Kolpack: It was 4 minutes, 49 seconds of doomsday for Wofford against NDSU
FARGO — You can do a lot in 4 minutes and 49 seconds around the Fargodome on a Saturday afternoon. You can drive a custom-made Bison fan bus into the tailgating lot, for instance, and take about that much time to set up for the day’s festivities.
It takes about that much time from the moment the lights go out and the North Dakota State “Thunderstruck” intro gets going until the lights come on again.
Or, in the case of the NDSU and Wofford College FCS quarterfinal football game at Gate City Bank Field, it took 4 minutes and 49 seconds for the game to be over. The 42-10 blowout Saturday, Dec. 9, was a result of a three-touchdown blitz at the end of the second quarter that had two groups in a tizzy: the Bison fans and the Terrier players.
Put a triple option team that likes yards in groups of three or four in a 35-10 hole and you might as well start the engines on the charter airplane back to Wofford’s home in Spartanburg, S.C. Wofford needed a low-scoring game that took until the fourth quarter before being decided.
“Just before half, we had a debacle,” said Wofford head coach Mike Ayers.
The debacle for the most part started when Dimitri Williams returned a kickoff 41 yards that got the Bison prime field position, a drive that ended with Bruce Anderson’s 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal. That made it 21-10, and although not ideal, still manageable for the Terriers to recover from if they got their offense in order.
Wofford went to backup quarterback Joe Newman on its ensuing possession after the kickoff. The first play went awry when running back Blake Morgan took an option pitch from Newman and was stripped by Bison defensive end Caleb Butler.
Safety Robbie Grimsley scooped up the loose ball and returned it 21 yards to the 3, an oh-no moment for Wofford. Grimsley’s job on the play was to hang on the backside and chase down the quarterback. Instead, he found himself chasing the loose ball.
“Caleb made a great play and instincts took over,” Grimsley said. “I was thinking of diving on it but it hopped up right into my hands.”
Two plays later, Easton Stick’s 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Illies made it 28-10 with 3:50 left in the half.
Then came the fatal blow.
Brandon Brown fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jabril Cox recovered at the 33. That mistake was caused by Williams, who if this were a regular season game would be a candidate for Missouri Valley Football Conference Special Teams Player of the Week..
“Dimitri made a great play on the kickoff, stripping the ball,” said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. “That was what we talked about, it was going to be a game of possessions, how few of possessions each team was going to have. We had to steal some possessions on defense or special teams, whether it was by a big return or a turnover. We were able to create a couple possessions.”
Anderson made Williams’ strip pay off with a 5-yard touchdown run just 54 seconds before halftime and the Bison took an insurmountable 35-10 lead at intermission. This was something you expected against Robert Morris, not a playoff-caliber team like Wofford.
Lost in all the hubbub was the changing of quarterbacks from Goodson to Newman, which is something the Terriers did during the season. Granted, Newman didn’t lose the fumble, but it’s hard to say the timing wasn’t right, either.
Wofford has played two quarterbacks this season, but taking a senior like Goodson out of this game at any point in favor of a sophomore seems like a questionable move. Goodson missed this quarterfinal game last year, an overtime loss to Youngstown State, because of an injury, a story this week in that he wanted to make amends.
Ayers said Newman is a step quicker and the Terriers have some plays that are better suited for him.
“We have confidence in all of our quarterbacks and you’re looking for an opportunity to get an option play, get him up the seam and make him run away from people,” Ayers said.
Instead, it was NDSU that ran away from Wofford.
It was a feel that the Terriers never felt in any first half this season. They took their FBS matchup with South Carolina into the second half before the Gamecocks put it away in the fourth quarter.
NDSU put this one to rest before halftime.
“We knew we had to turn it on,” Anderson said. “We had to put our foots on their throat and keep rolling. We had to use the opportunities our defense gave us and kind of put it away. We had to score touchdowns, we couldn’t settle for field goals.”