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Eric Peterson, Published December 29 2012

Bison rewind: A game-by-game look at how NDSU returned to Frisco

Game 1

No. 1 BISON 52, ROBERT MORRIS 0

E Sept. 1 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,769

Junior quarterback Brock Jensen completed 16 of 23 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns as North Dakota State rolled to victory. The Bison raised their national championship banner to the rafters.

NDSU fans also got their first glance at sophomore running back John Crockett, who had an electrifying 26-yard touchdown run in the second quarter during his Bison debut. Crockett finished with 75 yards on seven attempts.

“He showed strength, change of direction, explosion, determination, speed, a lot of good things,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said. “I’m not sure what else there is.”

Game 2

NO. 1 BISON 22, COLORADO STATE 7

E Sept. 8 at Fort Collins, Colo. E Attendance: 23,567

The Bison continued their success against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Their win against the Rams at Hughes Field gave NDSU a 6-3 record against FBS opponents.

“This didn’t happen by chance,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said of beating another FBS team.

The Bison defense allowed a 69-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into the game and pitched a shutout from that point.

“I feel really proud about it,” said Bison junior linebacker Grant Olson. “Any time you hold an FBS team to seven points, any team to seven points for that matter, it’s quite an accomplishment.”

Bison running back Sam Ojuri rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts and also caught a 10-yard touchdown pass.

NDSU safety Colten Heagle suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the game.

Game 3

No. 1 BISON 66, PRAIRIE VIEW A&M 7

E Sept. 22 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,623

Sophomore wide receiver Zach Vraa had eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns for the Bison. Junior quarterback Brock Jensen completed 13 of 15 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns.

The game was a breakout performance for Vraa, who had missed each of his first two years in the program with breaks to both collarbones.

“This is making up for the two years that I missed,” Vraa said.

Bison cornerback Marcus Williams and wide receiver Ryan Smith were both held out of the game due to injuries. The Bison defense held Prairie View A&M to 200 yards, including 78 yards rushing on 35 attempts.

“Great program, great team,” Prairie View A&M head coach Heishma Northern said of the Bison. “They’re physical, but they’re more athletic than teams give them credit for. This is everything you could ask for in an FCS program.”

Game 4

No. 1 BISON 33, No. 14 NORTHERN IOWA 21

E Sept. 29 at Cedar Falls, Iowa E Attendance: 16,008

Bison quarterback Brock Jensen completed 22 of 31 passes for a career-high 243 yards and one touchdown. The victory was NDSU’s eighth in a row away from the Fargodome and first in Cedar Falls since 1976. Northern Iowa had won its previous three games against the Bison in Cedar Falls, including one win in 1979 before UNI went Division I.

“We’re a focused bunch of guys,” Jensen said. “We are ready for hostile environments. We are ready for anything anybody throws at us.”

Bison sophomore running back John Crockett also had a big game, rushing for 112 yards on 19 attempts.

“The last two times I have sat in here have not been very fun times,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “This was a quality road win and moreover, it was a quality win over a program that has been a perennial power.”

Game 5

No. 1 BISON 48, No. 3 YOUNGSTOWN STATE 7

E Oct. 6 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 19,065

Junior cornerback Marcus Williams had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter that sparked a Bison blowout in a meeting of top-five teams. The return was 1 yard shy of the school record set by Peter Gergen in 1927 against DePaul.

“In big games, big-time players make big plays, and that’s what he did,” Bison junior linebacker Grant Olson said of Williams.

Bison sophomore running back John Crockett rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts. Junior quarterback Brock Jensen completed 15 of 23 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

“We played a great football game today,” said Bison wide receiver Ryan Smith, who tied a career high with seven catches, including a touchdown. “We showed how good a football team we can be.”

Game 6

INDIANA STATE 17, No. 1 BISON 14

E Oct. 13 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,164

NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Indiana State cornerback Johnny Towalid was on the receiving end of both of Jensen’s interceptions that turned into TDs.

“We have good character on this team,” Jensen said. “I don’t think it was a matter that we have to have a loss for a wake-up call. We just didn’t execute.”

ISU running back Shakir Bell rushed for 96 yards on 26 attempts to pace a Sycamores offense that didn’t scored a touchdown in the game.

“Extremely frustrating, we know we can play better,” said Bison linebacker Grant Olson. “We’re all going to have to take looks at ourselves and see if we prepared as hard for this game as we did for Youngstown and UNI.”

Game 7

No. 4 BISON 54, SOUTH DAKOTA 0

E Oct. 20 at Sioux Falls, S.D. E Attendance: 9,269

The Bison defense held South Dakota to 76 yards from scrimmage and four first downs. Junior linebacker Grant Olson led the effort with six tackles and one sack.

“Right now, we’re probably as good as any defense we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said.

Bison quarterback Brock Jensen had a huge game, completing 15 of 21 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound junior also rushed for two touchdowns.

“I guess you could call it a statement game,” Jensen said. “It was important for us to move forward and not dwell on that game (Indiana State) and have the same team beat us twice.”

Game 8

No. 3 BISON 23, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 17

E Oct. 27 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,066

A fourth-quarter John Crockett touchdown run lifted the Bison to victory in a game that saw the Bison defense limit Southern Illinois to 11 yards rushing on 17 attempts.

The Salukis scored on a 55-yard fumble return in the second quarter and led 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter before the Bison scored the game’s final 13 points.

“This stings,” said Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon. “If I could find the words to tell you how much it stings, I would tell you.”

Bison freshman wide receiver Andrew Okland had a key 50-yard catch late in the third quarter that helped set up the game-tying touchdown. Okland, a Fargo South graduate, finished with three catches for 74 yards. Bison quarterback Brock Jensen completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards.

Game 9

No. 1 BISON 21, MISSOURI STATE 17

E Nov. 3 at Springfield, Mo. E Attendance: 6,253

Bison junior Sam Ojuri rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts to help NDSU overcome an early Missouri State defensive touchdown.

“Some games are tough,” Ojuri said. “The defense stood out today.”

The Bison defense held the Bears to 149 yards and one offensive touchdown.

Ojuri scored on a 5-yard touchdown run that snapped a 14-14 tie late in the third quarter and proved to be the difference. NDSU rallied from a 7-0 deficit after Missouri State’s Cal Schaffitzel had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

“Sometimes you are not always going to have a lot of style points for winning,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said.

Game 10

No. 1 BISON 20, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 17

E Nov. 10 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,721

North Dakota State retained the Dakota Marker as the Bison defense held SDSU star running back Zach Zenner to 43 yards on 14 attempts.

“They keep answering the bell,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said of his defense. “I can’t say enough about them, but it’s a team sport. Offense, defense and special teams pulled together.”

The Bison honored their seven seniors in a pregame ceremony and clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship with the victory.

“There were a lot of things that made this an emotional game,” said Bison junior linebacker Grant Olson, who had eight tackles and 1½ sacks.

NDSU lost a defensive starter in the rivalry game. Junior defensive tackle Leevon Perry suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Game 11

No. 1 BISON 38, ILLINOIS STATE 20

E Nov. 17 at Normal, Ill. E Attendance: 6,793

Sam Ojuri and John Crockett each rushed for more than 100 yards in a victory that gave North Dakota State the outright Missouri Valley Football Conference title. The win also helped the Bison earn the No. 1 seed for the FCS playoffs.

The Bison rallied from an early 10-0 deficit and scored the game’s final 24 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter.

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

Ojuri rushed for 118 yards and one touchdown on 12 attempts and Crockett rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on17 carries.

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

FCS playoffs (second round)

No. 1 BISON 28, No. 19 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 3

E Dec. 1 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,484

The rematch against South Dakota State turned into a mismatch with the Bison defense limiting the Jackrabbits to 21 rushing yards on 23 attempts.

Bison senior tight end Garrett Bruhn had two touchdown catches in what had been an injury-plagued season for one of the team’s seven seniors. The two TD catches were his first two this season.

“It was amazing,” Bruhn said. “I could have never dreamed of that. I feel blessed.”

The Bison broke open the game with a trick end-around play to wide receiver Ryan Smith, who lined up behind the guard at the start of the play. Smith scampered 32 yards into the end zone to give NDSU a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.

“I had to crouch down a little more than usual to make sure I was hidden,” said the 5-foot-7 Smith.

FCS playoffs (quarterfinals)

No. 1 BISON 14, No. 9 WOFFORD 7

E Dec. 8 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,267

The North Dakota State defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown as the Bison held off a stingy Wofford team. Junior linebacker Grant Olson set a school record for tackles in a game with 29, helping his team contain Wofford’s option attack.

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

Wofford’s Eric Breitenstein rushed for 135 yards on 24 attempts, the first back reach 100 yards rushing in a game this season.

“We had guys who put their heart and soul into the game,” said Wofford head coach Mike Ayers. “I feel like it was a great game. I have great respect for North Dakota State.”

FCS playoffs (semifinals)

No. 1 BISON 23, No. 6 GEORGIA SOUTHERN 20

E Dec. 14 at Gate City Bank Field E Attendance: 18,484

North Dakota State rallied for a dramatic victory, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with a shade over three minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Bison quarterback Brock Jensen scored on a 5-yard draw play with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining, the third and final lead change in the second half. Jensen’s game-winning score came on a fourth down-and-3 play.

“Those are situations you live for,” said Jensen, whose team beat Georgia Southern 35-7 the season before in the semifinals. “I’m proud of all of our guys.”

Sophomore linebacker Travis Beck had a game-high 15 tackles to help the defending national champion Bison return to the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas.

“This is one of the most draining games I have ever been a part of,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “This win was really, really hard.”