Big second half lifts North Dakota State to second straight national title
FRISCO, Texas - North Dakota State played like it was the 1980s again Saturday afternoon at FC Dallas Stadium.
A dominating second half vaulted the No. 1-ranked Bison to a 39-13 victory against Sam Houston State for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title before a sellout crowd of 21,411 fans.
The decisive victory gave the Bison a second consecutive national championship. It is the first time the program has won back-to-back national crowns since 1985 and 1986.
"I think you now transition your program into a pretty premier program when you've been able to go back-to-back," said Bison head coach Craig Bohl, who now needs three more wins to become NDSU's all-time winningest coach.
NDSU now has 10 national championships with eight coming at the Division II level. The Bison won four national crowns in the 1980s.
"It's got to be the hardest thing to do in sports ... to repeat a championship, go back-to-back, especially a national championship," said Bison quarterback Brock Jensen, who was named the game's most valuable player. "It's hard enough the repeat a conference championship."
NDSU (14-1) has a 28-2 record over the past two seasons, beating Sam Houston State (11-4) for the second consecutive year in the title game.
"It hurts," said Bearkats senior linebacker Darius Taylor, who had a team-high 11 tackles. "To get back a second time and not be able to finish again. I am never going to be able to play with these guys again."
The Bison controlled play over the final two quarters, outscoring Sam Houston State 29-3 in the second half. NDSU held Sam Houston State, which was averaging 41.9 points per game, to a season-low point total.
"They played well, but it wasn't their day," said Bison cornerback Marcus Williams, who had two interceptions. "It was our day."
The Bison defense helped sparked the second half. Sophomore linebacker Carlton Littlejohn intercepted Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell on the first possession of the third quarter. NDSU turned that into points, marching 60 yards on 10 plays. Jensen capped the drive, bulling his way into the end zone from 1 yard out. That gave the Bison a 17-10 lead with 8 minutes, 30 seconds to play in the third quarter.
A play before the Littlejohn interception, the Bearkats had a 41-yard Tim Flanders touchdown run called back on a holding penalty.
"That's a big turning point," Williams said.
The Bison rolled after that sequence of plays. They scored touchdowns on its first four drives in the second half. NDSU gained 242 yards in the second half.
"I was a little bit surprised by the margin of victory in the second half," Bohl said.
The Bison pushed their lead to double-digits for good after Sam Ojuri scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:08 to play in the third quarter. That gave the Bison a 25-10 lead with an improbable 2-point conversion. After a botched snap, defensive end Mike Hardie caught a pass from kicker Ryan Keller in the end zone.
"Well it looked like a disaster waiting to happen when it first started," Bohl said. "Sometimes there's a play in the game when you think, 'You know what? This is probably going to be our day.' "
Jensen finished with 44 yards rushing on eight attempts, including three touchdowns. He also completed 9 of 16 passes for 115 yards. Jensen and Ojuri both had two rushing touchdowns in the second half.
"Coach Bohl said when you win once, it's kind of a surprise maybe," said Bison senior center Joe Lund. "When you win twice, you get everybody's best shot and that's what happened all year."