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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 05 2010

MOUNTAIN DO: With Rocky Mountains surrounding stadium, Bison football team makes more believers with FCS playoff win at Montana State

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Christmas is getting closer and Thanksgiving is in the rear-view mirror. And North Dakota State is still playing football.

Playoff fever has returned to Fargo-Moorhead and beyond by virtue of a stunning fourth-quarter performance before 14,277 fans at Bobcat Stadium. The 42-17 win over Montana State – the champions of the Big Sky Conference – sends NDSU into the Division I Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals next week at Eastern Washington.

Holy cats.

“I’ve never participated in anything like this before,” said NDSU offensive lineman Paul Cornick. “It’s an amazing feeling. I want more of it. We all do.”

It was an amazing running game that got the Bison to their quarterfinal date. Running back D.J. McNorton eclipsed 200 yards for the second time this season, gaining 207 on 26 attempts. Even more impressive: 131 of his yards came in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 17-14 after Montana State’s Orenzo Davis scored from 1 yard out on the first play of the final quarter, NDSU didn’t wait long to regain the lead. Quarterback Jose Mohler ran 41 yards to set up McNorton’s 19-yard touchdown run.

“We’ve typically been a good second-half team,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “A lot of it has to do with our resolve and our conditioning as a group. Once we started to control the line of scrimmage, then that changed the dynamic of the football game.”

It also changed the scoreboard.

The assist goes to the Bison defense, which was a wall with NDSU up 21-17. It stopped the Bobcats on three straight possessions via a three-and-out, a fumble recovery by safety Daniel Eaves and another three-and-out.

The offense cashed in after the final stop when McNorton ran 38 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-17 with 5:28 remaining. It was a one-play drive after the Bison defense stopped the Bobcats inside their 10, forcing a 30-yard punt.

“They’re a good team, they just kept running the ball at us,” said Montana State linebacker Clay Bignell. “We kept missing tackles and you just can’t do that in playoff football.”

The Bison put an exclamation point on the win with a 52-yard McNorton touchdown run – it was another one-play drive – and Mike Sigers’ 6-yard touchdown with 2:03 left.

NDSU finished with a season-high 376 yards rushing averaging 8.2 yards per carry. The previous high was 348 against South Dakota.

It’s a good thing, too, because the passing attack was non-existent. The Bison have been fourth-quarter warriors the last two weeks, outscoring Montana State and Robert Morris by a combined 51-10 score. What made Saturday’s effort all the more stunning is the Bison completed just one pass in the second half.

Bison quarterbacks Brock Jensen and Mohler were a combined 5 of 19 for 56 yards. Those are normally the numbers of the team on the other end of a 42-17 game.

Not this time.

“When you get a team one dimensional, it’s usually an advantage, but today it was an advantage for them,” said Montana State head coach Rob Ash.

It was the best performance by a Bison offensive line in quite some time, certainly this season.

“You could tell they were getting a little tired in the second half,” said Cornick. “And a lot of times D.J. makes us look really good and that helps, too.”

Meanwhile, the Bison defense slowly, but surely, got to Bobcats starting quarterback Denarius McGhee. He was 19 of 32 for 223 yards.

He completed three throws for 81 yards, the last a 16-yard touchdown to Julius Lloyd, in the second quarter that tied the game at 7-7.

“We had a little trouble in the first half,” said NDSU defensive tackle Matthew Gratzek. “But a lot of guys got back there (around the quarterback). Everybody was getting after it today.”

And today, the coaches will be going over game tape of Eastern Washington.

The season continues.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia