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Eric Peterson, Published November 17 2012

No. 1 Bison trip up Illinois State, win conference, secure home playoff games

NORMAL, Ill. – North Dakota State senior offensive lineman Joe Lund admitted he was in a greedy mood Saturday afternoon at Hancock Stadium.

“We’re not sharing it with anybody this year,” Lund said with a smile.

The No. 1-ranked Bison rushed for 175 yards in the second half to rally for a 38-20 victory against No. 11-ranked Illinois State to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship outright.

The Bison (10-1, 7-1 MVFC) were conference champions last year, too, but shared that crown with Northern Iowa.

“It feels a lot better to win it outright,” said Bison defensive end Cole Jirik, who finished with eight tackles and three sacks.

The Bison also continued their success away from home. They finished the regular season with a 5-0 road record for a second consecutive season. Counting last year’s victory against Sam Houston State in Frisco, Texas, for the Football Championship Subdivision title, NDSU has won 11 consecutive games away from Gate City Bank Field.

The last time the Bison lost a road contest was a 38-31 overtime loss against Eastern Washington on Dec. 11, 2010, in Cheney. That came in the FCS quarterfinals. Eastern Washington went on to win the national title that season.

“Our coaching staff; give all the credit to them in preparing us,” said Bison junior quarterback Brock Jensen, who rushed for two touchdowns. “A little of the credit goes to us players. We stick together. We are a very close group. We want to win for each other. That’s how we go into every game.”

That road resolve was tested against the Redbirds. Illinois State jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and racked up 240 yards on a stingy Bison defense in the first half.

Illinois State kicked a 47-yard field goal on its first drive of the second half to build a 20-14 lead with 11 minutes, 12 seconds to play in the third quarter.

“We just know that things are going to go right at some point,” Jirik said.

The Redbirds held a 20-17 lead heading into the final quarter before a methodical Bison offense helped close the deal. NDSU scored three rushing touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, capping scoring drives of 70, 46 and 73 yards. The Bison had four drives in the second half and scored points on all of them.

“In the fourth quarter, they just took the game over,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said. “They played well in the second half and they won a championship.”

The Bison took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter when Jensen powered into the end zone from one yard out on a quarterback sneak. That gave NDSU a 24-20 lead with 14:03 remaining. Jensen added a 4-yard scoring run that gave his team a 31-20 lead with 9:52 to play. That score came three plays after an Illinois State turnover, which Jirik forced. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jirik sacked Redbirds quarterback Matt Brown and defensive end Mike Hardie picked up the loose ball.

Jensen rushed for 39 yards on nine attempts. He also completed 6 of 16 passes for 96 yards, including a 39-yard completion to Ryan Smith that set up a short touchdown run.

“He was really gritty and competitive,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said of Jensen. “He made the throws when he needed to.”

The Bison rushed for 274 yards on 39 attempts, an average of seven yards per carry. NDSU finished with two 100-yard rushers. Junior running back Sam Ojuri rushed for 118 yards on 12 attempts. Sophomore running back John Crockett added 109 yards on 17 carries.

Lund sensed the offensive line started to wear down Illinois State late in the game.

“I know that’s when the rams push a little harder,” Lund said.

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

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