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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 20 2012

Kolpack: Bison restore order thanks to backup receivers

Sioux Falls, S.D. - The young man wearing hardly anything sprinted on the Howard Wood Field without much resistance from law enforcement, until he carefully jumped a chain link fence. That’s when a security official slammed him for a 5-yard loss.

His streaking days were over. Ironically, North Dakota State scored its first touchdown on the next play, and the Bison showed the University of South Dakota early on Saturday evening that their naked offensive performance of last week was over. The 54-0 victory was a football game worthy of a defending national champion with a lot of starters returning.

There was fear during the week that the loss of its starting two wide receivers would leave an offense one-dimensional. There was fear that the loss of Ryan Smith’s punt returning expertise would leave special teams boring and not very explosive.

Fear not.

Backup receivers Trevor Gebhart, Nate Moody and Andrew Okland looked like Division I players, and – in the cases of Okland and Moody – furthering the Craig Bohl In-state Theory that, yes, North Dakota kids can play skill positions at this level.

“I don’t think we’re any worse than other states,” Moody said. “We might be lagging behind when we get here because of the speed of the game, but absolutely, there are a number of guys that can play.”

Moody, a walk-on from Dickinson, had a career-high five receptions for 91 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown in the second quarter that essentially buried the Coyotes.

Gebhart, playing at his home high school stadium, also set a career high in catches with six. It was an offense that didn’t need leading receiver Zach Vraa and the playmaker Smith.

“Without Ryan and Zach, we were depleted,” Moody said.

It didn’t turn out that way, leaving South Dakota head coach Joe Glenn scratching his head at the thought of the Bison backups.

“They did everything they had to,” Glenn said. “Up until the fourth quarter, they were running and catching with flair and diving and catching balls. I don’t see any weaknesses.”

A possible weakness in the punt return game turned out to be a strength, too.

Two weeks ago, Smith returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown against Youngstown State. But his absence with concussion symptoms was filled by Dudzik, who finished with four returns for 132 yards, including a 76-yarder of his own that led to a touchdown and a 20-0 Bison advantage.

It wasn’t all roses for Dudzik. He looked shaky on his first two returns, dropping a fair catch attempt but pouncing on it. Then he threw caution to the wind.

He caught a shorter punt while at full throttle and took it 37 yards. His 76-yarder was a tackle-breaking, balance-losing, balance-regaining, more tackle-breaking beauty that eventually collapsed at the USD 11-yard line.

Sometimes, you never know how fast kids are until they get the chance. Dudzik is fast.

And in a news flash that hardly anybody knew, he is the fastest player on the team, said head coach Craig Bohl.

Dudzik said he asked special teams coach Tim Polasek a couple of weeks ago for a chance to return punts. He was so explosive against the Coyotes that Bohl said the coaches may re-evaluate the job once Smith returns.

“He was a stop-gap guy,” Bohl said of Dudzik.

So order was restored after last week’s loss to Indiana State. Stop-gap guys that are pretty good at what they do when given the chance.

The turning point in the game, Glenn said, was “when the bus pulled up. They have a way better football team.”


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