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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 04 2014

Field conditions not ideal for championship game

FRISCO, Texas – Call them the Sod Squad.

A football field that got such rave reviews in the first two North Dakota State Division I FCS title game appearances turned to mush in spots on Saturday. It didn’t really factor into NDSU’s 35-7 win over Towson University (Md.), but it turned into somewhat of an eyesore all afternoon at Toyota Stadium.

The short-term solution was like a 911 call to any available stadium or field worker. At every time out or quarter break, at least three dozen people went on the field and padded down divots.

Here was the official response from Nick Shafer, Toyota Stadium vice president of operations:

“The facility replaced the turf on the field between the hash marks on Nov. 18. Shortly thereafter, an ice storm came through Frisco and ice sat on the field for a week. This prevented the grass from taking root underneath the turf. We haven’t changed any field preparation from year’s past. The only difference this year is that Mother Nature did not cooperate with us.”

NDSU head coach Craig Bohl was visibly concerned when the Bison first got to the stadium two hours before kickoff.

“I was concerned about the safety for our players,” Bohl said. “Fortunately, nobody was injured. This was atypical. First few times we came down here, it was a great track. Once we had it, though, the officials did a great job of managing it.”

Bison running back Sam Ojuri said the workers did a good job of fixing the divots.

“In the end,” said Towson head coach Rob Ambrose, “we’ve played in snow, red turf, busted turf, you name it. It doesn’t matter.”

Towson reached the title game by beating Eastern Illinois in snow and Eastern Washington on the Eagles’ red turf.

“The turf was pretty bad,” said Towson receiver/backup quarterback Connor Frazier, “but you really can’t blame the turf for a missed blocking assignment or things like that. We play in all types of conditions.”

Olson plays more despite ACL tear

NDSU linebacker Grant Olson played much more than the two plays he saw in the semifinal game against New Hampshire. He finished with three tackles including one for lost yardage in his final Bison game.

Olson tore his ACL in late October but managed to rehab it enough to unexpectedly get back on the field.

“It was great to see Grant out there,” said Bison linebacker Carlton Littlejohn. “It was great to see him back out there doing what he loves to do. When he went down, he kept going and he always had hope to play one more game.”

Meanwhile, junior linebacker Travis Beck led the Bison in tackles with nine – another fine performance in Toyota Stadium. He was the game’s MVP two years ago.

Steady hand earns Jensen game’s MVP

The MVP on Saturday was NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen, who completed 13 of 18 passes for one touchdown and ran for another. He finished his season throwing for 34 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.

“It’s the last time I put on a Bison jersey, but man, it was a fun run,” he said. “It gets better every time you win it.”

Jensen’s 9-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter put a serious separation into these two teams. It gave the Bison a 28-7 lead against a team that likes to run the ball.

“We had some checks in the run game that I thought we could take advantage of,” Jensen said. “I just did it to the best of my ability to get us in the right play.”

Etc. etc. etc.

It was NDSU’s 11th national championship. The Bison are 11-2 in title games. … Brian Dowling’s 12-yard punt return in the second quarter was three more yards than NDSU had given up combined on punt returns all season. It gave the Tigers the ball at their 49-yard line and in good position to take the lead with the game tied at 7-7. It was the same drive that ended in a Colten Heagle blocked field goal. … Game time conditions were 60 degrees with winds from the southwest at 23 mph gusting to 30. … The seven points scored by Towson were the fewest since a 28-3 loss to Maryland in 2011.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia