By Matthew Postins
So why did he and the Bison make it look so easy?
The Bison defeated the Sam Houston State Bearkats, 39-13, on Saturday at FC Dallas Stadium in the FCS National Championship game. The Bison (14-1) won their second straight FCS title game and their 10th national title overall. Both wins came over the Bearkats (11-4).
The Bison became the fifth different FCS team to repeat as national champions.
The Bison hammered away at Sam Houston’s No. 3 ranked rushing defense, a unit that gave up just 87.4 yards per game entering the championship game. The Bison rolled up 300 rushing yards, with four different backs gaining at least 40 yards. Jensen, the game’s Most Outstanding Player, gained 44 yards but scored three times to go along with 115 passing yards.
The run game set the tone for the second half. The game was tied, 10-10. The Bison scored on each of their first four drives of the second half. Afterward, Bison all-America left tackle Billy Turner said running the ball was the plan after the first half.
“Our feeling was that we really didn’t have to make any adjustments, “Turner said. “We felt we were getting what we wanted offensively. At halftime the coaches told us we were going to hammer away with inside runs and it worked.”
All four of NDSU’s second-half scores came on the ground. John Crockett and Sam Ojuri each eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season. Ojuri gained 92 yards and scored twice, while Crockett gained 83 yards.
It was dominant, old-fashioned football.
“Controlling the line of scrimmage was big,” NDSU coach Craig Bohl said.
What else would you expect from a coach who cut his teeth on a Nebraska coaching staff led by Tom Osborne?
“They really ran the ball well against us and that’s something a lot of people haven’t done this year,” said Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz, who barely had a voice left for the post-game press conference.
Turnovers didn’t hurt either. The Bison forced four of them and scored 28 points off those mistakes.
Sam Houston quarterback Brian Bell threw for 255 yards against the top-ranked pass defense in FCS. But Bell threw three interceptions. His first, picked off by cornerback Marcus Williams, a Buck Buchanan award finalist, set up Jensen’s 20-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Fritz estimated that during his coaching career when his teams are plus-1 in turnovers they win 92 percent of the time.
“We were minus-4 today,” Fritz said. “We’re not going to win any games that way.”
Bell’s second interception turned into the back-breaker. On that drive to start the third quarter the Bearkats briefly took the lead. Running back Tim Flanders found a large seam on the left side and turned it into a 40-yard touchdown run. Had it stood, Sam Houston would have been up by seven points. But a holding penalty brought the play back and set the Bearkats back to 3rd-and-13 from the 50. Flanders finished with 53 rushing yards.
On the next play Bell threw an interception to Carlton Littlejohn. The Bison turned that into a lead, with Jensen doing the honors from a yard out.
Sam Houston’s next drive resulted in a failed 4th-and-1 from the Bison 35. NDSU turned that into a two-touchdown lead and never looked back.
“We ran play action with our tight end and he ended up getting picked and there was no one there,” Fritz said.
This was a close game at halftime, just as last year’s game was. But the Bison have now outscored the Bearkats 43-3 in the second half of the title game the last two years.
It looked easier but it was definitely harder, Bohl said.
“We felt coming into this game that Sam Houston was better than last year,” Bohl said. “Their quarterback (Bell) got banged up and I’m not sure Flanders was 100 percent. We were opportunistic today. We created some turnovers. Unfortunately this playoff format means someone has to go home unhappy.”
The Bison go back to Fargo happy and hopeful for next year. The Bison return 18 starters and seek to become the second team in FCS history to win three straight titles, joining Appalachian State.