Schnepf: Tricky play sets tone for NDSUFARGO — Ryan Smith, all 5-feet-7, 175 pounds of him, crouched behind Tyler Gimmestad, all 6-feet-2, 298 pounds of him.
By: Kevin Schnepf, Forum Communications
FARGO — Ryan Smith, all 5-feet-7, 175 pounds of him, crouched behind Tyler Gimmestad, all 6-feet-2, 298 pounds of him.
That was the beginning of a football play that fooled the nearly 19,000 fans in the Fargodome on Saturday afternoon. And it certainly fooled South Dakota State’s defense.
It ended with Smith running 32 yards untouched into the end zone for a touchdown that ignited top-ranked North Dakota State to its 28-3 playoff win.
Just as they did with a fake punt that sparked NDSU’s national championship win over Sam Houston State last January, the Bison coaches picked the right time to dip into their bag of tricks once again.
Just how long were they waiting to unveil this play?
“Awhile,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said with a smirk. “We’ve been practicing that for awhile.”
There was rumor that this was the play Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Theismann diagrammed on a napkin for Bohl during his visit to Fargo a couple weeks ago.
“That was not the Joe Theismann play,” said Bohl, who was quick to let the media know that the call came from offensive coordinator Brent Vigen.
The play certainly didn’t produce any broken legs, which Theismann suffered to end his NFL career back in 1985. But, it certainly was a play that broke the back of an SDSU team that came here confident it could knock off the defending national champions.
The Jackrabbits had plenty of reasons to think they could. They came close only three weeks ago in a 20-17 loss in this same building. And they came back Saturday coming off their first playoff win in program history.
“This just makes you realize how hard it is to be national champions and how hard it is to advance in the playoffs,” said SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner.
But while SDSU was manhandling Eastern Illinois 58-10 last Saturday, Bison coaches were digesting their Thanksgiving turkey and scheming up some new designs for the Jackrabbits.
“We utilized this open week and installed some things,” said Bohl, who now has an 11-1 record after bye weeks.
And one of those things was to unveil what Smith called “The McCluster Play.” He was referring to NFL running back Dexter McCluster, who once ran a similar trick play while at the University of Mississippi.
For all of us who really missed how that play developed, here’s how it transpired when the Bison were nursing a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
There are probably moments when Smith, the sparkplug receiver from Wahpeton gets kidded for his size. But his size it what made this play work when he lined up behind Gimmestad, the right offensive guard.
“I had to crouch down a little more than usual to make sure I was hidden,” Smith said.
It was a third-down-and-one play and the SDSU defense was focused on quarterback Brock Jensen, who successfully ran for big gains the last time these two teams played.
“We were excited about it,” Jensen said when he called the play in the huddle.
On a quick count, Jensen took the snap and the entire offensive line stood up to hide Smith even more. Jensen headed right and quickly tucked the ball into Smith’s stomach.
That’s when Smith paused for a second or two. That’s when the offensive linemen waited for Smith to holler, “Go.” That’s when the entire Jackrabbits defense chased Jensen — unaware that Smith had the ball.
“When he (Jensen) carried out that fake, a lot of us went for it,” said SDSU linebacker Ross Shafrath.
“I didn’t even see if the ball was snapped to him (Smith) or if the quarterback (Jensen) handed it off to him,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “Basically, we had a true freshman linebacker take a direct angle at the quarterback when he should’ve stayed home.”
When Smith hollered, “Go,” the offensive linemen were supposed to head left and block for him. But they didn’t need to. There was nothing but open field to the end zone — just as it worked during the spring game, just as it worked in numerous practices.
“I figured I would have to beat at least one person,” said Smith, who also caught five passes for 31 yards — 1-yard less than his TD run. “But after I took the corner, no one was even there. It was crazy. It was a lot of fun.”
A lot of fun for the Bison fans, who were at their loudest of the year. And a lot of fun for the Bison, who are now two more Fargodome wins away from another trip to Frisco.
Schnepf is the sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications. Reach him at email@example.com.