Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. 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.
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FARGO—The connection between a Jensen from Waupaca, Wis., and North Dakota State football was almost too good to be true for the Bison, even if the last names have a different spelling. Quarterback Brock Jensen left NDSU as the all-time winningest quarterback in FCS history. Bison sophomore tight end Nate Jenson grew up in Waupaca watching Jensen lead the high school team. Moreover, Nate's older brother was the quarterback before Jensen at Waupaca and his middle brother played high school ball with Brock. "I was at every game since I was probably 7 years old," Nate said.
FARGO—It's 775 miles and about a 12-hour drive from Fargo to Springfield, Mo., and last year, Missouri State head football coach Dave Steckel had to ride in a car with the immediate thought of a 55-0 beating by North Dakota State. Certainly, tough times indeed. Eye surgery meant he couldn't fly with his Bears' players and assistant coaches and the Bison loss ended his first season at 1-10.
FARGO — It was No. 6 Charleston Southern to open the season. That overtime slugfest was followed by another overtime victory, this time over No. 8 Eastern Washington. It was a step up in divisions with Iowa, then ranked No. 11 in the FBS. The 23-21 win got the Bison into Missouri Valley Football Conference play with some momentum and the Bison continued their winning ways with a 31-10 win over No. 20 Illinois State. Four teams. Four ranked opponents. A 4-0 record. North Dakota State has put itself in prime position for another successful season.
FARGO — It was business as usual for the North Dakota State football team on Saturday, with the quarterback showing a fine arm, the running game displaying some power and the defense keeping Illinois State's points to a manageable level. It was homecoming, the weather was perfect and the west parking lot played host to another huge party. As for the Redbirds, two rolls and no coffee.
FARGO—It's about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the Ron and Amy Johnson home in the Twin Cities to the North Dakota State campus, and by the time both of their sons are done with their NDSU careers, they may know every mile of Interstate 94. Certainly, Charlie's Cafe in Freeport, Minn., a customary stop for breakfast, stands to benefit. The Johnsons are on their fourth year watching their son, Zack, a senior offensive lineman with the Bison football team. New to the mix this year is their freshman son, Riley, a pitcher on the NDSU baseball team.
FARGO—The smorgasbord of positions Chase Morlock has played with North Dakota State over the last couple of years will be streamlined to fullback, at least to begin Saturday's game against Illinois State. The senior will start with the primary-blocking role because of a stress fracture in the foot of starting fullback Brock Robbins. It's not the first time Morlock will be at that spot, but certainly it's a different dimension for a back used to avoiding contact rather than initiate it.
FARGO—A change in desks in the newsroom not too long ago necessitated cleaning out the bottom drawer, which in my working world was equal to that junk drawer in most of your kitchens. Stuff just kind of got thrown in there over the years.
FARGO—It's been two years since Illinois State has been on the North Dakota State football schedule, but that doesn't mean the Redbirds have flown off the Bison radar. Anything but, actually. It seemingly got to the point where Bison fans were just as familiar with ISU quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich as they were with their own players. Both are gone now—and that's where this year's Illinois State team is different.
FARGO—The rumor that Nick DeLuca was going to have season-ending shoulder surgery started to spread among North Dakota State football fans in Iowa City, Iowa, a couple of weekends ago. It was akin to being in a Hollywood nightclub when the news hit of Brad and Angelina breaking up. The 2016 season breakup between DeLuca and football became official two days after the Bison defeated Iowa 23-21. The senior linebacker had surgery to repair a torn labrum and he'll apply for a medical hardship waiver to regain his final year of eligibility.
FARGO—The last time these teams met, quarterback Carson Wentz ran five yards for a game-winning touchdown and linebacker Esley Thorton had a game-clinching interception. That was the 2014 national championship between North Dakota State and Illinois State that will go down as one of the all-time great FCS title games ever. The rematch scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1, has a different feel to it, however. The Missouri Valley Football Conference is just one game old but already there are signs that the league has set the table for a shakeup.