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NDSU to face yet another South Carolina program in playoffs

FARGO — OK, geography students, where is Wofford?

If you answered South Carolina, you are correct.

Next question. Where is Furman?

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If you answered South Carolina, you have a perfect score.

If you are a true North Dakota State football fan, you should have known the answer to each question.

After all, the football team from Wofford came to the Fargodome last year and gave you quite a scare — before watching your Bison hang on for a 14-7 victory in an FCS quarterfinal game.

Saturday, the football team from Furman is yet another Southern Conference team that will try to dethrone the Bison in a quarterfinal game.

It seems only appropriate. NDSU’s bid to win a third straight national football championship will have to go through the Southern Conference once again.

The Bison had to beat Southern Conference heavyweight Georgia Southern in the previous two semifinal games before winning their back-to-back FCS championships.

It seems only appropriate that NDSU could become only the second team to win three straight FCS titles. The last team to do it from 2005 to 2007 was Appalachian State – which hails from the Southern Conference.

It’s a conference with an impressive resume. Teams from that league have won eight national championships, have had a team play in 16 national championship games and have had at least one team reach the semifinals in 12 of the last 14 years.

With Georgia Southern and Appalachian State leaving FCS to play with the big boys, one can argue that the Southern Conference may have trouble producing numbers like that again. But one can counter that by pointing to two of Furman’s biggest wins this season: a 27-10 win over Appalachian State and a 16-14 win over Georgia Southern — the same team that won at Florida last week.

Needless to say, the Bison will be doing their homework on Furman.

Furman is a private Baptist college of 2,700 undergraduates that is located in Greenville — about 130 miles northwest of Atlanta. The location explains why 31 of Furman’s players are from Georgia, 15 from Florida, 12 from the home state of South Carolina and 11 from Tennessee.

Notable Furman alumni include: Christian musician Amy Grant, physicist Thomas Goldsmith, who helped pioneer the invention of the color television; Herman Lay, who was founder of the Lay’s potato chip empire; basketball player Frank Selvy, who set a Division I record by scoring 100 points in one game; LPGA golfers Beth Daniel and Betsy King; Sam Wyche, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl and Jerome Felton, who is the current fullback for the Minnesota Vikings.

Like the current Vikings, Furman won only three games last year. But under third-year head coach Bruce Fowler, the Paladins (a knight of some sort) have won six of their last seven games. The only loss during that stretch was an expected 48-16 setback at No. 12 LSU.

They clinched a share of their first Southern Conference championship since 2004 with a 27-14 win over Wofford. In Saturday’s playoff win at South Carolina State, Furman piled up 216 yards rushing against the No. 1-rated rushing defense in the country.

Now Furman will go up against an NDSU defense that is ranked second in rushing and first in scoring, allowing only 11.5 points per game.

But perhaps the biggest reason Furman has been on a roll is turnovers. In the last seven games, Furman has had a 20-7 edge in turnovers. It’s why Furman ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin.

“The only way I see NDSU getting beat is if they commit turnovers,” veteran coach Joe Glenn said after his South Dakota team suffered a 42-0 shutout by the Bison two weeks ago.

It nearly happened in last year’s quarterfinal game, when Wofford returned an interception to tie the game 7-7. But it would be Wofford’s only score of the game – after the Bison defense stopped two Wofford scoring threats in the fourth quarter.

“I think both teams laid it on the line today … they got after it,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said after that game.

Expect more of the same from Furman. Expect more of that Southern Conference football.

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

Kevin Schnepf
Kevin Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum. He has been working at The Forum since 1986.
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