No. 1-ranked Bison get late long TD run to retain Dakota Marker against stingy rival SDSU
BROOKINGS, S.D. — North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz had more than 1,500 pounds of persuasion giving him advice moments before the biggest play call Saturday afternoon at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
The Bison offensive linemen didn't flinch when asked about rolling the dice on a fourth down and less than a yard late in the game with NDSU deep in its own territory.
"All five of them looked at me and said, 'Let's do it.' When you know your kids are locked in like that, I felt good about it," Entz said. "They were going the decide the fate of the game, not the head coach."
NDSU senior running back Adam Cofield picked up the first down and never stopped. Cofield scored a 71-yard touchdown run with less than three minutes remaining to vault the No. 1-ranked Bison to a 23-16 victory against No. 3-ranked South Dakota State in a Missouri Valley Football Conference showdown before a stadium record crowd of 19,371 fans.
"I just trusted the O-line," Cofield said. "I figured I would just get the first down, but I saw the hole open and I just went. ... The O-line they were geeked up to go out there and get that first down."
The Bison (8-0, 4-0 MVFC) remained unbeaten and extended their winning streak to 29 consecutive games. The Jackrabbits (6-2, 3-1) suffered their first conference setback. NDSU is the lone unbeaten team in MVFC play with four games to play in the regular season. The victory also gave the Bison the Dakota Marker trophy for a second consecutive season.
"I'm really excited that our team is 8-0 right now," Entz said. "Any time you can get a win over a ranked opponent, regardless of how it looks, I'm super excited. ... We'll continue to get better. I don't think we've come near where we can be yet."
Cofield's touchdown run was part of an up-and-down fourth quarter. SDSU backup quarterback Keaton Heide, a true freshman and the third QB in the game for the Jackrabbits, scored on a three-yard run with 7 minutes, 22 seconds to play in the game to tie it at 16-16. SDSU maintained momentum after NDSU tried a trick play, and it backfired.
Running back Dimitri Williams, while running wide, had his pass picked off by SDSU's Levi Brown at the Bison 32-yard line with 5:58 remaining. Williams was hit by Jackrabbits cornerback Don Gardner while trying to throw to an open Josh Babicz and the ball landed in the arms of Brown.
"We had to find a way and our kids just continued to handle the little hiccups here and there," Entz said. "Good teams find a way to win, even when maybe you're not playing at your best," Entz said.
The Bison, however, got the ball back moments later when cornerback Josh Hayes picked off Heide on a third-and-9 play and the Bison had the ball at their own 20 with 4:55 remaining.
That set the stage for Entz's big fourth down call. The Bison had less than a yard to go from their own 29 with less than three minutes to play.
NDSU first tried to draw SDSU offsides and then called a timeout. The Bison offense lined up to go for it again before the Jackrabbits burned a timeout. The third time the Bison lined up on the ball, freshman quarterback Trey Lance handed the ball off to Cofield off right tackle. Cofield knifed through the line of scrimmage, broke into the open and beat an SDSU defender to the end zone.
That gave the Bison a 23-16 lead with 2:32 remaining.
"It was wild," Lance said. "Super exciting. We were all just thinking get the first down and hold on to the ball. Adam made a great play. ... It was a lot of fun, a lot of energy out there."
The Jackrabbits thought the Bison may go with a quarterback sneak or a run up the middle on that key fourth-down play.
"I'll be honest, I thought it was just going to be up the gut more and it wasn't," SDSU senior linebacker Christian Rozeboom said. "So live and learn."
Neither team found the end zone until the second half after settling for field goals throughout the first two quarters with SDSU building a 6-3 halftime lead. Bison senior running back Ty Brooks broke the TD drought, slicing through the Jackrabbits defense for a 59-yard score that gave NDSU a 10-6 lead with 8:15 to play in the third quarter.
The Bison rode that momentum into another touchdown moments later.
On the next play from scrimmage, Bison defensive end Spencer Waege had a strip sack that teammate Matt Biegler recovered at the SDSU 14-yard line. Five plays later, tight end Ben Ellefson caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Lance to give NDSU a 16-6 lead with 5:57 to play in the third quarter.
"We didn't make a lot of big plays," said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. "We'll be back."
Both teams settled for field goals early in the game. Senior kicker Chase Vinatieri made both of his attempts in the first quarter to help SDSU build an early lead. Vinatieri booted a 25-yard field goal that gave the Jackrabbits a 6-0 lead with 2:11 to play in the opening quarter.
SDSU starting quarterback J'Bore Gibbs helped engineer both those drives, but the redshirt freshman left the game with an apparent lower leg injury during his team's second drive of the game. Gibbs came out of the halftime locker room with ice on his knee. Backup Kanin Nelson, a junior from Mitchell, S.D., got one Jackrabbits first down before Vinatieri's second field goal.
The Jackrabbits turned to Heide later in the game.
"We were still rolling how we usually would so I don't think it played a big effect in the game," said SDSU running back Pierre Strong, who rushed for 120 yards on 19 attempts.
The Bison scored 20 points in the second half and rushed for 332 yards on 44 attempts. Brooks rushed for 97 yards on nine carries, while Cofield added 86 yards on seven attempts. The Bison found the end zone three times, while SDSU was limited to one TD.
"We always talk about how field goals won't get you beat," said Bison defensive end Derrek Tuszka, who finished with two sacks.
"We just didn't execute as well down there," Stiegelmeier said. "We didn't finish."
After the Bison ran out the clock, their players rushed to grab the Dakota Marker trophy in the corner of the stadium.
"It was awesome," said Waege, who is from Watertown, S.D. "It's just a really special moment."