North Dakota State claims third FCS title in row
From Fargo to Frisco again, and a perfect championship ending for senior quarterback Brock Jensen and coach Craig Bohl at North Dakota State.
Jensen threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score in his FCS-quarterback record 48th victory, and the Bison capped a 15-0 season with a 35-7 victory over Towson on Saturday to claim their third consecutive FCS title in Bohl's final game at the school.
"It hasn't (set in) right now, but I think in a couple of months it's going to," said Bohl, who stayed with the Bison for their playoff run after accepting the job as Wyoming's coach. "This team was possessed with perfection. And they relentlessly pursued it. ... It's pretty remarkable."
The Bison joined Appalachian State (2005-07) as the only FCS teams to win three consecutive championships. They are the first undefeated champs at that level since Marshall in 1996, the year before the Thundering Herd moved to Division I.
"It gets better every time. Definitely," Jensen said. "That was the last time I'll put on a Bison jersey but man, it's been fun ride."
Bohl was 104-32 in 11 seasons at North Dakota State, which has won 24 consecutive games to match the FCS record.
The Bison went ahead to stay on Ryan Smith's 5-yard TD run in the second quarter that snapped a 7-7 tie. That came one play after Colten Heagle blocked a field goal try that was scooped up by defensive end Kyle Emanuel and returned 59 yards. It was the first of three consecutive possessions when North Dakota State scored touchdowns.
"We made a mistake, and they made us pay for it," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "I think we all knew what kind of game it was at that point. ... Things were moving in the right direction, at least for us, head to head, pretty even."
Towson (13-3), the first school to play in championship games at the FCS and NCAA Division III levels, was 1-10 only three years ago in Ambrose's second season. But the Tigers had their lowest scoring total since a 28-3 loss at Maryland four games into the 2011 season.
This was the fourth consecutive year the title game was played in the professional soccer stadium in North Texas, but this game was plagued by problems with the grass turf. During each timeout, groups of workers and volunteers had to pat down chunks of turf that were coming up during play.
Nick Shafer, the stadium's vice president of operations, said in a statement that the turf between the hash marks was replaced Nov. 18. Soon after that, the area was hit by an extended stretch of unusual freezing weather and ice sat on the field for a week. Shafer says that "prevented the grass from taking root underneath the turf."
Players from both teams clearly were having problems at times with footing. The most obvious was Towson running back Darius Victor falling down behind the line for a 3-yard loss after stepping into one of the divots, two plays before the blocked field goal.
"It's really unfortunate but those things come up. Both teams where in the same position," Bohl said. "This was atypical. The last several times we've been down here, it's been a great track."
Terrance West ran 3 yards on the final play of the first quarter for Towson's only touchdown, his 41st TD rushing and 42nd overall this season. The junior finished with 22 carries for 99 yards, pushing his season total to 2,509 — the most ever by an FCS player.
After CJ Smith reached over his shoulder for an interception and a 32-yard return just before halftime, Jensen threw a 12-yard TD to Zach Vraa, his school-record 15th scoring catch this season, for a 21-7 lead. Jensen ran 9 yards for a score on the Bison's possession after halftime, and Sam Ojuri added a 1-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
There was a sellout crowd of 19,802, most of them dressed in Bison colors in what has becoming an annual January trek.