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No. 1-ranked Bison defeat Illinois State, remain in first place in Valley

FARGO — North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick inflicted damage early, the Bison defense was solid and special teams delivered difference-making plays. That three-phase elixir carried No. 1-ranked NDSU to a 28-14 victory against No. 7-ranked Illinois State on Saturday, Oct. 20, in Missouri Valley Football Conference play before 18,553 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. “The game came down to critical situations where North Dakota State made a lot of big plays … and we did not,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said. Stick had completions of 55 and 44 yards in the first quarter, senior safety Robbie Grimsley had an interception near the goal line in the second quarter and receiver Darrius Shepherd had two big punt returns that set up touchdowns. The Bison (7-0, 4-0 MVFC) built a 28-0 lead early in the third quarter before allowing two Illinois State touchdowns over the final 17 minutes. “I was really happy with the way we jumped out to start the game,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “We had a lot of energy. … Any win in this league is a heck of a win.” Stick completed 13 of 22 passes for 207 yards and added 70 rushing yard on 10 attempts. Shepherd caught six passes for 126 yards to go along with 103 yards on two punt returns. Senior running back Lance Dunn rushed for 61 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. “We’ve got so many weapons,” Stick said. The Bison took control, scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter. Senior wide receiver Dallas Freeman scored on a 9-yard jet sweep that gave NDSU a 14-0 lead with 11 minutes, 18 seconds to play in the second quarter. Shepherd set up that touchdown with a 34-yard punt return. The Bison took a 21-0 lead after Dunn scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:11 to play in the first half. That capped a 12-play, 95-yard drive that lasted 4:23. Stick had completions of 23, 15 and 15 yards on that march. “Stick did a good job of connecting when he had open players,” Spack said. The Bison limited the Redbirds to 140 yards on 27 plays in the first half. Trailing 14-0, the Redbirds faced a third-and-goal at the Bison 4-yard line. Illinois State quarterback Brady Davis rolled right before throwing a pass toward the end zone. Grimsley picked off the pass at the 2 and returned it to the 9 with 5:34 to play in the second quarter. “It was very ignorant,” Davis said. “I should have thrown the ball out of bounds.” Spack added: “When you are in the red zone, you have to finish the drive.” The Bison started the ensuing drive from their own 5 after a penalty after the interception. NDSU converted that turnover into points with a 95-yard TD drive that Dunn capped with the aforementioned 1-yard run. The Bison took a 28-0 lead after Dunn scored on a 2-yard touchdown burst with 12:40 to play in the third quarter. Shepherd set up that score with a 69-yard punt return to the Illinois State 17. “Against this defense that was going to be a big mountain to climb,” Spack said. The Bison played without starting running back Bruce Anderson because of a hamstring injury suffered last week against Western Illinois. Klieman said he isn’t sure on a timetable for Anderson to return. Grimsley had a leg injury that sidelined him late in the game at Western Illinois, but he played Saturday. “There are a lot of guys who are banged up,” Klieman said. “This was a physical game.” The Bison had 279 yards at halftime and finished with 385 yards on 67 plays. NDSU was 10 of 16 on third-down conversions. “We have to learn to play in this environment and this type of game,” Spack said. “Our effort was good. I thought our execution wasn’t great.”