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Bison DE Thomas goes out on top for his home state team

Gets a taste of a title after being on a runnerup team at Mankato.

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North Dakota State's Brayden Thomas celebrates the win over Montana State after the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum
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FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State is a perfect 9 for 9 in Division I FCS title game appearances. Nine trips to Toyota Stadium, a 9-0 record since 2011.

But not everybody on the Bison roster is unbeaten in national championship football games. Senior defensive end Brayden Thomas was on the wrong end of the Division II title game in 2019 when his Minnesota State Mankato team lost to West Florida.

Thomas transferred to NDSU a year ago and on Saturday was basking in the green and yellow confetti on the north stage of the stadium. NDSU defeated Montana State 38-10 for its ninth FCS title in the last 11 years.

“We had a great team at Mankato and a lot of my best friends were on that team,” Thomas said. “It’s been an honor to have that experience both times. You come out a winner sometimes and you come out a loser sometimes and today we came out on the winning side. I couldn’t be more blessed to say that.”

Thomas was on the Bison team last spring that lost in the FCS quarterfinals at Sam Houston (Texas). The season was delayed from the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was effective in those 10 games, but turned it up a couple of notches this fall, finishing runner-up in voting for the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

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“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “The last time we were in Texas, we went home losers, so coming home and doing this for the guys in my home state, I’m blessed coach (Matt) Entz gave me the opportunity.”

Thomas is a Bismarck High graduate who took a mediocre start in his college career and blossomed. He spent his freshman year at the University of Mary in Bismarck before transferring to Mankato, where he had just six tackles in 2018.

He was an all-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference second team pick. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, he found his niche with the Bison, leading them in quarterback sacks with nine.

Against the Bobcats, the Bison defense was its usual stealthy self.

“It’s hard to explain, but it seemed just like another game for the guy,” Thomas said. “We prepared like it was another game. We didn’t hype it up. But everyone stuck to their rules and principles.

"This is everything and more, man. It's hard to put into words, but I'm up on a stage celebrating a national championship. It doesn't get any better than that."

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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