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Illinois State looks to bounce back

It was quite a season. Illinois State reached the quarterfinals of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2006 and was ranked every week of the season.

Luke Drone

It was quite a season. Illinois State reached the quarterfinals of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2006 and was ranked every week of the season.

Eleven of those weeks were spent in the top 10, twice reaching the No. 3 spot after starting the year 6-1.

But 2007 has been different. The Redbirds are 4-5 heading into Saturday's game against No. 1-ranked North Dakota State at the Fargodome.

"We've had a frustrating and disappointing football season as a team," ISU head coach Denver Johnson said. "We have not had the season we were hoping for as a team."

Individually, quarterback Luke Drone hasn't had the season he hoped for either, Johnson said. He's completed 145 of 243 passes (60 percent) for 1,873 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's second on the school's all-time completions list with 563 and needs five touchdown passes to become ISU's all-time leader in that category.

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But he's also thrown 14 interceptions this year and some came at inopportune times. He had three interceptions in three of ISU's losses in a 2-4 start.

He had three in a season-opening 27-24 upset loss to FCS non-scholarship Drake University. He had three more in a 16-13 loss to Northern Iowa, which is ranked second behind the Bison in the FCS coaches poll and first in the media poll, and three in a 58-41 loss to Missouri State.

"Luke had some bad turnover problems the first four or five games of the season," Johnson said.

That was cured two weeks ago in a payback win of sorts. Drone was 19 of 30 for 278 yards in a 27-22 win at No. 12 Youngstown State. Youngstown dealt the Redbirds two of their four losses last year including the quarterfinal game.

"They beat Youngstown State at Youngstown," NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said.

"It was a close game against Northern Iowa and some people think Northern Iowa is the best team in the country. We'll have our hands full. They have good athletes and they're from a part of the country where there are a lot of good football players."

It will be the first meeting between the two, but the first of many. NDSU and South Dakota State are joining ISU's Gateway Football Conference next year. Johnson said in some ways this week feels like a league game.

"We're excited to travel to Fargo and introduce ourselves to the Bison and the Fargodome," Johnson said. "If we're not presently the stoutest conference in the country, there will be very little argument about it when North Dakota State and South Dakota State join."

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Illinois State at NDSU

- When: 4:07 p.m. Saturday

- Radio: WDAY (970 AM)

- TV: KVLY

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

Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com

Illinois State looks to bounce back Jeff Kolpack 20071101

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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The Black Hawks trailed by two goals with just over six minutes left to play but rallied and upended Fargo in overtime on Saturday.