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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 27 2012

Kolpack: Bison survive another home scare thanks to Okland

FARGO - Not many people know this, but North Dakota State has changed its football schedule next season. The Bison are playing every game on the road.

Why not? It’s the best chance to ensure success, as evidenced by the second straight grinder at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturday. They lost two weeks ago.

They pulled it out Saturday with a 23-17 win over Southern Illinois.

There were the usual suspects. The defense held SIU to 11 yards rushing. Marcus Williams had a late interception to seal it. The offense had a massive advantage in time of possession .

And there was also an unusual suspect who may be an NDSU freshman, but in reality has been in a Bison uniform virtually his entire life. Andrew Okland has made the successful transition from NDSU ball boy to a good Division I Football Championship Subdivision wide receiver.

His 60-yard reception late in the third quarter was a thing of beauty and turned the tide.

“You could tell our offense was a different unit after that,” Okland said. “Once you flip the field that fast that just changed the game.”

It was a unique play where backup running back Derrick Lang got to play quarterback. He took the snap in shotgun formation and handed it off to receiver Trevor Gebhart, who then handed it off to real quarterback Brock Jensen, who was lined up at receiver.

Jensen then heaved the bomb to Okland, who made a professional-looking, over-the-shoulder catch at the Salukis’ 29-yard line. Lang scored from the 1 six plays later and NDSU tied it at 17-17 with 12:38 left in the game.

The trick play has been in the makings for two weeks, and you could say it wasn’t looking promising.

“It hasn’t been working so great in practice, but today it worked out,” Okland said.

Okland is working out as a Bison receiver, and then some. NDSU is starting to find these guys almost on a weekly basis.

Three weeks ago Zach Vraa made ESPN SportsCenter highlights with a flea-flicker catch. Last week it was sophomores Nate Moody and Gebhart who had career games.

With the top receiver Vraa out with a separated shoulder – he may come back next week – it meant more chances for a guy like Okland. Hard to believe he started his high school athletic career as a cross country runner.

He admits to being clueless at times as a redshirt freshman last year. It was even worse at Fargo South.

“I would be like, ‘What’s a cover 3?’” he said. “I had no idea. I just ran deep.”

Well, he ran deep and it worked against SIU. He also runs good routes. He’s 6-foot-3 and 204 pounds.

The Bison completed their first fourth-quarter comeback since winning at Youngstown State in 2010 with John Crockett’s 5-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left in the game.

With 1:23 left, a community service spot featuring Okland on the importance of using seat belts was aired on the Fargodome video boards. By then, fans who had to sweat this one out could unhook their belts and head home.

And they could be thankful a local kid stayed home.

“There’s nothing better than being from North Dakota and having a good game at home,” Okland 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