No. 1-ranked Bison cruise to victory, cap undefeated regular season
FARGO — North Dakota State put an exclamation point on an undefeated regular season Saturday afternoon, Nov. 17, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
The No. 1-ranked Bison piled up more than 600 yards and steamrolled to a 65-17 victory against Southern Illinois in Missouri Valley Football Conference play before 18,008 fans.
The Bison (11-0, 8-0 MVFC) will get a first-round bye in opening round of the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs, which start next weekend.
“It’s incredibly difficult to do, especially in our league,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said of an undefeated regular season. “It’s something that’s really special. … We’re judged by what we do in the postseason, but it’s cool to do this in the regular season.”
The playoff field will be announced at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, on ESPNU. NDSU is expected to get the No. 1 seed, after capping the regular season with a dominating performance.
The 65 points were the most the Bison have scored in a Missouri Valley game since they joined the league in 2008.
“We’re getting better every week,” said Bison senior safety Robbie Grimsley, who had two interceptions against the Salukis. “We’re peaking at the right time.”
Grimsley was one of the many of the Bison seniors who had big games on senior day. Senior quarterback Easton Stick completed 16 of 21 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Stick also rushed for a score.
“We’ll just keep grinding and get ready for the first one,” Stick said. “I feel really good about this group. “
The Bison bolted to a 35-14 halftime lead and weren’t threatened in the second half. Both teams delivered big plays early, but NDSU gained the upper hand during a first-quarter scoring frenzy. It started in the opening seconds after Southern Illinois’ Je’Quan Burton returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
The Bison countered quickly with running back Ty Brooks’ 36-yard scoring run, which capped a 79-yard drive that took just 1 minute, 44 seconds. The Bison took less time to take a 14-7 lead. A 32-yard pass from Stick to senior receiver Darrius Shepherd set up Stick’s 1-yard touchdown run to complete a drive that lasted 1:09.
The Salukis responded. Senior quarterback Matt DeSomer found wide receiver Raphael Leonard on a quick slant that he turned into a 59-yard scoring play tied it at 14-14 with 8:36 to play in the first quarter.
NDSU continued to light up the scoreboard from there, using its tight ends to build a two-touchdown lead. Stick found senior Nate Jenson for a 60-yard score and then followed that with a 22-yard scoring toss to a wide open Ben Ellefson, a junior from Hawley, Minn.
Ellefson’s scored made it 28-14 with 6:21 to play in the first quarter.
The Bison took a 35-14 lead into halftime after a 31-yard TD pass from Stick to Shepherd early in the second quarter. Stick completed 13 of 17 passes for 266 yards and three scores in the first half alone.
“Great performance by our guys,” Klieman said. “I’m so proud of these 24 seniors. … They challenge each other. They challenge the young guys. It’s hard to beat.”
NDSU continued to pour it on in third quarter with a pair of touchdown runs from senior running back Bruce Anderson and a safety, which came after the Salukis snapped the ball over the head of their punter and out of the end zone. Anderson’s 30-yard scoring burst gave the Bison a 51-14 lead with 8:48 to play in the third quarter.
Anderson said the Bison won’t change their mindset too much entering the postseason.
“We’ll back off the physical aspect of practice, but we don’t back off the mental aspect,” said Anderson, who rushed for 68 yards on 12 attempts.
Grimsley is tied for second in program history with 16 interceptions, tied with Tre Dempsey and Steve Krumrei. Former Bison cornerback Marcus Williams (2010-13) is the all-time leader with 21. The 663 yards rank sixth on NDSU’s all-time list for yards in a single game. It’s the most yards the Bison have gained in a MVFC game.
“We’ll enjoy this for the next week and then it’s time to get back to work and get ready for the next season,” Klieman said.