FCS Semifinals: #5 South Dakota State Falls to #1 North Dakota State 44-21
For the fourth time in the last seven seasons, a trip to Fargo in the FCS Playoffs has proven to be the road to nowhere for South Dakota State, as top-seeded North Dakota State eliminated the Jackrabbits again Friday night (December 14), this time in the national semifinals, 44-21.
Bison All-American quarterback Easton Stick ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns and completed 12-of-15 passes for 169 yards and another score as NDSU rolled into its seventh trip to the FCS title game in the last eight seasons.
North Dakota State (14-0) won for the 20th straight time.
In one of the toughest environments for visiting teams to play in, it was actually the home team that seemed a bit distracted early. The Bison committed four penalties (including three false starts) and burned two timeouts in the game's first nine minutes.
But North Dakota State overcame that early adversity with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive later in the first quarter, keyed by a Easton Stick-to-Seth Wilson 33-yard pass to the Jackrabbit five-yard line. Stick found the end zone two plays later and the Bison had a 7-0 lead.
SDSU responded with a weapon they didn't use the first time they battled NDSU back in September - redshirt freshman running back Pierre Strong. Strong began with a 25-yard run on the drive that was extended by a Bison pass interference penalty, and later finished the drive with a 30-yard touchdown run to tie the game. Strong finished the first half with 102 yards rushing.
North Dakota State missed an opportunity to add points early in the second quarter when a Cam Pedersen 48-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, but the Jackrabbit offense couldn't capitalize, punting on their final three possessions of the first half.
The SDSU passing game was held in check in the first 30 minutes as quarterback Taryn Christion completed just 4-of-12 for 32 yards.
The Bison air attack was more effective, as Stick connected on back-to-back 15-yard throws late in the first half, setting up a designed quarterback run which covered 34-yards and game North Dakota State a 14-7 lead at halftime.
The Bison received the second half kickoff and wasted no time extending their lead as Seth Wilson busted one up the middle for 78 yards on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Bruce Anderson scored on the next play to make it 21-7, 35 seconds into the second half.
Desperately in need of a touchdown the Jackrabbits struck quickly as Christion connected with Isaiah Hill for 49-yards to the NDSU ten-yard line. Two plays later SDSU cut the lead to 21-14 on a Christion-to-Blake Kunz eight-yard score.
The SDSU defense dodged a pair of bullets on the ensuing Bison drive as a pair of NDSU touchdown runs were called back due to penalties, but that couldn't keep the home team out of the end zone as Stick connected with Anderson from 14-yards to make it 28-14.
After a Jackrabbit three-and-out, North Dakota State was back in the end zone quickly needing just three plays to go up 35-21 as Anderson ran it in from 44-yards out.
The South Dakota State offense had one last bullet in the gun when Christion found Cade Johnson for a 52-yard touchdown on the next possession, cutting the NDSU advantage to 35-21 in the final seconds of the third quarter.
But North Dakota State did an effective job of playing keep away on their next possession, converting on three different third-down conversions, running more than nine minutes off the clock before settling for a Pedersen 32-yard field goal to make it 38-21 with 6:21 left.
Stick put the exclamation point on the night for the Bison with a 28-yard touchdown run on the next possession. NDSU finished the game with 608 yards of total offense, 439 of those on the ground.
North Dakota State plays the winner of Saturday's semifinal game between #3 Eastern Washington and #7 Maine in the FCS Championship Game, Saturday, January 5, 2019, in Frisco, Texas.
It will be the eighth straight year at least one member of the Missouri Valley Conference has made it to the title game. The MVFC has now put a team in the finals 12 times in the past 22 years - the most of any conference.