Bison crush Leathernecks
MACOMB, Ill. -- It was homecoming at Western Illinois University on Saturday. Joe Mays' homecoming. The North Dakota State linebacker had some help in an Illinois celebration. The Bison got three touchdowns from running back Tyler Roehl and a big...
MACOMB, Ill. -- It was homecoming at Western Illinois University on Saturday. Joe Mays' homecoming.
The North Dakota State linebacker had some help in an Illinois celebration. The Bison got three touchdowns from running back Tyler Roehl and a big turn of events in the closing seconds of the first half gave the No. 3-ranked team in Division I Football Championship Subdivision a 41-28 win over No. 17 Western Illinois.
It ended a 32-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents for the Leathernecks. A crowd of 15,619 at Hanson Field had dwindled immensely by the fourth quarter when NDSU, which has won eight straight, had the game in hand.
"They haven't won eight straight by accident," said Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson.
It was a Gateway Conference preview of sorts for the 4-0 Bison, who are joining WIU's football league next year. Mays, a senior, won't have that luxury so he made Saturday his home-state swan song with 12 tackles and a quarterback sack.
"It's homecoming, baby," he said. "I was just pumped with family and friends here. I was happy to be playing the game with the guys in the locker room and happy be back in Illinois. I'm glad we got the win. It tops everything off."
The topper for NDSU came with 20 seconds left in the first half when quarterback Steve Walker hit Kole Heckendorf for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Instead of taking a 24-21 lead into the locker room, the Bison had a comfortable 31-21 advantage.
With a strong wind from the south that affected punting, kicking and passing games all day, it essentially left the Leathernecks with just the fourth quarter to mount a rally.
"It might have played a part in the mental aspect of our offense," said WIU quarterback Matt Barr. "You're frustrated what you can do because you're limited."
There weren't many limits to both offenses in the first half. The Bison led 10-0 before WIU touched the ball on Shawn Bibeau's 40-yard field goal and Pat Paschall's one-yard touchdown run.
That came six plays after NDSU recovered a muffed kickoff return by the Leathernecks. Bibeau's high, short kickoff into the wind was never handled by any one WIU player.
"He thought it was going to go deeper down the field," Patterson said of his returner. "It almost dropped vertically because of the wind. We were prepared for it, we simply didn't execute it."
The Leathernecks executed it when they finally got the ball with over half the quarter already gone.
"To be down 10-0 before ever touching the ball, that's tough to do," Barr said.
Herb Donaldson's 26-yard touchdown run set off an explosive second quarter for WIU. Barr's 44-yard touchdown pass to Matt Warner cut a Bison lead to 17-14.
NDSU had its own fumbled kickoff when up-man Lee Vandal lost control of the ball while being tackled. Robert Hodges recovered it at the Bison 35 and the Leathernecks took their only lead at 21-17 eight plays later on Donaldson's two-yard touchdown run.
"We talked to our football team about adversity and how to deal with that," said NDSU coach Craig Bohl. "It's the secret to our success. The guys never lost composure and I was pleased with that."
Roehl dealt with it best. His 41-yard touchdown run, thanks to a downfield block by receiver Ryan Parsons with 3:12 left before halftime put the Bison up 24-21.
The Bison never trailed again.
Roehl had 136 yards rushing on 27 carries. Walker, from Lockport, Ill., was 13 of 21 passing for 181 yards and one touchdown.
Punter Mike Dragosavich, from Oak Lawn, Ill., averaged 50.5 yards on four punts.
"We have several players from this state and none of them were recruited by Western Illinois," Bohl said. "They had a point to prove when they come to their own backyard. It puts a chip on their shoulder. It was a good win for those guys."
Bohl said his team didn't talk about the return-to-Illinois factor much.
Still, "I'm glad none of the schools thought they weren't good enough to play Division I football," he said. "That was important for us ... to come up and have faith in North Dakota State and to come up with a win."
Said Mays: "Anytime you play a team from Illinois, you just go out and show them what they're missing out on. We wanted to make sure to let these teams know we're good players and that they passed on us."
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