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Eric Peterson, Published October 05 2013

No. 1 Bison rally for 24-23 win over No. 4 Northern Iowa

FARGO – Like many teams, North Dakota State puts four fingers in the air heading into the fourth quarter of the game, signaling it believes it’s going to be the better team in the final 15 minutes.

The Bison are becoming masters of backing up that practice.

The No. 1-ranked Bison scored two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field. They needed every bit of that late offense to rally for a dramatic 24-23 victory against No. 4-ranked Northern Iowa in Missouri Valley Football Conference play before a sellout crowd of 18,840 fans.

“They got in the fourth quarter and put those four fingers up, there is a great deal of past history that we’re going to get this game won,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said of his team.

The Bison (5-0, 2-0 MVFC) held the ball for more than 10 minutes in the final quarter, outgaining Northern Iowa (4-1, 0-1) by more than 100 yards over the final 15 minutes. NDSU senior running back Sam Ojuri capped the comeback, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 52 seconds remaining.

“The offensive line did a great job up front, I made a couple guys miss and I ended up in the end zone,” said Ojuri, who rushed for 96 yards on 17 attempts. “It was definitely like a playoff game.”

The Bison took command in the fourth quarter, rushing for 120 yards on 21 attempts. They also completed 3 of 5 passes for 21 yards. In contrast, the Panthers mustered 30 yards on 14 plays in the final 15 minutes.

“Conditioning comes into play,” Bohl said. “The pads level start to rise up a little bit. That opens up your running game.”

Northern Iowa was unable to protect the double-digit lead it built through three quarters. UNI associate head coach Bill Salmon admitted the loud Fargodome crowd was tough to contend with as the Bison rallied.

“I think I got rattled a couple times,” Salmon said. “It gets a little loud. They come after you. They just play so hard.”

The Panthers appeared headed to victory late in the third quarter. Northern Iowa took a 23-10 lead after senior kicker Tyler Sievertsen drilled a 36-yard field goal with 3:29 to play in the third.

“We had to stay positive,” Ojuri said.

The Bison started their comeback on their first drive of the fourth quarter, a 68-yard march that took 10 plays. NDSU capped the drive with a crucial fourth-and-6 conversion. Senior quarterback Brock Jensen found wide receiver Zach Vraa open in the end zone on a slant route. That play covered 11 yards at cut the Northern Iowa lead to 23-17 with 10:14 remaining.

NDSU came up with the winning points on its next drive. The Bison took advantage of two Northern Iowa 15-yard penalties on a march that covered 76 yards. Ojuri scored on a 19-yard touchdown run that gave NDSU a 24-23 lead.

“I think the biggest thing was looking back at that Kansas State game,” said Bison junior defensive end Kyle Emanuel, who had four tackles and three quarterback hurries. “Being in that situation before, we are used to it. We don’t let it get to us.”

The Bison trailed by 14 points in the second half at Kansas State in the season opener before they rallied for a 24-21 victory.

NDSU dominated the fourth quarter for a second consecutive week. The Bison scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in a 20-0 victory at South Dakota State the previous week. NDSU rushed for 155 yards on 20 attempts and held the ball for 11:01 in the final quarter of that victory.

The Bison have outscored their opponents 27-0 in the fourth quarter of their first two MVFC games, against two teams expected to contend for the conference crown.

“This was a playoff game and that was a great football team that we played here this afternoon,” Bohl said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com