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Screen play comes up big for NDSU

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North Dakota State's D.J. McNorton breaks free on his touchdown run Saturday, Jan. 7, during the FCS Champoinship game in Frisco, Texas. David Samson / The Forum

FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State went back to a familiar play to score its first touchdown Saturday. The middle screen, which worked so well last year but was heavily guarded by opponents this year, helped the Bison defeat Sam Houston State (Texas) Saturday afternoon.

The 39-yard pass from quarterback Brock Jensen to running back D.J. McNorton gave NDSU a lead in the third quarter - an advantage the Bison would never lose in beating the Bearkats 17-6 for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title at FC Dallas Stadium.

It's called a gap screen, which almost became a staple play last season.

"But it didn't work as much this year because a lot of teams caught on to it," McNorton said.

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North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen slides through the grasp of Sam Houston State defender Preston Sanders as NDSU offensive lineman Billy Turner (77) blocks during the FCS title game on Saturday, Jan. 7, in Frisco. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Jensen said teams often had either man-to-man coverage on McNorton or employed a "spy" player on him. He also credited offensive coordinator Brent Vigen for the timing of the call, which came one play after Matt Voigtlander's fake punt run for a first down.

"They were blitzing on every play, from the first drive on," Vigen said. "Anytime you take gambles, the flip of it is you can get burned on the screen."

Big hit left Jensen hurting in 2nd half

Jensen had a difficult time walking after the game, the result of a hit in the back he took at the end of the first half.

"Three guys came at me and I took a helmet to the back," he said.

He left the game for one play (a 10-yard quarterback draw by backup Esley Thorton), but returned in the second half.

It wasn't easy.

"It got tighter and tighter every minute," Jensen said. "The docs did a great job of getting me back."

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He finished 10 of 20 passing for 120 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

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North Dakota State’s John Pike leaps for an interception to seal the win for the Bison against Sam Houston State in the FCS championship game on Saturday, Jan. 7, in Frisco. David Samson / The Forum

Holloway, McNorton join 1,000-yard club

NDSU receiver Warren Holloway went over 1,000 passing yards for the season, joining T.R. McDonald (1993) as the only Bison players to reach that milestone. Later, McNorton joined him in the 1,000 club giving NDSU two running backs to reach the milestone and one receiver - a first for the program. Sam Ojuri eclipsed 1,000 yards earlier in the playoffs.

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The 20,586 fans helped the FCS set a tournament record for attendance with 256,384. The previous record was 209,761 in 1994. . . . NDSU became the 21st different team to win an FCS title . . . The title run pushed Craig Bohl's playoff record to 5-1. . . . In 15 games, the Bison allowed just 23 points in the first quarter and 34 in the third quarter. Sam Houston was scoreless in both on Saturday. The interceptions by John Pike and Travis Beck pushed NDSU's season total to 20. . . . Quarterback Brock Jensen finished his single season school passing yards record at 2,524 besting Steve Walker's 2007 record of 2,327. But Jensen finished with 219 completions, one off of Tony Stauss' school record of 220. . . . Kicker Ryan Jastram tied Shawn Bibeau's single season record for made field goals with 16.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

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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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