Jensen, Bison handle Redbirds
FARGO — North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen flashed his leaping ability Saturday, hovering above the Gate City Bank Field artificial turf.
The senior threw a 3-yard jump pass for a score late in the first quarter. That was one of the three touchdown passes Jensen had in the first half which helped spark the No. 1-ranked Bison to a 28-10 victory against Illinois State in Missouri Valley Football Conference play at the Fargodome.
“I don’t know if I want to see the instant replay on my vertical, but that’s a pretty sweet play,” said Jensen, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 138 yards in the first quarter.
The Bison (9-0, 6-0 MVFC) remained unbeaten and extended their winning streak to 18 consecutive games, which dates back to last season. Two-time defending FCS national champion NDSU has a chance to win a third consecutive conference championship next Saturday at Youngstown State in a showdown of the top two teams in the MVFC.
“You couldn’t draw up any better picture as far as where we want to be at right now,” Jensen said. “We’ve got a couple main goals that we haven’t accomplished yet. The pedal is still down.”
The Bison were full throttle early against Illinois State, scoring on three of their first four drives. That big start vaulted NDSU to a 21-7 halftime lead.
“We made some mistakes in the first half that are hard to overcome,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said. “You have a very small margin for error against a football team like that.”
NDSU scored on the third play from scrimmage, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Jensen to wide receiver Zach Vraa. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Vraa broke open on a double move before running under and securing the pass in the end zone. That gave NDSU a 7-0 lead with 13 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“I ran that post-corner like 50 times in the last two weeks,” Vraa said as the Bison were coming off a bye week.
The Bison pushed their lead to two scores on the jump pass. Facing a third-and-1 from the Illinois State 3-yard line, Jensen took the snap from center and ran toward the line of scrimmage. As he approached the line, he jumped into the air and shoveled the ball over the top of the defensive line to tight end Kevin Vaadeland, who was wide open in the end zone. That scoring play gave NDSU a 14-0 lead with 4:16 to play in the first quarter.
After Illinois State countered with its lone touchdown of the game, Jensen continued his hot hand.
This time the Bison faced a third-and-22 from the Illinois State 26-yard line. Jensen zipped a pass through tight coverage into the hands of Vraa, who sliced into the end zone. NDSU led 21-7 with 10:35 to play until halftime.
“Brock Jensen is a great player,” Spack said. “He is throwing the ball very well right now, and we all know he can run it.”
Vraa played a key role in Jensen’s big first half, catching five passes for 109 yards. Vraa, who wears No. 82, didn’t catch a pass in the second half.
“Throwing to ‘82’ over here, he’s a pretty easy target to throw to,” Jensen said of Vraa. “Great hands, great route runner. … He’s got to keep doing his thing, and as an offense, we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Vraa leads the team in receiving with 38 catches for 733 yards and 10 touchdowns through nine games. Bison head coach Craig Bohl likes the chemistry Jensen and Vraa are building this season.
“It’s been excellent,” Bohl said. “What’s been going on in practice is what you’re seeing out there on the field.”
The Bison leaned on their defense in the second half, limiting Illinois State to 82 yards and three points in the final two quarters.
NDSU lost its leading tackler to injury on the third play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Senior linebacker Grant Olson left the game with a serious knee injury, which could possibly be season-ending.
“I know he is on crutches right now and his knee is in a splint, so that’s not good,” Bohl said.
Bison junior Carlton Littlejohn moved from his outside linebacker spot into the middle to fill in for Olson. Littlejohn finished the game with a career-high 16 tackles. Olson had nine tackles before injury forced him to leave the game.
“I feel like the defense got a little more motivated,” Littlejohn said of the Olson injury. “It focused a lot of guys up.”
ISU 0 7 3 0 — 10
NDSU 14 7 0 7 — 28
NDSU–Brock Jensen 27 pass to Zach Vraa (Adam Keller kick), 13:47
NDSU–Jensen 3 pass to Kevin Vaadeland (Keller kick), 4:16
ISU–Marshaun Coprich 2 run (Nick Aussieker kick), 13:45
NDSU–Jensen 26 pass to Vraa (Keller kick), 10:35
ISU–Aussieker 22 FG, 11:23
NDSU–John Crockett 1 run (Keller kick), 1:03
TEAM STATISTICS ISU NDSU
First downs 12 18
Rushes-yards 38-124 37-196
Passing yards 72 198
Comp.-Att.-Int. 12-21-0 13-22-0
Total yards 196 394
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 7-66 7-65
Punts-Avg. 7-39.1 2-38
RUSHING: ISU, Cameron Hunt 11-72, Mashaun Coprich 21-59, Blake Winkler 6-(minus 7). NDSU, John Crockett 20-104, Sam Ojuri 11-65, Brock Jensen 5-28.
PASSING: ISU, Winkler 12-21-0, 72. NDSU, Jensen 13-22-0, 198.
RECEIVING: ISU, Cameron Meredith 2-22, Phil Dudley 3-16, James O’Shaughnessy 2-11, Chick Chatham 1-11, Milton Colbert 1-6, Jordan Neukirch 1-5, Hunt 2-1. NDSU, Zach Vraa 5-109, Kevin Vaadeland 2-57, Trevor Gebhart 2-14, Nate Moody 2-11, Sam Ojuri 1-5, Crockett 1-2.