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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 07 2012

Kolpack: Defensive scheme is pure genius

FRISCO, Texas - Scottie Hazelton grabbed his camera and started shooting video of the massive celebration on the FC Dallas Stadium field. Thousands of North Dakota State fans were singing along to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” amid more screaming and yelling than a Kenny Chesney concert.

It was quite the Texas-sized show, cowboys and cowgirls. With the Bison players and coaches on a stage in the north end zone, fans spanned from the end zone to midfield.

“Anyone can win a national championship,” said Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito, “but who can bring 10,000 fans who traveled 1,000 miles to celebrate? It’s the world’s biggest party.”

It was a party made possible by the Bison defense, which was tremendous all day in the 17-6 win over Sam Houston State (Texas) on Saturday afternoon. Hazelton, the defensive coordinator, put together a staff and players who gave up just one touchdown in the last three Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff games.

“The kids played well, didn’t they?” he said.

Yes they did.

It was another clinic in defense, and this one equaled the masterpiece of the Georgia Southern game. The Bearkats averaged 2.3 yards per carry, and it didn’t look like it was that much.

NDSU stopped them on fourth down three times, and the first one served notice that it was going to be a different day for Sam Houston. Quarterback Brian Bell was pushed back by the entire line of scrimmage on fourth-and-inches in the first quarter and NDSU turned that momentum into a 19-yard Ryan Jastram field goal and a 3-0 lead.

The Bearkats got a pair of second-quarter field goals, but even those were a moral victory of sorts for the Bison. The first came after a partially blocked punt gave the Bearkats the ball near midfield.

The second came after a punt return that gave Sam Houston the ball at the Bison 38-yard line. A 6-3 halftime deficit could have been 14-3.

“We’ve played well throughout the playoffs,” said Bison linebacker Chad Willson. “That was the best defensive game we’ve played this year.”

Willson is one of those players you win national titles with: smart and intense. He led the way with 11 tackles, bringing all-world running back Tim Flanders down by himself on a few occasions.

Flanders had 287 yards in Sam Houston’s semifinal victory; he had 84 on Saturday. For the most part, he found running room on only one drive all day.

“They had a good defensive scheme, one we hadn’t seen much on film,” said Sam Houston center Travis Watson.

It became obvious in December and January that the Bison have a defensive staff that most FCS teams would drool for. An often-asked question that you will hear for the next few weeks is if head coach Craig Bohl will stay in Fargo.

NDSU should probably worry more about losing its defensive coordinator.

That was some show, both during the game and after.

“It wasn’t the Sam Houston home game like we were expecting,” Willson said. “It was amazing. We’re lucky to have them.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia