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After sitting out last year, Menard focused on last title shot

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North Dakota State senior defensive end Greg Menard, shown here in Frisco, Texas, last January, missed last year's NCAA Division I FCS championship game with a knee injury. David Samson / The Forum2 / 4
North Dakota State's Greg Menard celebrates his fumble receovery against Southern Illinois earlier this season in the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum3 / 4
North Dakota State's Greg Menard celebrates a sack against Youngstown State earlier this season in the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum4 / 4

FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State defensive end Greg Menard will need a monster game Saturday, Jan. 5, against Eastern Washington to become the program’s all-time leader in quarterback sacks. That’s probably down the list on things on his mind lately.

For starters, he’s just happy to be playing in a Division I FCS national title game. The senior missed last season with a torn ACL and spent the week in Frisco, Texas, more or less hanging around the guys.

“It’s a little more relaxed,” Menard said. “I think there is more fun involved, where it’s not strictly business.”

When it times come for business, there have not been many better in a Bison uniform in attacking the quarterback. He’s fourth all-time in program history with 38 sacks, but just three from tying the school mark shared by Jerry Dahl (1973-74), Phil Hansen (1987-90) and Kyle Emanuel (2011-14).

There were times last year in NDSU’s 17-13 championship win over James Madison where he wanted to put on the pads.

“I’m one of those guys who gets super tense before games and stuff,” Menard said. “Last year was a different experience being able to chill out and relax a little bit and seeing things from the outside in. But once the game came, I went back to super tense mode and super worried about everything that was going on.”

It will be Menard’s first taste of Eastern Washington since the 2016 game, which resulted in a 50-44 overtime win for the Bison. He missed last year’s regular-season game in Cheney, Wash., with the knee injury.

“That was a crazy game,” he said. “We had a huge game plan around (receiver) Cooper Kupp and he went out, but some other receivers started making a bunch of plays. It was one of those games you want to forget as a defense.”

Certainly, he’ll want to make his last game one to remember.

“You never know when you’re last game is going to be but now that I know when my last game will be, I’m going to do everything I can to be prepared and successful,” Menard said. “They have guys on their team — same thing for them. So everyone is going to have a little extra emotion in a game like this.”

Klieman: Eastern offense is explosive

Eastern comes into the title game with some lofty offensive credentials. The Eagles are third in the FCS in scoring offense averaging 44.5 points a game and second in total offense at 540.6 yards per game.

The ringleader is quarterback Eric Barriere, who has completed 177 of 286 passes for 2,252 yards with 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions. And he hasn’t started all season, either, taking over for injured All-American Gage Gubrud.

NDSU head coach Chris Klieman listed three priorities that the Bison will need to do to try and slow the Eastern Washington offense:

  1. Can’t give up explosive plays.

  2. Have to do a good job of tackling and have “lane integrity in rushing the passer.”

  3. Find a way to get a few turnovers.

“This is an offense that is really good that is going to move the football,” Klieman said. “And so both sides of the ball, red zone success will be critical so we cannot panic if they make a play and get it inside the 10 or get it inside the 15. If we can hold them to a field goal, field goals don’t typically beat you.”

The only team to hold the Eagles down this season was Weber State, which held Eastern to 62 yards rushing on 36 carries in a 14-6 Weber win in Ogden, Utah. That was also only the second start for Barriere.

Eastern has averaged 40.0 points in its three playoff wins, including a 50-19 win over Maine in the semifinals.

“I like their skill guys,” Klieman said. “They’re a big-play team as evidenced against Maine. They jumped on them so fast. They have kids, whether you hand it off to them or make a short throw to them, who can take it the distance.”

Around the Valley

  • The ESPN2 crew televising the game will consist of Taylor Zarzour at the play-by-play, analyst Matt Stinchcomb and Kris Budden with sideline reports. The Bison are 25-2 in 27 previous appearances on national television in the Division I era. The postgame trophy presentation will be streamed on ESPN3.

  • It’s the first time a Missouri Valley Football Conference team will face a Big Sky team in the FCS title game. The Valley is making an eighth straight trip to Frisco with Youngstown State reaching the 2016 game and the Bison the other seven. Illinois State played NDSU for 2014 championship.

  • Youngstown State in 1997 and Western Kentucky ins 2002 are the other two Valley teams beside NDSU to win a national title. Youngstown joined the conference in 1997 after winning three titles as a Division I-AA independent. Besides Eastern Washington in 2010, other Big Sky champions were Boise State in 1980, Idaho State in 1981, Montana State in 1984 and Montana in 1995 and 2001.

  • Eastern Washington is 5-13 all-time against the Missouri Valley, including losing five of the last six. The last win was 41-17 over South Dakota State in the 2013 second round.
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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