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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 03 2011

Kolpack: McNorton’s burst ices NDSU win

Fargo - He’s been here all season. Darren Keith McNorton started all 11 regular season games for North Dakota State and carried the football 140 times.

They were also 140 carries done with a damaged heal, sprained foot and who knows what else. On Saturday, the Bison fans welcomed the return of Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff football to the Fargodome against James Madison University (Va.).

They also welcomed back D.J.

The real D.J.

The playoff D.J.

We saw him last year in the postseason run that started in the dome, went through Bozeman, Mont., and ended on a red field in Cheney, Wash. We saw it against the Dukes with 154 yards on 19 carries including a 60-yarder when they needed a senior to make a game-changing play.

The Bison won 26-14 before 17,432 loud fans that made a difference and a defense that continues to impress – they held the vaunted rushing attack of James Madison to just 84 yards.

It was just 24 more yards than McNorton made on one decibel-breaking play midway in the fourth quarter.

The Dukes had just pulled within 19-14 making it a final seven-minute dash to the horn.

But taking advantage of a poor kickoff that gave the Bison the ball at their own 40-yard line, McNorton took a handoff and slanted it to the right side following a reach block by left guard Austin Richard. He stuck a stiff-arm on JMU safety Ryan Smith, found some daylight on the sideline and scored.

“He got to the edge and he’s a great running back who made a great play,” said JMU linebacker Vidal Nelson. “We had a guy there and he has to make that play. It was one-on-one, we have to make that play.”

Just like that, a tight game became a two-score game with 7:13 remaining.

“That was a big possession for us,” said quarterback Brock Jensen. “We wanted to put the nail in the coffin.”

It was the same kind of speed McNorton showed last year when he bashed the University of South Dakota for a career-high 250 yards. The Bison went 10-1 this season for a lot of reasons, but one of them wasn’t the breakaway threat of McNorton.

“We’ve been missing that element from him,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl.

Bohl figured McNorton was operating at about 80 percent of capacity for most of the season. Eighty-percent is a long way from 100 at this level, especially when linebackers are often just as fast as running backs.

But the first round bye looked like it gave McNorton new life. It was as if he went to team doctor Bruce Piatt and underwent surgery for 20 more percent.

Bohl said the instructions for McNorton in the off week were easy: don’t do a dang thing. His week probably went like this: Get a ride to class, go home, sit in an easy chair and either study or watch TV.

“We also did a couple of adjustments with his shoe,” Bohl said.

No word yet if that included rocket propulsion gizmo in it. NDSU is an engineering school after all.

McNorton also heeded some advice in playing a fast defense like James Madison: no tippy-toeing around.

“They’re a fast team and you just have to go,” he said. “You have to hit it.”

He hit it like ACDC blasting into a classic rock song. The music continues for NDSU next week and their star running back is no longer missing in action.

“It’s a blessing to be at this point,” McNorton said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia