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NDSU FOOTBALL: Bison no longer perfect after upset by Youngstown State

FARGO -- North Dakota State's bid for an unbeaten football season and a top seed for the playoffs came to a screeching halt Saturday, thanks to some Penguins from Ohio.

NDSU Bison
NDSU Bison

FARGO -- North Dakota State's bid for an unbeaten football season and a top seed for the playoffs came to a screeching halt Saturday, thanks to some Penguins from Ohio.

The Youngstown State Penguins, still fostering slim playoff hopes, knocked off the No. 1-ranked Bison with a 27-24 win before 18,450 stunned fans at the Fargodome.

"Getting that top seed for the playoffs basically went out the window," said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor.

The Bison, now with a 9-1 overall record, most likely need a win in their regular-season finale next Saturday at Western Illinois to guarantee a first-round bye for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs that begin the weekend after Thanksgiving. Taylor said the Bison need to be a top-five seed to guarantee a first-round home playoff game.

"They beat us but we still have a lot to play for," said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. "This one will hurt for awhile but we need to bounce back."

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Youngstown, now 6-4 overall, came to Fargo with an offense that averaged 37 points per game. It showed why, piling up 451 total yards. The Bison defense, which had been giving up only 13 points per game, was unable to force a Youngstown punt until early in the fourth quarter.

By then, Youngstown already had its 27-24 lead.

The Bison appeared poised to win this game when Ryan Smith returned a punt 18 yards to the Penguin 34 yard line with 3:54 remaining. But on third down, Youngstown defensive end Daniel Stewart sacked Bison quarterback Brock Jensen.

"That was a big one," Stewart said. "I beat my guy inside and when I saw the quarterback, my eyes got big."

On the next play on fourth down, cornerback Jimmy May broke up a pass intended for Warren Holloway.

The Penguins took over with 2:07 remaining. The Bison got the ball back with 20 seconds remaining, but the game ended when Stewart pounced on a loose ball.

"This win means a lot," said Stewart, who hopes his team can beat Missouri State at home next week to keep its playoff hopes alive.

The Bison appeared poised to build on their 21-17 halftime lead when D.J. McNorton busted free for a big gain, only to lose the ball while running untouched deep into Penguin territory. The Penguins recovered and proceeded to march 86 yards for a touchdown to take their first lead, 24-21.

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"That was the biggest turning point of the whole game," said McNorton, one of 18 seniors who played their final regular-season home game.

At halftime, Youngstown had 283 total yards to NDSU's 163. The Penguins had the ball for more than 19 minutes, the Bison less than 11 minutes.

So how did NDSU own a 21-17 halftime lead?

For starters, the Bison used only nine plays and less than three minutes to score two touchdowns to build a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. The Bison's explosive offense, which averages 34 points per game, averaged more than 12 yards per play during that stretch.

At one point during the first half, the Penguins time of possession was nearly 18 minutes. NDSU's was nearly 4 minutes. Yet the Bison led 14-10.

It didn't help the Penguins when NDSU's Marcus Williams picked off a pass on the Bison 9 and returned it to the 40 -- setting up NDSU's second touchdown.

And it didn't help the Penguins when Jeremy Edwards' interception deep in Youngstown territory was negated after Josh Fenderson was flagged for a late hit on Bison quarterback Brock Jensen. The Bison scored three plays later to take a 21-10 lead with 1:48 left of the first half.

But the explosive Penguin offense, averaging 37 points per game, marched 79 yards in seven plays to score a touchdown and cut the lead to 21-17 just 17 seconds before halftime. It was Jordan Thompson's 38-yard run that helped set up Kurt Hess' 1-yard touchdown run.

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Penguin running back Jamaine Cook nearly equaled his game rushing average of 126 yards in the first half when he rumbled for 107 yards on 19 carries. He finished with 147 yards.

"Obviously, this is a huge win to beat the No. 1 team," Cook said. "As an offense, we pride ourselves in getting a lot of yards. Fortunately, we were able to do it again today."

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