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Eric Peterson, Published November 10 2012

Bison hang on for win and share of conference title

FARGO – North Dakota State had three things to play for Saturday at Gate City Bank Field – a rock, a share of a conference title and its seniors.

“There were a lot of things that made this an emotional game,” said Bison junior linebacker Grant Olson.

The No. 1-ranked Bison played their trademark suffocating defense to earn a 20-17 victory against South Dakota State in Missouri Valley Football Conference play at the Fargodome before 18,721 fans.

The victory clinched the Bison (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) at least a share of the conference title for a second consecutive season. NDSU also won the Dakota Marker from the rival Jackrabbits for a third consecutive season. The Bison, who are the defending Division I Football Championship Subdivision national champions, also honored their seven seniors in the pregame in their final home game of the regular season.

“That was our No. 1 goal,” Bohl said of winning the Valley. “I know a lot of people have been focusing on national goals, but our players recognize how special it is to play in the Missouri Valley Conference. … For us to clinch a portion of the title is a huge step. Now the next step is to do what we can to try to win the whole thing outright.”

The Bison can earn the outright conference crown with a win at Illinois State (8-2, 5-2) next Saturday, the final game in the regular season.

“Whatever it takes to get the job done,” said Bison quarterback Brock Jensen, who passed for 80 yards and one touchdown. “At the end of the day, that is the only thing that matters.”

Yards were at a premium for both teams as both offenses combined for 460 yards.

Jensen made arguably his biggest play of the day with his feet. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound junior ran for 56 yards on a designed QB run play off tackle on the first play of a drive that NDSU started at its own 9-yard line. Jensen broke into the open and streaked up the Bison sideline before he was tackled at the SDSU 35-yard line.

That play sparked a scoring drive that ended with a 30-yard Adam Keller field goal, giving NDSU a 13-10 lead with 5 minutes, 1 second to play in the third quarter. That gave the Bison the lead for good.

NDSU took advantage of a critical SDSU miscue late in the fourth quarter that helped ice the outcome and made sure the Dakota Marker would stay in Fargo.

The Bison were lining up for a 22-yard FG attempt on a fourth-and-3 play when the Jackrabbits were called for an illegal substitution. The penalty made it fourth-and-1 and the Bison decided to send their offense back on the field. On the ensuing play, Bison running back Sam Ojuri strolled off left tackle and into the end zone. His 3-yard touchdown jaunt gave NDSU a 20-10 lead with 2:39 remaining.

“If we don’t have 12 men on the field, maybe I’m smiling right now.” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “That’s how fickle the football game is.”

Jackrabbits quarterback Austin Sumner tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trevor Tiefenthaler with 47 seconds remaining for the final margin. That late score, however, was not enough to wrestle the Marker or a share of the conference title away from the Bison.

After the final snap, the Bison bench raced toward the southeast corner of the Fargodome to grab the Dakota Marker.

“It’s never a good feeling,” said SDSU senior linebacker Ross Shafrath, who had a game-high 15 tackles. “This is a game that we expect to win.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com