Kevin Schnepf, Published December 05 2010
Schnepf: Defense-running game combo reminiscent of playoff games at Dacotah FieldBozeman, Mont. - It was reminiscent of the good old Division II playoff days at Dacotah Field. Cold weather. Loud crowd. Dominating defense. Relentless running game.
The only difference during Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision playoff football game was the snow-covered backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Worthy of a Christmas greeting card, the scene at a sold-out Bobcat Stadium turned into an early holiday gift for the Bison.
Scoring 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the Bison stunned the crowd of 14,277 – other than the thousand or so Bison fans who made the trip to the Gallatin Valley – with a 42-17 win over Montana State. The Bison, 3-8 last year and picked to finish sixth in their own conference, are now one of eight teams left in the FCS playoffs.
“We’ve had a lot of doubters,” said Matt Anderson, a senior linebacker from Cavalier, N.D. “That’s been driving us all season and it will keep driving us.”
Anderson is part of a defense that keeps getting better every week.
Led by upperclassmen like Matt Gratzek, Chad Willson and Preston Evans and underclassmen like Grant Olson, Marcus Williams, Brandon Jemison and Colten Heagle, the Bison defense shut down a Montana State offense that was averaging 40 points and more than 500 total yards in its six previous wins at Bobcat Stadium.
With the Bison trailing 17-14 one play into the final quarter, the defense didn’t allow the Bobcats anywhere near the goal line for the rest of the game.
“We have become one big family,” said Gratzek, a senior defensive tackle from Argyle, Minn., who continues to show why he was second in voting for the Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the year. “This has been a heck of a ride.”
While the defense has been the saving grace for NDSU’s sluggish offense most of this season, that offense showed signs of life early in Saturday’s game. That’s until starting quarterback Brock Jensen got clocked while sliding into second base on a second-quarter keeper. The possible concussion left him on the bench for the rest of the game with a blurry view of the Bridger Mountains.
When Montana State took that 17-14 lead, it didn’t look good for the Bison. How many Bison fans thought the season was over, especially with backup quarterback Jose Mohler still making some curious decisions?
But it was Mohler’s third-down, 41-yard run that turned out to be perhaps the biggest play of the game. It set up the touchdown that sparked NDSU’s 28-0 fourth-quarter outburst.
Plain and simple, the offensive line – just like the old days at Dacotah Field – was creating holes that seemed as large as some of the million-acre ranches Ted Turner owns in this state.
The Bison completed only one pass in the second half.
“It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl, who was an assistant coach for the 1984 Bison that finished runnerup in the Division II playoffs. “Back then, there were games at Dacotah Field when we did nothing but run the ball.”
That philosophy was just fine with 305-pound offensive lineman Paul Cornick.
“That was a lot of fun knowing that you can keep running the ball and they can’t stop you,” Cornick said. “This feels great. We want more of it.”
The Bison will try to get more of it next Saturday when they travel even farther west – to Cheney, Wash., where they will take on No. 1-ranked Eastern Washington. The Eagles, by the way, suffered a 30-7 loss on this same Bobcat Stadium field earlier this season.
After experiencing a Rocky Mountain high, the Bison will try to come down to earth and produce a win on a field that looks like a flooded cranberry field. It’s called the Inferno of Roos Field, where a red-colored turf was installed this season – much in the same vain as Boise State’s blue-colored turf.
Don’t expect Bison athletic director Gene Taylor to spray paint NDSU’s practice field red. (If he’s thinking about it, he might want to give a ring to the Oregon State athletic director, who spray-painted his team’s practice field blue to prepare for Boise State).
Red, blue, green. Right now, it doesn’t seem to make any difference what kind of field the Bison are playing on. Just as long as it brings back those Dacotah Field memories.
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549
Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com