin mountain air wasn't enough, the North Dakota State defense sucked the oxygen out of Southern Utah on Saturday night.

CEDAR CITY, Utah - As if the thin mountain air wasn't enough, the North Dakota State defense sucked the oxygen out of Southern Utah on Saturday night.

Justin Frick returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and the rest of his defensive mates were stingy most of the night in a 37-21 victory before 1,621 fans at Eccles Coliseum.

It stopped a two-game NDSU losing streak and boosted the morale of a team that had lost three of four. It was the first Great West Football Conference victory for the Bison, who improved to 5-3 overall and 1-2 in the league.

Southern Utah fell to 1-6, 1-3.

The Thunderbirds put together only one substantial drive, an 86-yard march in the first half that gave them a 14-13 lead.


After that, the white shirts and green pants were all over starting quarterback Zac Connors and backup Wes Marshall. Connors threw two interceptions before being benched in the fourth quarter.

Although the Bison offense had trouble capitalizing on the mistakes, it put together just enough production to keep the Thunderbirds from being a serious threat.

Running back Kyle Steffes went over 100 yards for the fifth time and scored two touchdowns while fullback Tyler Jangula caught a 24-yard touchdown pass.

The Bison defense set the table for a potential big early lead. Nick Schommer's interception on the Thunderbirds' opening drive led to Steve Walker's 24-yard touchdown pass to Jangula. One play later, Frick became the fifth Bison defender to score this year.

He picked up a fumble caused by cornerback Bobby Babich and ran 17 yards for a touchdown. With less than three minutes gone, NDSU already had a 13-0 lead.

But Bison mistakes let SUU back in the game. Shamen Washington's fumbled punt at his own 4 was turned into a touchdown pass to Joey Hew Len one play later. NDSU had a chance to counter the score, but Walker missed a wide open A.J. Cooper in the end zone on a fourth-and-2 play.

The Thunderbirds responded by going 86 yards the other way in 13 plays. What looked to be an early blowout was suddenly a 14-13 SUU lead.

NDSU, however, caught its breath. An 80-yard drive culminated by Kyle Steffes' 1-yard run reclaimed the lead. SUU's third turnover of the half, a fumble by receiver Tony Eason at his own 30, led to another Steffes touchdown and a 27-14 Bison halftime advantage.


The NDSU defense, meanwhile, quietly started to ring up a series of three-and-outs. The Thunderbirds didn't get a first down from early in the second quarter until six minutes were left in the third quarter.

It gave the Bison plenty of time to build on their lead.

It didn't happen until the fourth quarter. Cory Vartanian's 45-yard field goal made it a three-possession lead and Cinque Chapman added some extra credit with a 29-yard touchdown run.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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