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Kolpack: It was the 'Bruce Almighty' show as Bison roll past Sam Houston State

North Dakota State's Bruce Anderson flexes after scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run against Sam Houston State during the FCS semifinals at the Fargodome on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO—Bruce Anderson went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. He went way over. In fact, he went so far over on Friday night that he ended up in Texas.

That's where North Dakota State is headed after defeating Sam Houston State 55-13 in front of 18,279 fans who threw a hoedown at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The only thing missing was Bruce Almighty leaving the field wearing a cowboy hat.

The win put the Bison in the FCS title game for the sixth time in seven years Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Sam Houston State was no match for Anderson. It was like me being in the ring with a Brock Lesnar. There were instances where the basic West Coast offense power run up the middle, the one where you expect three to four yards, went for double-digits in yards.

Anderson came into the game with 970 yards and reaching 1,000 was easier than practice. His 62-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave the Bison a 14-3 lead and that was an ominous sign of things to come for the Bearkats, who didn't exactly come into the game with a reputation of a stingy defense.

They came in with a Swiss cheese D and the Bison found the holes.

You wondered how a team that was ranked 90th in the FCS in scoring defense would hold up in the dome. The Bearkats were 107th in yards given up at 438.8 yards per game in a subdivision that has 123 teams.

You had to wonder what the 16 teams ranked below Sam Houston were thinking while watching the game on TV. Perhaps a "glad I'm not there" theme came to mind.

Anderson's five TDs put him in some historic Bison company, tying a single-game record last set by Kevin Feeney in 1996. The list includes Tony Satter, Mark Speral and Paul Hatchett.

Anderson had a career high rushing in the first half alone. His first two quarter totals read as follows: 160 yards on the ground with three touchdowns, a 23-yard touchdown reception and a forced fumble.

Yes, as a kickoff cover guy, his hard tackle on Sam Houston returner Nathan Stewart forced a fumble and Tre Dempsey recovered at the Bearkat 44-yard line. Like the "Ghost Busters" movie from the '80s, who do you call?

Bruce.

"We ran hard and made it happen," Anderson said. "The Rams up front got them misplaced and the gaps were huge. You could drive a truck through them."

Anderson, on third-and-1 when you would expect a yard or two, went untouched from 33 yards and it was 35-3 with 6:16 left in the second quarter. The Bison defense held Sam to one first down forcing a punt and the Bison got the ball back with plenty of time to score.

In this game, that meant at least a minute.

"We knew coming in they were a physical bunch," said Sam Houston defensive lineman P.J. Hall. "Taking it on the whole game, you start to wear down. They take advantage. They would run the same play and take advantage."

It took 3:09 for the Bison to go 80 yards and Easton Stick's 12-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Illies gave the Bison a 41-3 halftime lead.

For the third straight playoff game, the Bison were facing a second half of basic dumbed-down offense.

"Coach could have called the score today," said Bearkats head coach K.C. Keeler, referring to Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "I appreciate he ran some clock and took some time off because we had trouble stopping them."

Especially Anderson. Somewhere during the week of the Illinois State game—the last regular season game for NDSU—the Bison junior turned off the put-pressure-on-myself switch and decided to simplify his game to run and have fun. He was probably overthinking things instead of just letting them happen.

They happened on Friday night. Man, did they happen.

"He's stepped up these last few weeks, running with great confidence, great passion," said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. "He's running through arm tackles, catching the ball. He's a great football player who is playing really well."

The one downer was a shoulder injury to running back Ty Brooks, who appeared to fall on it wrong after ripping off a 55-yard at the end of the first quarter. Klieman wasn't optimistic about an immediate return. And now there's no question that lifting the redshirt of freshman Seth Wilson before the eighth game of the season was the right thing to do.

Wilson was no slouch, either. He finished with 190 yards rushing including a 58-yarder in the third quarter that put him over the century mark.

In all, the Bison finished with 471 yards rushing on 48 attempts averaging 9.8 yards per attempt. That's almost a first down every time Stick handed off the ball.

"It's easy to play quarterback when you're averaging 10 yards a carry," Stick said. "The play-action game was great and they guys made plays catching the football."

Stick was 10 of 17 passing for 160 yards and four touchdowns, the latter an NDSU playoff record.

For the record, Anderson will take 1,153 yards to Frisco.

"I was so locked in ... I'm very humbled for it," Anderson said of the game. "We all work hard and it's a great feeling."

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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