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Bell's injury can be NDSU's gain

FNS Photo by Dave Wallis North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen, left, tries to escape from Southern Illinois' Raysean Golden in Saturday's football game in Carbondale, Ill.

FARGO -- It was about a year ago when Indiana State was celebrating a victory in the northwest corner of the Fargodome, the result of the only defeat North Dakota State's football team would suffer all season. That moment probably seems like 10 years ago these days.

The Sycamores appear more like the Sickamores this week. Star running back Shakir Bell provided the shock on Tuesday by tweeting that his Indiana State career is over.

"It kills me I will no longer be on the team," he wrote.

It was part of a strange turn of events. Earlier in the day, ISU head coach Mike Sanford said Bell's playing status against the Bison on Saturday was "up in the air" and may be a game-time decision after he re-injured his foot last week at Illinois State.

But later in the afternoon, he told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star newspaper that Bell's season was over because of the injury. When asked by a Tribune-Star reporter if Bell had been dismissed or suspended from the team, he declined comment.

As a sophomore in 2011, Bell was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the best player in Division I FCS football. But Bell was hurt in the season opener at Indiana and never did get into the flow of the season.

The flow of the team hit a wall last week in the 55-14 loss at Illinois State, a game in which Sanford questioned his team's attitude and effort in post-game comments.

"I think there are some things you talk about publically, and there are things you handle privately with the team, and we are in the process of handing it privately with our football team," Sanford said Tuesday. "And that's all I'm going to be able to say about that."

Not helping matters is a 1-6 record. Bell re-injured a foot last week and had just nine yards on 12 carries. He played in five games gaining 420 yards on 78 attempts.

Backup Buck Logan actually had a better per-carry average at 6.6 yards per attempt. Senior George Cheeseborough, another backup running back, averaged 4.9 yards and scored two touchdowns.

"It's interesting, when we watch them on film, there are three running backs that are very similar," said NDSU linebackers coach Steve Stanard. "Shakir is a very good football player, but they have two very comparable other backs, so it hasn't changed how we prepare for them because they're all about 5-8 or 5-9 and they can go. We're concerned about whichever one they have out there."

Starting quarterback Mike Perish also didn't play last week because of a knee injury. He was hurt in a 17-14 loss at South Dakota two weeks ago, and Sanford said his status will be evaluated later in the week.

If he can't go, freshman Robert Tonyan Jr. will most likely get the start. He struggled last week, completing 8 of 22 passes for 69 yards.

"Last week I know they stubbed their toe but outside of that, they've been very competitive," said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. "We're very aware of their athletes. They flat out came into Fargo last year and beat us."

That was a win that had the Sycamores on the path of a playoff berth. But losses in their last two games left them outside the bubble when the playoff field was announced.

This year, it appears the season is on the verge of destructing.

"The game of football is a lot like life. It's about dealing with adversity," said Sanford, in his first year at the school. "That's one of the things we're talking to our team about. The next man up has to step up and execute if those top guys aren't playing."