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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 08 2012

Schnepf: Olson has record day as Bison defense dominates again

Fargo - Grant Olson was drained. His legs, knees, shoulder and back were sore.

Yet somehow, the North Dakota State linebacker found the energy to talk to a high school classmate after Saturday’s 14-7 quarterfinal football playoff win over Wofford College.

“I don’t get to see him that much anymore,” Olson said, referring to Wayzata (Minn.) High School classmate Zach Muller, a tight end who did not dress for Wofford on Saturday. “He just said how proud he was of me.”

Understandable, even from the opposing team.

Olson, the junior leader of a Bison defense that is arguably the best in the nation, produced an amazing 29 tackles. It broke the school record of 26 set in 1989 by safety Ken Clark.

Bison head coach Craig Bohl, in his three decades of coaching, has never witnessed an individual performance like that.

“I can’t recall one, I can’t,” Bohl said. “And I’ve been coaching a long time.”

Olson, in a raspy voice fitting of a hard-nosed linebacker, was quick to point out that his performance was not the reason the Bison are now one win from reaching their second straight national championship game.

Modest, yes. On target, yes, in his assessment of the defensive line keeping the blockers off himself and fellow linebacker Travis Beck, who chipped in with 11 tackles.

“The defensive line played phenomenal,” Olson said. “They deserve all the credit. They kept the blocks off of us. If it would’ve been the other way around, we wouldn’t have won this game.”

It was perhaps one of the biggest scares an NDSU team has ever gotten in a home game during its 36-year history of playoff football. Wofford, relying on its triple-option run offense led by All-American fullback Eric Breitenstein, threatened to tie the game twice late in the fourth quarter.

But thanks to Olson and the rest of the defense, the Bison improved their home playoff record to 20-2 – the only losses come in 1976 to Montana State and in 1991 to Mankato State.

“We want to win the whole thing again,” Olson said. “To be one of the last four teams in the country, that’s such an incredible accomplishment.”

And so is what the Bison defense did late in the game.

With Wofford facing third-and-4 on the Bison 7, Christian Dudzik chased down Donovan Johnson for a 2-yard loss.

“Everybody did their job on that play,” Olson said of a stop that led to a huge blocked field goal with more than 11 minutes remaining.

With less than four minutes remaining, Wofford’s offense marched to the Bison 7. On fourth-and-2, Olson teamed up with Beck to stop Johnson short of the first down.

“I remember running for my life to get the pitch because that was my responsibility,” Olson said. “Lucky for me the quarterback gave it to the running back and Travis hit him in the backfield to slow him down. I came in and tried to top him off.”

That “top off” was Olson’s school-record 27th tackle.

For a while, the official statistics showed Olson finishing with 28 tackles. When Olson was done talking during the postgame news conference, it was announced he officially had 29.

It prompted the non-media members in the room to give him a big round of applause. It was enough for Olson to crack a smile.

Now Olson will try to heal all those aches and pains for another triple-option offense from Georgia Southern, which piled up 602 yards rushing in its 49-35 quarterfinal win at Old Dominion.

A tired and weary Olson knows what lies ahead – not only studying up for the Eagles’ potent running attack, but also for presentation, impromptu speech and three final exams he has this week.

“It’s going to be a tough week,” Olson said. “We won’t try to reinvent the wheel this week. We are going to do what we do, stop the run.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com