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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 20 2013

Bison overcome shaky start to build a 31-7 halftime lead on New Hampshire

FARGO – After a shaky start in which it turned the ball over twice in the first 2 minutes and 15 seconds, North Dakota State’s football team regrouped and built a 31-7 halftime lead over New Hampshire Friday night in the FCS semifinal game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

The Bison are vying to become only the second FCS team to win three straight national championships. If they win Friday night’s game, they will advance to the Jan. 4 championship game in Frisco, Texas.

Less than 90 seconds into the game, UNH’s Steven Thames stepped in front of Bison receiver Eric Perkins, intercepted Brock Jensen’s pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats had a 7-0 lead with 13:37 left of the first quarter.

On NDSU’s next possession, running back Sam Ojuri fumbled on second down and New Hampshire’s Casey DeAndrade recovered on the Bison 29. But the Bison defense held the Wildcats on four downs.

The Bison got on the board late in the first quarter when Jensen threw a perfect strike to Zach Vraa for a 50-yard touchdown pass. It capped a three-play, 81-yard drive that tied the score 7-7 with 5:21 left of the first quarter.

During that drive, running back John Crockett eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. Crockett, who broke free for a 26-yard gain, joins Sam Ojuri with more than 1,000 yards. It marked the third straight season in which the Bison have had two running backs with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

The Bison took its first lead, 10-7, with 14:06 remaining of the second quarter, when Adam Keller kicked a 32-yard field goal. The Bison, which leads the nation in third-down conversions, converted on two third downs during the drive – including a 22-yard keeper by Jensen.

The Bison built its lead to 17-7 with 7:40 remaining when Jensen passed to a wide-open Derrick Lang for a 7-yard touchdown pass. It capped a 7-play, 87-yard drive in which Crockett broke free for runs of 24 and 41 yards.

Moments after that, the roar of the Fargodome crowd came into play when New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich had trouble calling signals. Goldrich then fumbled the long snap, the ball was kicked backwards before Bison defensive tackle Leevon Perry scooped it up for a 6-yard touchdown run. The Bison led 24-7 with 6:14 left of the first half.

It marked the fifth defensive touchdown for the Bison this season. It marked their first fumble recovery for a touchdown since 2011 when Kyle Emmanuel did against Northern Iowa in the Fargodome.

After the Bison defense stopped UNH on four downs, the offense marched 79 yards in 7 plays – capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Vaadeland. With 2:04 remaining of the first half, the Bison had a 31-7 lead.

Played most of the first half without wide receiver Ryan Smith, who suffered a hamstring injury.