FARGO, N.D. – The North Dakota State Bison scored 41 unanswered points in the opening half and earned a berth in the FCS Championship game with a 55-13 win over the Sam Houston State Bearkats on Friday night at the Fargodome in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs.
The win puts an end to the Bearkats’ (12-2) season, one that saw them reach the FCS semifinals for the fifth time in the past seven years. Meanwhile, NDSU (13-1) advances to play for their sixth national title in that same time span against the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between top-seeded James Madison and No. 5 South Dakota State.
The Bison rolled up 642 total yards for the game, including a school postseason record 471 on the ground. Running backs Seth Wilson and Bruce Anderson carried most of the load with Wilson finishing with 194 yards rushing and Anderson 183 of his own with three scores. He also caught a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Easton Stick.
Jeremiah Briscoe completed 29 of his 51 pass attempts on the night for 289 yards and a score, but threw three picks against the Bison defense that entered the night ranked atop the FCS. His final completion of the night pushed him over the 5,000-yard mark for the season, making him the first Bearkat in school history with 5,000 yards passing in a single season.
He found eight receivers on the night, led by senior Yedidiah Louis who had 10 catches for 99 yards. Nathan Stewart added five catches for 80 yards and a score, while Davion Davis finished with six catches for 59 yards. In all, Sam Houston finished with 352 total yards in the game, but was only able to muster 63 yards on the ground.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Bearkats started off well, receiving the opening kickoff and converted a fourth down on their way to putting points on the board first with a 28-yard field goal from Tre Honshtein. That field goal was the 21st of the season for the junior kicker, setting a new SHSU single-season record.
But the Bison answered right back with a 10-play, 75-yard drive the first time they touched the ball that ended in a 6-yard touchdown run by Easton Stick that put them ahead 7-3.
From there, it was all Bison the rest of the way. NDSU was able to take advantage of three Bearkat turnovers and racked up 419 total yards, including 323 on the ground. Running back Bruce Anderson would score four times in the half, rushing for three and catching another. They would score on each of their first three drives and six of seven drives in the half to build a commanding 41-3 lead.
The Kats were not able to push deep into Bison territory after its initial drive until its final drive of the half when they used five plays to get down to the NDSU 6-yard line before Dempsey picked off Briscoe for the second time on the night in the end zone on the final play of the half.
Sam Houston got a stop on the first NDSU drive of the second half and answered with points once again as they marched 48 yards into the red zone before settling for another Honshtein field goal, this one from 32 yards away to cut the lead to 41-6.
NDSU would answer in just two plays as Ben Ellefson hauled in a 17-yard pass from Stick with 9:20 to play in the third quarter. Sam Houston would then put together its best drive of the game as big plays to Louis and Stewart helped the Kats go 70 yards into the end zone for the first time on the night, ending in a 2-yard catch by Stewart to make it a 48-13 game.
But again, the Bison would answer as Anderson hauled in a screen pass from Stick and went 31 yards up the right sideline for his fifth score of the game to make it a 55-13 score with 3:04 to go in the quarter.
PJ Hall gave the Bearkats a great scoring opportunity midway through the fourth quarter when he snuffed out a screen pass from Stick and picked it off, returning it deep into Bison territory. Sam Houston was able to drive inside the NDSU 5-yard line, but Marquise Bridges intercepted Briscoe’s pass in the left corner of the end zone.