Weather could be major factor in Bison-Dukes FCS title game
FRISCO, Texas — All was quiet with the North Dakota State and James Madison football teams on Friday. The weather in the Dallas area, however, was as loud and unpredictable as a back-and-forth playoff game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. That included a tornado watch.
Whether the elements play a factor in Saturday’s Division I FCS national title game remains to be seen. If so, it wasn’t on the top of the young mind of Bison quarterback Trey Lance, who put some geography into his answer.
“We’ll be alright, we’re from Fargo,” Lance said. “We practice in what I’d like to think is the worst. It was about negative 14 when we left Fargo. It will be like a spring game to us. We’ll be alright.”
Friday was all right for Bison sophomore linebacker Jackson Hankey, who was named the winner of the NCAA Elite 90 Award that goes to the player in the title game with the highest grade point average. Hankey carries a 4.0 in agricultural economics.
Hankey was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America second team in December in a vote by the College Sports Information Directors of America and is a Missouri Valley Football Conference all-academic first team pick.
Hankey was honored at a breakfast banquet. By early afternoon, attention shifted to the game that matches the No. 1-ranked Bison and No. 2-ranked JMU.
The forecast called for a high in the mid-40s with Friday’s rain expected to diminish by the time the players get to Toyota Stadium. The wind will most likely be a factor with Bison head coach Matt Entz and JMU head coach Curt Cignetti both paying close attention to it on Friday.
Cignetti said he’s heard forecasted winds could gust into the 30s. Entz said it could play a factor into early decisions like taking the ball if NDSU wins the coin toss instead of the usual deferring to the second half.
“Field conditions are going to be best early in the game,” Entz said. “There’s probably always a thought process, do you take the ball right off the bat when your footing is going to be at its best? Throw the wind in there, I anticipate it will come out of the north here in Frisco. That will always throw a wrinkle into things.”
Those wrinkles could put a premium on a team getting out to a lead.
“With the weather, the team that scores first might be able to protect that lead,” Entz said. “You never know. It depends on how poor or good the weather gets.”
Cignetti pointed to his team playing in cold-weather games in the playoffs. His team practices outside when it’s cold, he said, even though it has an indoor facility.
“We’re used to playing in cold weather, it doesn’t affect us,” Cignetti said. “I kind of like the weather forecast to be honest with you. But the game is going to be won out there between the lines. We’ll see what happens.”
The field at Toyota is natural grass and was covered with tarps since late Thursday. They are expected to be removed early Saturday morning in advance of the 11 a.m. kickoff.
The Bison moved their Friday walkthrough practice to Lone Star High School in Frisco. It’s also where the throng of football alums gathered for the night-before-game ritual that began in the 2011 title game at the outdoor practice fields adjacent to Toyota Stadium.
“We’ll connect with a lot of former players,” Entz said.
Of the eight Bison teams that have reached the title game, Entz is overseeing one of the youngest. NDSU has 14 seniors, but most of its starters and playmakers are underclassmen. Asked if he’s worried about his team being too tight on the national stage, Entz said he was more concerned with the opposite.
“It’s the number of TikTok productions they have,” said a smiling Entz, referring to a social media app popular with younger people. “We do have an extremely young football team when you look at their date of birth. But we have had some great experiences this year. We’ve played a lot of people. The way we practice, I think it prepares our kids to play on this stage.”
Entz said he’s hopeful that if younger players are too amped up before the game, they’ll get that initial energy out of their system during warmups.
“Then reel them back in before kickoff,” he said.