Jeff Kolpack, Published January 04 2013
Winning ways surround Bison, Bearkats quarterbacks
One of those players will increase it by one today when the Bison and Bearkats play for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title at FC Dallas Stadium. One of them will continue to draw from a lifetime resume of being a winner.
NDSU head coach Craig Bohl sensed it the minute he met Jensen on a recruiting visit. He was told the senior at Waupaca, Wis., was a winner, but the head coach hears that from a lot of high school coaches.
“That’s an easy thing to say, but tough to do,” Bohl said.
Both Jensen and Bell have seemingly made it look easy. Jensen led Waupaca to an undefeated senior season and a Division III Wisconsin state championship. Bell was 21-4 as a starting quarterback in China Spring, Texas, where his father Mark Bell was the head coach. It took only three games into his true freshman season at Sam Houston to be named the Bearkats starter.
He’s completed 178 of 289 passes (62 percent) for 2,460 yards. He’s a threat to run, averaging almost 4 yards per carry despite 111 yards in losses, most from quarterback sacks.
Coming into the season, Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said an emphasis was to improve the passing game. Bell has delivered. Last year in this game, when NDSU took a 17-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, Fritz said he felt like it was an “insurmountable lead.”
“We made a concerted effort in the offseason to get better,” he said. “Now when we’re in third and long, which you don’t want to be but sometimes you are, we have a much better chance of converting.”
Converting with Bell, who already is the school’s all-time passing leader in addition to being the winningest starting quarterback the school has ever had.
“For me, it’s about not turning the ball over,” Bell said. “Playing it safe and take what the defense gives me. And I’ve been lucky to have a great offense around me and a great defense.”
Bell had the same observation on Jensen, saying the Bison quarterback makes the right decisions and doesn’t make many mistakes.
Bell is 0-1 against Jensen as a result of last year’s 17-6 NDSU FCS title win. On Thursday, at a media day event, Jensen had the demeanor and composure of an executive interviewing for a corporate position.
That maturity, said Bison offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, carries over to the field.
“Whether it’s just this game or any number of big games he’s played in, you feel like the kid will not crack under pressure,” Vigen said.
Earlier in the season, Jensen was converting key third-down situations – and ultimately winning games – with his arm. When the passing game started to tail off, he did some damage with his legs, most notably in both games against South Dakota State and the winning touchdown against Georgia Southern on a fourth-down run with three minutes to play.
“You find every way you can,” Vigen said. “Fortunately for us in those games, we found a way. I like our chances heading to the fourth quarter with the bulk of games we’ve had that have been close this year.”
Vigen said the Bison will have a healthy receiving corps for one of the few times this season against the Bearkats, and that should help the passing game. Starters Ryan Smith and Zach Vraa have missed games for various reasons.
Jensen has completed 198 of 322 passes (62 percent) for 2,216 yards, 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The downside was four of the picks went the other way for defensive touchdowns. The upside is the Bison are playing for another national title.
“There’s a reason why these guys are winning,” Bohl said. “I think if you look at the great NFL guys, you probably can say they have that ‘it’ figured out. It can take you a long ways. We’ve been back to Frisco two years in a row.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia