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Celebrating, keeping focus: Moody, Lechler gain experience as Bison play for third FCS National Championship

Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY North Dakota State Bison players including Landon Lechler, right, a graduate of Beach High School celebrate with fans following a FCS semifinal game against New Hampshire at FargoDome. North Dakota State defeated New Hampshire 52-14.

When the final seconds ran off the clock at Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Stadium, the score was 24-21 in favor of the North Dakota State football team.

Not a bad feat for the two-time defending FCS national champions.

However, it was just foreshadowing what was to come for the Bison.

“We weren’t too surprised that we won the game,” NDSU junior wide receiver and Dickinson High graduate Nate Moody said in a phone interview from Frisco, Texas. “That was a great way to start the season.”

Top-ranked NDSU won its next 13 games — extending its win streak 23 games — to play for its third straight FCS National Championship against Towson University (Md.) at noon today.

“It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we take every opponent seriously,” NDSU redshirt freshman Landon Lechler said in a phone interview. “I remember back in high school at Beach and we took every opponent seriously. Those pregame jitters definitely don’t go away once you get to the next level. It’s fun and it’s what you live for. You love that feeling. It’s nervousness, but you excited at the same time.”

Moody, who has six catches for 39 yards this season, said it feels like yesterday the Bison were in Frisco preparing for Sam Houston State (Texas) in their first FCS title in January 2011.

“Everybody knows what’s going on, but we are still enjoying ourselves and I think everyone is ready to play this game,” he said. “It goes quick. It feels like less than a year ago I was out here for the first time.”

Moody has played in 12 of the team’s 14 games this season but has had to deal with injuries.

Ironically, injuries assisted Moody arriving on the field sooner than expected. During his freshman year, the Bison were riddled with injuries at receiver and NDSU head coach Craig Bohl pulled Moody’s redshirt.

“I had battle through a few injuries this season,” Moody said.

Lechler — a 6-foot-7, 273-pound offensive lineman — is the backup to All-American left tackle Billy Turner. Lechler, a redshirt freshman, said it has been a privilege to learn from Turner — a player many scouts believe will play in the National Football League next season and who some draft pundits have pegged as possibly a second-round pick.

“(Billy’s) taught me so much,” Lechler said. “Coming out of high school, I thought I knew just about everything. Then realizing having a great leader like Billy to take me through the ropes really helps a lot. He has the potential to go to the NFL and he’s a great role model. He’s helped me out through meetings, techniques and it’s has been an honor.

“Our lockers are right next to each other. My number is 78 and he’s 77. We have a good relationship. He tinkers with what I do and I kind of pick his brain a little bit to what he does.”

At the beginning of the season, Lechler didn’t know how much playing time he would receive — especially coming off a redshirt season. He has played in nine games.

Lechler didn’t play against Kansas State but traveled with the team to the game. He said he won’t forget the experience.

“I didn’t really know how much time I was going to get to see, but I just took it week by week with practices and just improving in practices,” he said. “It has been an absolute honor — just being from the state of North Dakota on the team, working hard and getting a chance to go out there to contribute has been great.”

Though getting back to Frisco for a third straight time was at the forefront on everyone’s mind, the players knew it wasn’t going to be easy by any means.

As the defending two-time FCS national champion, the target on NDSU’s back can’t get much bigger.

“We just have to be prepared to take everyone’s best shot and not take a day off,” Moody said.

Lechler added: “We knew (getting to the FCS national championship game) was a possibility, but the biggest thing we all stressed was to take the season week by week and work as hard as you can for next game. The chips will fall as they may.”

The calming effect for all the underclassmen is the team’s 24 seniors. Of those 24, all but two have played their entire collegiate careers at NDSU.

Not only will today be the 24 seniors final game for the Bison, it is also Bohl’s final game as the head coach as he accepted the head coach job at the University of Wyoming and was introduced on Dec. 8.

“Coach Bohl has always been there for this whole team,” Moody said. “He’s just a good guy to go to, because he has the right things to say. As a team, we know that this is the last time that this particular group is going to be together. We just want to go out with a perfect record.”