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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 30 2013

NDSU pulls off 24-21 upset

MANHATTAN, Kan. – It may not be worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover, but North Dakota State’s football team made a statement of historic proportions Friday night.

With what many will consider a shocking 24-21 win over FBS power Kansas State, NDSU crafted what arguably could be its most significant regular-season win during its 119 years of football.

Was this the biggest win in program history?

“It’s hard to say,” said an elated Gene Taylor, NDSU’s athletic director who has saw his football program post upsets over Minnesota, Kansas and Colorado State before Friday night. “But this is the Big 12 champions and it’s the first time they lost an opener since 1989. It was an incredible effort by our kids.”

OK. It certainly wasn’t the first time David slew Goliath in the college football world.

And it certainly wasn’t as shocking as Appalachian State’s 34-32 win at No. 5 Michigan back in 2007.

That was a bombshell that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated: “All-time upset,” trumpeted the headline acknowledging the first time an FCS team knocked off a ranked FBS team.

And it was the year Appalachian State went on to win its third straight FCS national championship.

Are you starting to see the connection?

Fresh off its all-time upset over a No. 26-ranked Kansas State, the NDSU can now focus on winning its third straight FCS championship.

So let the comparisons officially begin of the two most successful FCS programs.

Let’s start by comparing the quarterbacks who helped engineer the two “all-time upsets.”

Back in 2007 before 109,218 fans in what is known as the “Big House” of Michigan, Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 62 yards and one touchdown.

Friday night before a season-opening record crowd of 53,351 in the house that Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder built, Bison quarterback Brock Jensen was masterful after the Bison fell behind 21-7 in the third quarter. He ended up completing 21 of 30 passes for 165 yards, but it’s what he did in the game-winning drive that left the Kansas State crowd stunned.

Jensen, the senior who has a chance to win one more national title than Appalachian’s Edwards did, engineered an 80-yard, 18-play, 8 minute and 30 second game-winning drive. When he spun left, bounced off a Kansas State tackler and fell into the end zone from one yard out, NDSU capped its amazing comeback leading by 3 points with 28 seconds remaining.

In 2007 in Michigan, Appalachian State running back Kevin Richardson rumbled for 88 yards.

Friday night, Bison running back Sam Ojuri ran for 127 yards. And no carry was bigger than his 66-yard romp when the Bison were pinned on their own 2-yard line. It set up a field goal that cut the Kansas State lead to 21-17 late in the third quarter.

Now Ojuri has his sights set a third straight national title, just like Richardson.

In 2007, Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Myles Jackson caught two touchdown passes, one of them captured on that Sports Illustrated cover.

Friday night, Bison wide receiver Ryan Smith – the 5-foot-7 sparkplug from Wahpeton, N.D. – caught eight passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. His 13-yard reception helped set up a touchdown that cut the Kansas State lead to 21-14.

In 2007, Appalachian State got some huge plays from its defense. None was bigger than safety Corey Lynch blocking Michigan’s field goal attempt in the waning seconds to preserve the upset.

Friday night, the Bison got their big defensive plays after falling behind 21-7. Somehow, the defense adjusted after junior college transfer quarterback Jake Waters carved them up for more than 200 yards passing. In the final 25 minutes of the game, the Bison defense did not allow Kansas State to score.

There were no bigger stops than a sequence of plays when Kansas State was threatening to expand its 21-17 lead.

Danny Luecke, the Fargo South walk-on, came up with a first-down sack. Travis Beck and Carleton Littlejohn teamed up for a second-down sack. On third down, Beck leaped over a blocker, forcing Waters out of the pocket, eventually leading to a sack. That forced a punt to set up NDSU’s game-winning drive.

But we would be remiss not to mention that after its win at Michigan, Appalachian State lost two games during the regular season.

The Mountaineers lost their fourth game of the season at Wofford 42-31. Just as a reminder, the Bison’s fourth game of the season is at rival South Dakota State, the team picked to finish second behind the Bison in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Mountaineers also lost their seventh game of the season to Georgia Southern 38-35. NDSU’s seventh game of the season is at Southern Illinois, where its only win in three tries during the Division 1 era was last year’s 9-3 slugfest.

But for now, the Bison are going to savor this win – the biggest regular-season win it has ever pulled off.

“They are an extremely tough football team … they played harder than we did and they outplayed us,” said Snyder, who conducted a postseason press conference while scheduled fireworks were exploding outside in the stadium named after him.

In the end, it was the Bison who lit the fireworks Friday night.