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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 05 2013

Kolpack: Bison just keep finding ways to win, even when you least expect it

Fargo - The day started with rain, wind and cold – not exactly a postcard kind of day for the thousands of professional tailgaters before every North Dakota State football game. So they had to improvise.

Once inside Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturday afternoon, the team had more recipes that failed against Northern Iowa than a 10-year-old kid trying to cook a gourmet meal. Cornerback C.J. Smith started the week with a dislocated shoulder. Guard Tyler Gimmestad suffered meniscus damage to his knee. Friday night, center Josh Colville was in a car accident and sat out with concussion symptoms.

The game was only seconds old when Marcus Williams fumbled the opening kickoff.

“When our top kickoff returner fumbles on the first play, yeah, it’s going to be a bad hair day, I can tell you that,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl.

Christian Dudzik made it two kickoff return fumbles. Double bad hair day.

So what was the final score again? Bison win 24-23?

How does this team keep pulling off wins like this?

There’s just something about the fourth quarter that brings out the best in some players. In this case, a whole bunch of players. It’s like giving the ball to just-retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera – you just kind of know the door will close on the other team.

They improvise.

“I think a lot of times teams begin to change in the fourth quarter,” Bohl said.

Somebody may have tried to steal Brock Jensen’s jersey a few weeks ago, but nobody has taken the first-layer blue shirt with a red “S” on it that he must wear underneath No. 16. Nobody in the FCS can play the last five minutes of a game like the Bison senior quarterback.

He did it again. The man of steel.

“Poise, confidence, he always keeps us calm,” said Bison running back Sam Ojuri. “Brock has us catch our breath before every play.”

Down 23-10 going into the final quarter, Jensen engineered a 10-play, 68-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Zach Vraa. On fourth down. Scoring on first down isn’t as suspenseful. Might as well wait until the last attempt.

The players actually lined up without knowing the play by design, Vraa said. Jensen looked over the defense and gave the junior receiver the signal.

“I saw the right coverage, and we executed,” Vraa said.

Then, after the Bison defense did its job holding the Panthers, NDSU took over at its 23-yard line with 6:57 remaining.

Can you say Kansas State?

“It was Kansas State all over again,” said Bison defensive end Kyle Emanuel. “Being in that situation really helped us out. That’s our mentality. We just keep playing no matter what the score is.”

The Bison rallied from 14 down to beat K-State, doing it with a monster 80-yard drive in just under nine minutes to do it. The Panthers’ drive was 76 yards in eight plays with Sam Ojuri scoring from 19 yards with 4:05 remaining.

“That’s the position we want to be in. We want to close it out,” said UNI defensive tackle Xavier Williams.

NDSU had every reason to lose. Mistakes. Injuries. Fumbles.

When its best tackler, Colten Heagle, misfired on UNI running back David Johnson, who took the play 85 yards to score in the second quarter … some games are just not meant to be. When Dudzik dropped an interception that had touchdown written all over it … same thing.

Not these guys.

Gimmestad came in for the injured Jack Plankers and played on one leg in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Bohl said.

I don’t know how this team does it. They just know how to win.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia