FRISCO, Texas – Fargo to Frisco is a thing again at North Dakota State.
Easton Stick threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Shepherd and the Bison took back the Football Championship Subdivision title, beating James Madison 17-13 on Saturday. The victory came a year after their five-year run atop the FCS ended against the Dukes in the semifinals.
NDSU (14-1) also preserved its division-record 33-game winning streak from three years ago, ending James Madison’s run at 26 straight, denying the Dukes a second straight title and spoiling what would have been their first undefeated, untied season.
By winning six championships in seven years in the suburb north of Dallas, the Bison tied Georgia Southern with the most FCS titles.
“It’s a legacy,” said linebacker Nick DeLuca, who was injured and missed last year’s 27-17 loss to James Madison in Fargo that denied the Bison their annual trip to Texas. “That’s everything that we work for and all those workouts, all that extra stuff we do in the offseason, it’s for this moment and for this stage. Just happy to get back here.”
The Dukes (14-1), who trailed 17-3 late in the first half, had a chance to win after punter Harry O’Kelly ran 24 yards on a fake. But Bryan Schor’s desperation throw to the end zone on fourth-and-16 fell incomplete with 58 seconds left.
James Madison couldn’t overcome the deficit because the mistakes that helped put the Dukes behind kept happening.
Schor had two interceptions, including one by Marquise Bridges in his first career start at the NDSU 3 late in the third quarter. Two possessions later, Terrence Alls dropped a pass while running behind the defense, and Schor was sacked for the fourth time on the next play, forcing a punt.
“They made plays and we made too many mistakes,” James Madison coach Mike Houston said. “That’s what it boils down to. But they deserve to hoist that trophy out there.”
Bruce Anderson ran for a game-high 63 yards and the first touchdown . Shepherd’s first touchdown of the season came when Stick hit him in stride at the 15 for a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.
James Madison’s Simeyon Robinson, who had two sacks, blocked a field goal to keep the deficit at four with 4 1/2 minutes remaining before O’Kelly’s run on the fake punt.
Marcus Marshall had a 1-yard run for the only touchdown for the Dukes, who lost the turnover battle 3-1 after forcing 10 takeaways in the semifinals. Ethan Ratke had two field goals but missed one in the first half.
North Dakota State: Coach Chris Klieman has his third title after winning three as an assistant. He joined the Bison staff the same year the title run started, 2011. “I pinch myself,” Klieman said after improving his NDSU record to 54-6. “To be here for all six of those FCS championships, it’s a lifetime dream.”
James Madison: This will be a tough one for Houston and company. Among the mistakes was Riley Stapleton’s fumble at the end of a 27-yard catch on a jump ball. Schor’s second interception came when it looked as if the Dukes were ready to take control with their first lead.
Watching the clock
Rather than punt, the Bison had Stick run off the last 4 seconds on fourth down. As soon as the clock hit zero, he slid and waited to get mobbed by teammates, while the yellow-clad fans spilled onto the field for the trophy celebration on a stage behind one of the end zones. “I just made sure, No. 1 catch the snap, and then I found the clock right away,” said Stick, who didn’t throw an interception against a defense that had 31 during the season.
The two best defenses in FCS squared off, so it’s no surprise that both teams fell short of 300 yards total offense. And that most of the big plays were made by the defenses: seven sacks, including one that forced NDSU’s only turnover on a fumble by Stick, along with five quarterback hits and plenty of other pressure. Derrek Tuszka had two sacks for the Bison.
North Dakota State: Stick will have 10 career playoff starts going into his final year, with fellow seniors in his top two running backs, Anderson and Dunn. The Bison will have to replace DeLuca, the spiritual and statistical leader of the defense and a possible NFL pick. The first four games of 2018 are at home, starting with Cal Poly.
James Madison: The Dukes have to replace Schor, two receivers and a tight end, although Stapleton returns as a junior after recording his first two career 100-yard games in the playoffs. Seven senior starters are listed on defense. The 2018 opener is against FBS North Carolina State, which is coming off a nine-win season plus a Sun Bowl victory.
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