Bison survive scare, edge Youngstown State for share of MVFC title
FARGO — North Dakota State once again climbed to the summit of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but Youngstown State made the Bison scratch and claw to get there Saturday afternoon, Nov. 3, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
The No. 1-ranked Bison scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to earn a 17-7 victory against the stingy Penguins before 18,028 fans.
NDSU (9-0, 6-0 MVFC) remained unbeaten and earned the automatic-qualifier from the league for the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs with two games to play in the regular season.
The Bison clinched at least a share of the conference championship for a record eighth consecutive season with the victory. NDSU, which has won 15 consecutive games, plays at Missouri State at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, with a chance to win the league outright.
“Maybe we can talk next week,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “I’m not interested in sharing right now.”
Bison senior quarterback Easton Stick scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Penguins on a 1-yard run with 11 minutes, 22 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. That gave NDSU a 14-7 lead. Bison kicker Cam Pedersen added a 36-yard field goal with 5:13 remaining for the final margin.
Bison senior defensive end Greg Menard said winning the MVFC title is among the team’s top goals.
“It’s big time,” Menard said. “It’s always our No. 1 goal of the season … but we want to win the thing outright.”
The Penguins (3-6, 2-4) made it tough on the Bison, even though Youngstown State entered the game with a losing record and was coming off a disappointing home loss. The Penguins suffered a 43-17 setback against Indiana State the previous weekend, but responded with a strong effort in the Fargodome.
“Our guys played their hearts out. That’s all you can ask of your team,” Penguins head coach Bo Pelini said. “They played together. They played for each other. … I thought our kids responded the right way. We got better today.”
The Penguins tied the score at 7-7 after quarterback Nathan Mays zipped a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Miles Joiner with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter.
“I think the adversity will help us moving forward,” Klieman said. “I think it’s something this team needed.”
The Bison used big plays to fuel their lone touchdown drive in the second half. Stick started the game-winning drive with a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Shepherd. On the next play, Bison running back Lance Dunn ripped off a 37-yard run to the Penguins 11-yard line. Three players later, Stick scored his 1-yard TD run to give the Bison the lead for good. That drive covered 70 yards in five plays.
“I was so proud of our guys for just staying with it,” Stick said.
Stick set another Bison record Saturday. His 30-yard touchdown pass to Dunn in the second quarter coupled with his scoring run gave Stick the NDSU career record for total touchdowns, moving ahead of former Bison quarterback Brock Jensen. Stick has 108 total career touchdowns and is 43-3 as a starter.
Shepherd moved his way up the Bison all-time charts with a career-high eight catches for 99 yards. Shepherd is third on the NDSU career receptions list with 165. He ranks fourth in all-time receiving yards with 2,462.
The Bison defense stoned the Penguins on the drive after Stick gave the Bison the fourth-quarter lead. Defensive end Derrek Tuszka dropped Penguins running back Tevin McCaster for a 6-yard loss on first down, pushing Youngstown back to its own 17. On the next play, Tuszka sacked Mays for a 1-yard loss. Menard pressured Mays on the third-and-17 play, forcing a punt.
“Derrek Tuszka made a couple of big-time plays,” Klieman said. “I thought we got a lot of hits on the quarterback.”
The Bison finished with four sacks. Menard led the charge with 1.5 sacks.
“He was relentless,” Klieman said.
The Bison limited the Penguins to 280 yards. Youngstown State rushed for 75 yards on 33 attempts, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. Dunn paced the Bison running game with 100 yards on 18 attempts.
“This team matches up well with us,” Klieman said. “I’m never going to be upset or frustrated with a win.”
The Penguins blocked a punt late in the first half, giving them the ball at the Bison 12 with 49 seconds to play in the second quarter. Trailing 7-0, Youngstown State came away with no points after a 9-yard pass play on third-and-10 marched the Penguins to the 3.
Mays rushed his team to the line and spiked the ball on fourth down to give NDSU the ball back on downs with 7 seconds to play in the first half. Pelini said from the sidelines it looked like a first down, but the officials got the spot right. Youngstown State was out of timeouts so it couldn’t stop the clock.