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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 22 2012

Kolpack: Vraa carries load for Bison ... literally

Fargo - The Prairie View A&M Panthers boarded a charter airplane and flew out of Fargo on Saturday night, with the exception of one player. Defensive back Rickey Simpson got a ride on the back of a North Dakota State player.

That would be receiver Zach Vraa, who carried Simpson almost 25 yards on his way to the end zone. Word is Vraa, who was heading south, didn’t stop until he got somewhere around the Texas border.

His work at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome was virtually completed anyway in the first quarter when he had five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns. The 69-yard touchdown with Simpson on his back was part of a 66-7 drubbing of the Panthers, who looked more like the 80-game-losing streak, 1990s version than the full 63-scholarship 2012 version.

“No way was I going down,” Vraa said.

Vraa finished with eight catches for 156 yards and has now established himself as the Bison go-to receiver, especially with junior Ryan Smith still dealing with a hamstring issue.

“This is making up for the two years that I missed,” Vraa said.

He missed both years with breaks to both collarbones. All it took with a little metal to fix that and the Bison passing game – once so vanilla two years ago – has the look of a real college football team.

“It makes such a difference when you can dial some things up,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl.

Vraa, incidentally, edged John Crockett for the 2009 Mr. Football award in Minnesota. Both are in Bison uniforms. The giving nature of former Minnesota Gophers head coach Tim Brewster handing those Twin Cities players free of charge to NDSU will continue for another two years, maybe three if Vraa chooses to take a medical hardship.

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he has the size and ability to catch anything. Against Prairie View, he showed some burst, too.

“He’s not the fastest kid, but fast enough,” said offensive coordinator Brent Vigen. “He’s just a big kid, and that’s something we haven’t had here. The difference between a 205-pound receiver and a 190-pound receiver is pretty significant.”

With quarterback Brock Jensen and Vraa completing passes at will, things got so lost for the visitors that with 9:54 left in the second quarter, Prairie View head coach Heishma Northern called timeout and gathered his team around him at about the 20-yard line for what looked to be a have-some-pride speech.

The Panthers were well on their way to the same path fellow Southwestern Athletic Conference Mississippi Valley took with NDSU a few years ago: getting blitzed.

It’s a fair question to ask: Why schedule the Panthers? But then why does Nebraska schedule Idaho State? Or why does Florida State schedule Savannah State?

After the game, the Bison left the Fargodome with hardly a scratch on their uniforms. There were no significant injuries heading into the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener at Northern Iowa. And Zach Vraa will return from the Texas border with Texas-sized confidence.

After two years of frustration, he’s back.

“Our wide receiver corps is getting really deep,” Vraa 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