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Kevin Schnepf, Published October 19 2013

Schnepf: O-line back in fine form in Bison victory

Carbondale, Ill. - Let John Crockett take you inside the huddle of the North Dakota State football team, where he is surrounded by his buddies – his big buddies that make up the offensive line.

“When you see that look in their eyes … it’s a look that gives you chills,” Crockett said. “I look in those eyes and it’s a look of, ‘We are not going to be denied.’ It’s a sense of, ‘You are not going to stop us.’”

Southern Illinois’ proud defense saw that look. And it couldn’t stop the Bison offense that exploded for 205 rushing yards in the third quarter alone. That’s 159 more yards than what Southern Illinois totaled for the game.

It helped the top-ranked Bison overcome a 10-0 deficit before rolling to a dominating 31-10 win over one of the hottest FCS teams in the country.

“Unbelievable,” said Crockett, whose 171 rushing yards combined with Sam Ojuri’s 137 yards gave the Bison 331 yards on the ground.

“I mean, I can’t say enough about our offensive line. I love those guys to death. I can’t say enough. Those guys are awesome, dude.”

Those guys are starters Billy Turner, Zack Johnson, Josh Colville, Tyler Gimmestad and Joe Haeg. That’s nearly 1,500 pounds of mean-looking dudes who were creating holes against a defense that prides itself in stopping the run. Not Saturday.

Crockett ended up averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Ojuri averaged 10.5 yards per carry.

“We take pride in what we do,” said Gimmestad, the Zach Galifianakis look-alike who plays right guard. “North Dakota State football … we run the ball. That’s it. Plain and simple.”

“I think it was one of the most efficient games that we’ve had,” said left guard Zack Johnson.

That efficiency was never more evident when the Bison, still nursing a 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter, started a drive on their own 7-yard line. In that huddle with all those determined looks, Bison quarterback Brock Jensen called a sweep. That’s when Johnson’s eyes got even bigger.

“It is one of my favorite plays because I love to get out and pull,” said Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 317-pound sophomore from Apple Valley, Minn.

Johnson pulled from his left guard position and came rumbling toward the left sideline where he laid a block on a Southern Illinois cornerback. It sprung Ojuri for a 40-yard gain. Three plays later, Crockett ran through a big hole up the middle for a 26-yard touchdown.

The rout – 31-10 is a rout by Missouri Valley Football Conference standards – was on.

On NDSU’s next possession, the Bison marched 55 yards in six running plays for another touchdown. As quick as Crockett and Ojuri burst through all those holes, the Bison had a 28-10 lead with 21 seconds left of the third quarter.

Bison head coach Craig Bohl wasn’t expecting to win like this. After all, his national-championship Bison slugged it out to a 23-17 home victory last year. And two years ago in Saluki Stadium, the Bison somehow escaped with a 9-3 win – a struggle that prompted offensive line coach Scott Fuchs to remind his old coaching partners at Southern Illinois how long it took the Bison to get a first down in that game.

“Today, we just said this is going to be Bison football … let’s play hard, let’s play fast and let the backs do their thing,” said Fuchs, who was the offensive line coach at Southern Illinois before returning to NDSU. “At the end of the day, you play hard, play fast and good things happen. It was about digging our heels in and going … I felt good about that.”

And he felt good about beating his old team.

“I will be smiling all the way home,” said Fuchs, a former All-American offensive lineman during the Division II days at NDSU.

It was only two weeks ago when the Bison offensive line resembled a MASH unit. Injuries were noticeably affecting their play. But Saturday, they returned to form, displaying the conditioning that helped them create a game-winning scoring drive at Kansas State in the season opener.

“I know we are all zoned in,” Johnson said. “I can take it back to Kansas State and that last drive. We knew we were going to score. Today, we knew when we came back out after time we were going to score touchdowns.”

“It was like I wasn’t gone,” Gimmestad said, referring to a knee injury that limited his playing time. “We still have that great chemistry. It was great to be back.”

And for Crockett, it was great to see those looks in the eyes of his big buddies.

“People don’t understand with their conditioning and as big as they are, it’s kind of weird,” Ojuri said. “It’s freaky. It’s real freaky. When those guys are clicking, it’s really tough.”