FRISCO, Texas – It’s not Fargo, but it might as well be.
Restaurants and hotels neighboring Toyota Stadium were draped in green and yellow, welcoming the expected 15,000-plus North Dakota State fans expected to fill most the venue Saturday for the FCS national title game.
Considering top-ranked NDSU (14-0) is making its seventh trip to Frisco in eight years when it faces Eastern Washington (12-2), the Bison are somewhat of a household name in the north Dallas suburb.
If the Eagles want to win the program’s second national title – they won their first in 2010, the first year game was in Frisco – they will have to do it a true road-game environment.
“They’ve been here, done that. We know the Bison fans travel a lot,” EWU quarterback Eric Barriere said. “And we just gotta go out there and play our game, because at the end of the day it’s going to be an away game in a way. But it’s just a football game, so we’ve just got to go out there and play.”
EWU center Spencer Blackburn pointed to the fact NDSU had to make a long trip to Texas.
“They have to go through the same hoops as we have to go through to get here and play in a game that’s not actually at your own stadium,” Blackburn said.
“I would say it’s a home game atmosphere for them, but it’s not necessarily a home game as well.”
“People know we’re here,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said. “We’ve been around a long time. We just haven’t had the success they’ve had on the national stage in terms of hoisting national championships.”
set to return
Both missed the playoffs after sustaining injuries in a regular-season finale at Portland State.
Senior receiver and punt returner Zach Eagle, a key player before going down with a leg injury at Montana State in September, will not play.
Best hadn’t ruled Eagle out for the season, but said Friday that he wouldn’t suit up.
Tiuli’s status still
The status of EWU nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli, the Big Sky Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, is still uncertain.
Tiuli was suspended for EWU’s semifinal against Maine after he was arrested for alleged second-degree misdemeanor assault.
He made the trip to Frisco and participated in team activities, but Best said a decision hasn’t been made.
Best said last week that the decision is a university matter.
“I’m eagerly awaiting the news,” Best said. “I‘m not pushing this back for any particular reason. Those that know me – and some people are from the Spokane area – I’m about as transparent as they come, whether it’s our 4-year-old or 5-year-old at home, in Texas or whether it’s Jay-Tee Tiuli. So I’m hiding nothing. And so when I get that information, I’ll disburse that information to whom we need to disburse that to.”
Blackburn, Levao may return in ’19
Blackburn and All-Big Sky Conference right tackle Kaleb Levao – both seniors – might return next season.
They are applying for medical redshirts for injury-derailed seasons earlier in their careers.
With the return of many of its skill players, EWU, which has four seniors on its offensive line, would greatly benefit from the return of Blackburn and Levao.
Stick skips Payton award ceremony
NDSU quarterback Easton Stick, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, skipped out on the ceremony Friday in Frisco.
Stick said the late ceremony time and the early kickoff was the reason, as he wanted more time to prepare for EWU.
Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges won the award.
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