No. 1-ranked NDSU rides its defense to victory against North Alabama

FARGO — When Jabril Cox intercepted a pass during the fourth quarter, the North Dakota State sophomore linebacker wasn’t going to be denied. Cox returned it 43 yards for a touchdown to help No 1-ranked North Dakota State secure a 38-7 victory against North Alabama in NCAA Division I FCS football at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome before 18,557 fans Saturday, Sept. 15. “Once he caught it, he told me there was no way he was going to get caught,” said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. “He wants to play offense, but we are going to keep him right where he’s at.” A former high school quarterback, Cox showed of some of his running skills on the defensive score that gave the Bison a 31-point lead. “I still think I have some quarterback in me,” Cox said with a laugh. The Bison (2-0) remained undefeated, handing North Alabama (2-1) its first loss this season. The Lions are in the first year of Division I reclassification. “That’s a good football team and I thought we held up for the most part,” said North Alabama head coach Chris Willis. The Bison defense was stingy, limiting the Lions to 210 yards on 63 plays with 75 of those yards coming on North Alabama’s final drive of the game. Lions receiver Dexter Boykin hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 34 seconds to play in the fourth quarter to break up the shutout. “I was pleased all day with our defense,” Klieman said. Cox finished with seven tackles, including a big hit on punt coverage late in the third quarter. The 6-foot-3, 231-pound Cox made his biggest play early in the fourth quarter. He stepped in front of a pass from North Alabama quarterback Chris Weaver near the sideline. After he secured the ball, he weaved his way into the end zone to give the Bison a 31-0 lead with 13:38 to play in the game. “That was a play that we seen a lot this week (in practice),” Cox said. “I just wanted to react and find the ball.” The Bison hounded North Alabama quarterbacks throughout the game, finishing with four sacks and six quarterback hurries. Bison defensive lineman Cole Karcz led the way with two sacks. Junior quarterback Christian Lopez started for North Alabama before giving way to Weaver in the second half. “Overall, I’m proud of my guys. We never quit. We battled,” Willis said. “I thought we struggled blocking them. That was the difference. … When your D-line plays like that, you’re going to win a lot of ball games.” North Alabama hung with the Bison into the second half. Bison kicker Cam Pedersen booted a 20-yard field with 53 seconds to play in the second quarter to help NDSU build a 17-0 halftime lead. The Lions slowed a potent Bison running game, which gained 43 yards on 14 attempts in the first half. “Give credit to North Alabama. I thought they were a very good football team. That is a physical group up front,” Klieman said. “I thought we were a little on our heels in the first half, offensively. That’s a credit to them.” The Bison started to separate in the third quarter. Senior quarterback Easton Stick scored on a 6-yard touchdown run that gave NDSU a 24-0 lead with 6:27 to play in the third. True freshman quarterback Trey Lance added a 44-yard scoring run that gave the Bison a 38-0 lead with 7:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. Lance was playing in his first college game. “We wanted to get him some playing time,” Klieman said. The Bison finished with 366 yards, including 192 rushing on 33 carries. NDSU senior wide receiver Dallas Freeman had a big game with four catches for 117 yards. That offensive effort proved more than enough for a Bison defense that has allowed 10 points through two games. Senior safety Robbie Grimsley led NDSU with 11 tackles against the Lions. “They are really good at what they do, but they are not too exotic,” Grimsley said. “Our goal is to not give up any points. We’ve come pretty close to doing that, but we still have work to do.”