(STATS) – North Dakota State’s loss in the FCS semifinals last season was often described as the end of the dynasty, but Bruce Anderson and the Bison are trying to show the assessment was premature.
While the Bison’s five-year reign as national champions was stopped, it may wind up being a bump in the road of an extended run of titles. At least Friday night’s 55-13 pounding of Sam Houston State in a playoff semifinal at the Fargodome – fueled by Anderson’s five touchdowns – suggested it.
The No. 2-seeded Bison (13-1) certainly know the Road to Frisco, because they’re headed back to the Dallas suburb with the chance to tie Georgia Southern’s all-time record of six FCS titles. On Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium, they’ll face Saturday’s semifinal winner between No. 5 seed South Dakota State (11-2) and top-seeded James Madison (13-0), which stopped the Bison in last year’s semifinals on the way to winning the national championship.
“I’m just excited that we’re going back to Frisco,” fourth-year coach Chris Klieman said. “It’s doesn’t matter who we play.”
Bruce was on the loose against Sam Houston (12-2). Anderson racked up 237 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches, including a career-high 183 rushing yards to go over 1,000 for the season. Four of his touchdowns came in the first half as North Dakota State built an insurmountable 41-3 lead.
The Bison defense also held Sam Houston quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the nation’s leading passer, in check, intercepting the senior three times in his final college game. He completed 29 of 51 passes for 289 yards, including a touchdown to Nathan Stewart, and finished the season with 5,003 passing yards.
The game was the fourth meeting between the two national powers in a playoff semifinal or final in the last seven seasons. North Dakota State, the seven-time reigning Missouri Valley Football Conference champ, has won each time, with the margin of victory growing larger.
The Bison’s 55 points and 642 offensive yards were program records in the playoffs.
“We said the game was going to won up front and we had to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and I thought we were able to do that,” Klieman said. “We capitalized on some of their mistakes and we made some explosive plays. If you’re going to play in a big-time environment, a big game like this, you have to be able to hit some of those explosives.”
Sam Houston State, the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, actually led 3-0 after Tre Honshtein kicked a 28-yard field goal to cap a 13-play opening drive, but the Bison scored touchdowns on each of their first-quarter possessions and six of their seven in the first half.
With North Dakota State ahead 7-3 on a 6-yard run by quarterback Easton Stick, cornerback Marquise Bridges had his first of two picks of Briscoe and Anderson followed on the next play with a 62-yard touchdown run. Stick and Anderson then teamed up to cap a 95-yard drive with a 23-yard touchdown off a wheel route.
In the second quarter, Anderson scored on a 37-yard run and then after Dimitri Williams recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, he raced in from 33 yards out. He caught a 31-yard touchdown in the third quarter – Stick’s fourth scoring pass.
North Dakota State was so dominating that Anderson wasn’t even the leading rusher. Freshman Seth Wilson gained 194 yards on 24 carries as the Bison finished with 471 yards on the ground – another program record for the playoffs.
“To try to go and defend what they do in a week is really hard,” Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler said. “We see a totally different brand of football and we obviously have to get up to speed in terms of how they play. Defensively, they don’t miss tackles. They have some great players on defense. They run to the ball and don’t make mistakes.”
The Bison also suffered some injuries to key players as running back Ty Brooks suffered an apparent shoulder injury and cornerbacks Jaylaan Wimbush and Jalen Allison left the game in the first half. Allison was on crutches by halftime.
Sam Houston left with more insult than injury as its recent playoff exits continued to be unsightly. In the last four years, the Bearkats have been eliminated by a combined 217-33 margin.