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Kolpack: North Dakota State LB Olson plays despite having a torn ACL

FARGO — There was something about No. 34 leading the Bison players out of the locker room and into the darkened Fargodome on Friday night that makes you wonder about the limits of mental toughness. Like, there aren’t any limits with these North Dakota State players.

Linebacker Grant Olson returned to the lineup despite a torn ACL. Last year, he played in the FCS national title game with a painful appendicitis problem. He’ll get to play in pain again this year because the Bison are heading back to Texas, partner.

The 52-14 win over New Hampshire at Gate City Bank Field in the FCS semifinals before 18,694 maniacs that make college football the passionate game that it is sends the Bison to the FCS title game in Frisco on Jan. 4.

For the third straight year, the stadium is named something else — Toyota Stadium now — but the throng of NDSU cowboys and cowgirls will be there again.

Olson was in for a few plays, but the fact he put on pads at all was a minor miracle. The big play of the night, however, was turned in by another senior who battled his share of ACL problems. Defensive tackle Leevon Perry, who spent all offseason rehabbing his injury, started the plane to Frisco with a 6-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter.

The 6-foot-4, 281-pounder showed the wheels of the running back he once was at Saint Agnes High School in the Twin Cities. Well, he was mostly a defensive end but got to carry the ball on occasion.

“I think I scored about the same number of touchdowns,” he said. “It was a good time.”

So you thought you had a good day Friday at work? Perry graduated earlier in the day and then went out and played one of his best games of the season.

“That’s a full day in my book,” he said, before talking about teammate Cole Jirik sitting with him at the postgame news conference. “Me and Cole have known each other for a long, long time. It’s nice we graduated together. It was a little emotional today. It’s nice to be done with school and have the opportunity to put three rings on the fingers.”

Perry’s touchdown made it 24-7 and calmed the nerves of thousands after a shaky start. When New Hampshire’s Steven Thames picked off Brock Jensen’s second pass of the game and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, psychiatrists in the Fargo-Moorhead area were put on red alert.

Their beepers went off when usually sure-handed running back Sam Ojuri fumbled two plays later and the Wildcats had the ball at the Bison 29-yard line.

It was about a perfect start as the Wildcats could have hoped for. It had the makings of this NDSU team going the way of the 1998 Green Bay Packers as a heavily favored playoff team to go down in upset flames.

In the words of former Vikings head coach Mike Tice, “OK, calm down.”

With 24 seniors and a veteran coaching staff, that’s exactly what happened.

The defense held New Hampshire on a fourth-and-5 after the fumble. Wildcats head coach Sean McDonnell opted against the 41-yard field goal, saying he needed more than field goals.

“We needed 7s today,” he said. “Fourteen wasn’t going to be enough. Ten wasn’t going to be enough. We knew we had to score points.”

Jensen’s 50-yard bomb to Zach Vraa tied it at 7-7, and the Bison had their train back on track.

“I’m not going to say panic, but you never want start a game off like that,” said Bison running back John Crockett. “We knew it was time for us to get it going.”

They got it going … all the way to Frisco, again.

Kolpack is the sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.