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Eric Peterson, Published November 16 2013

Bison claim another conference championship with 35-17 win at Youngstown State

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Playing without two significant defensive players didn’t stop North Dakota State from doing something significant Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.

The Bison shook off three turnovers and quarterback Brock Jensen threw four touchdowns to power NDSU to a 35-17 victory against Youngstown State in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.

The Bison (10-0, 7-0 MVFC) won their third consecutive conference crown, earning an automatic bid for the Division I FCS playoffs.

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to do, three conference titles,” said Bison defensive end Kyle Emanuel, who had six tackles and a blocked field goal. “I don’t think people realize how hard it is to play in this conference.”

The Bison played their first game without senior linebacker Grant Olson, who suffered a season-ended knee injury against Illinois State last week. Senior All-American cornerback Marcus Williams also missed the game with a knee injury. Williams could return as early as next week, said head coach Craig Bohl.

“It was an extraordinary job by our defense,” Jensen said. “They are the backbone of our team and always have been.”

Youngtown State’s 17 points tied a season low. The Penguins (8-3, 5-2) also scored 17 points in a loss at Michigan State, an FBS team that plays in the Big Ten Conference. The Bison limited Youngstown State to seven points, 116 yards and five first downs after halftime.

“Our motto is ‘next guy up.’ We don’t worry about who’s playing,” said Bison senior defensive end Cole Jirik, who had three tackles and a fumble recovery. “We just worry about getting the (job) done.”

The Bison defense helped shift momentum early in the second half, holding a 14-10 lead. Carlton Littlejohn, who moved to middle linebacker after Olson’s injury, stripped Penguins quarterback Dante Nania on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter and Jirik covered the loose ball at the Youngstown 33-yard line. Six plays later, NDSU was in the end zone. Jensen connected with tight end Kevin Vaadeland on a 3-yard scoring pass that made the score 21-10 with 11 minutes, 10 seconds to play in the third quarter. The Bison never had their lead dip into single digits from that point.

“That was a huge swing in momentum,” Emanuel said. “Our offense did a good job of putting it in the end zone.”

Youngstown State battled its own injuries Saturday. Senior quarterback Kurt Hess started the game less than 100 percent with a sprained ankle. Nania, a sophomore, was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury after his fumble early in the third quarter. The Penguins finished the game with redshirt freshman Tanner Garry at quarterback.

“At the end of the day you just go out there and do your business and attack the quarterback,” Emanuel said.

The Bison were balanced on offense, rushing for 283 yards and passing for 200 more. Jensen completed 17 of 22 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior also added a 1-yard touchdown run. Bison running backs Sam Ojuri and John Crockett each rushed for more than 100 yards. Ojuri had 146 yards on 17 attempts. Crockett had 120 yards on 15 carries.

The Bison were able to overcome three turnovers that led to 10 points for Youngstown State.

“It wasn’t exactly pretty, but there were some really pretty things within it,” Bohl said.

Bohl was pleased with the conference three-peat. The Bison have clinched all three of those MVFC crowns on the road with the last two having been outright.

“I think it’s really hard to do,” Bohl said of three conference titles in a row. “This league is a tough league. We found that out when we first go into it. We kind of got taken to the woodshed and had to learn how to adjust.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com