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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 17 2012

Kolpack: Second-half burst gives Bison a meaningful victory

Normal, Ill. - In the last few weeks, this wasn’t working. And then that didn’t go so well. This looked like three years ago.

What happened to that? Where did this go?

This. That. This. That.

North Dakota State ventured to the middle of the state of Illinois on Saturday, and after a rocky start where this and that didn’t go so well, the Bison turned it up in the second half. They flattened Illinois State 38-20 to claim sole possession of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title.

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

They’ll most likely claim the No. 1 seed in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs that will be announced today. They are 10-1. They will be playing in the Fargodome on the first weekend in December.

Take that.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason,” said Illinois State linebacker Mike Zimmer.

NDSU looked on the verge of heading into the playoffs on a mediocre note, but a Bison-of-old second half said otherwise. The offensive line was relentless. The completions were timely. The defense toughened up.

“They saw what was working and stuck with it,” Zimmer said.

Now it’s onto the second season, and consider this about NDSU: The program is built for the playoffs with its physical style and talented defense.

“Let the bracketology begin,” said head coach Craig Bohl.

It wasn’t exactly all guns a blazin’ going into the playoffs last season. The Bison lost at home to Youngstown State in the 10th game of the year, and Western Illinois had two backs eclipse 100 yards rushing in the last regular-season game, although NDSU won 37-21.

Relying on historical perspective, however, doesn’t mean a national title will happen this time around. Last year’s team had a more consistent threat at receiver in Warren Holloway. Last year’s team had a better offensive line, although the second half Saturday looked to be the best effort all season.

You don’t replace Paul Cornick and Austin Richard overnight and expect immediate results. The yards-per-carry by Bison running backs were down from last season.

Until the second half.

The Bison got their running game going against a good opponent for the first time since Northern Iowa and Colorado State. They put John Crockett and Sam Ojuri over 100 yards – the first time NDSU had two crack that barrier since Tyler Roehl and Pat Paschall did that in 2008.

That 2008 performance also came at Illinois State.

“It’s pretty amazing when you see two guys go over 100 yards,” Lund said.

Afterward, ISU head coach Brock Spack said he’s going to take some pregame advice he got from Bohl, who during their talk during pregame warmups discussed the “cool tournament structure” of the FCS.

Both coaches spent many years in their careers at Bowl Subdivision programs. ISU is expected to get a playoff bid today.

“He said it, ‘Doesn’t matter what happens today because you can win it,’ ” Spack said. “They were a 7-4 team two years ago and went all the way to the quarterfinals and got beat by the eventual national champions on a bad call. Coming from this conference, he said, ‘You’ll be surprised.’

“We all start from scratch again.”

Last year, maybe it was something in the Thanksgiving turkey that energized the Bison. This team got a jolt in the second half.

That’s no guarantee to get to Frisco, Texas, but I wouldn’t want to be a first-time visitor to a decibel meter-challenged Fargodome. And in the case of the Redbirds or South Dakota State, they may get another shot.

NDSU has a program that is built for the playoffs. In turn, the Bison may have given the rest of the conference the blueprint for a national title, also.

That’s why this and that were tough to come by in the last month.

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