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Cam Pedersen puts playoff slump in past with perfect FCS championship performance for North Dakota State Bison

FRISCO, Texas -- In practices leading up to Saturday's FCS Division I national title game, Cam Pedersen was put into some pressure situations. On purpose.After making only 1 of 7 field goals during the playoffs, Bison coaches randomly inserted Pe...

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North Dakota State receiver Nate Moody battles Jacksonville State’s Jaylen Hill Saturday during the NCAA FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas. (FNS Photo by David Samson)

FRISCO, Texas - In practices leading up to Saturday’s FCS Division I national title game, Cam Pedersen was put into some pressure situations. On purpose.
After making only 1 of 7 field goals during the playoffs, Bison coaches randomly inserted Pedersen onto the field during drills to kick a field goal.
“I had to run out there and be ready to kick,” said Pedersen, a true freshman from Eau Claire, Wis. “I think that definitely helped me.”
Pedersen made all three of his field goals in NDSU’s convincing 37-10 win over Jacksonville State (Ala.). His first one - a 29-yarder into the wind - may have been the most important. It gave the Bison a 3-0 lead that they would never relinquish.
“It was great to get our team off on the right foot,” said Pedersen, who indicated he wasn’t thinking too much about his kicking slump. “I was thinking of all the seniors and how I wanted to do it for all of them.”
Champion gets first career interception
NDSU senior cornerback Jordan Champion waited until the end of his career to nab his first career interception. Champion picked off Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins in the fourth quarter that set up a Bison touchdown.
“It meant the world to me,” Champion said. “I couldn’t be the only Bison (defensive back) to graduate without an interception.”
On the play, Champion dropped into coverage and made a leaping grab on a Jenkins pass, giving the Bison the ball at the JSU 28-yard line.
“Champ’s dropped an awful lot of picks,” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said with a smile. “And I love Jordan Champion, and he knows it.”
Vraa makes it five rings in historic career
It’s not certain if Bison receiver Zach Vraa will actually wear a ring on the thumb, but he has the option. He and fellow receiver Nate Moody played on teams that won five FCS titles, due to both getting that chance because of a medical hardship.
“I mean, it speaks for itself,” Vraa said. “It’s amazing to be part of a team that won five, and to end my career with the fifth one is just so cool.”
Vraa had one of his better playoff performances with three receptions in critical situations. The first two came on NDSU’s first touchdown drive. He started it with a 10-yard reception on the first play and converted a fourth-and-3 with a 5-yard reception from Carson Wentz. His other catch late in the first half converted another third down conversion - the Bison were an effective 11 of 17 on that down - and was of the acrobatic kind when he grabbed it over the back of a JSU defensive back.
Stick and Wentz nearly connect for TD
About the only thing that could’ve made the return of Wentz better was him catching a touchdown pass from Easton Stick - the redshirt freshman who filled in for him at quarterback the previous eight games.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wentz handed the ball off to a running back who in turn handed off to Stick on what appeared to be a reverse. Stick stopped running before lofting a pass into the end zone to Wentz. It was picked off.
“That was something we were really excited for,” Stick said. “I just rushed the throw and threw a really bad pass. That would’ve been really cool. It’s something we would have taken with us for a long time.”
Late in the game, the crowd of 15,000 Bison fans roared when it was announced Stick was in at quarterback. It was a thunderous thank-you for Stick leading the Bison to eight straight wins and into the national title game.
“I can’t thank the fans enough for the support they gave me and this team,” said Stick, who added he was especially excited for the performance by Wentz. “We were champing at the bit to get him out there. He was dialed in. He is just a special player, special athlete and special person. He’s the leader of this team and a guy we all look up to.”
Gamecocks QB said it ‘didn’t click today’
Jenkins admitted it wasn’t his best day, with an interception and fumble in the first half that led to two NDSU touchdowns. The second one, a fumbled handoff to running back Troymaine Pope, really sunk the Gamecocks in a hole.
Jenkins said he read an NDSU outside linebacker go a certain way, so he wanted to hand the ball off. Pope never got it.
“It was just a miscommunication with me and the running back,” Jenkins said. “Me and the running back have got to know what’s going on. I should have let him know that maybe I was going to hand the ball off. It was just a miscommunication. Just bad luck on our half.”
The Bison went 48 yards to make it 24-0, getting a 1-yard touchdown run from King Frazier with 6:12 left in the second quarter.
Jenkins said NDSU played hard and fast, just like they saw on film the last three weeks.
“But it was all about us. It was all about how we played,” he said. “If we played the way we played all season, the outcome of the game would have been different, and we didn’t do that. I mean, I feel like I didn’t play like I usually play. I feel like I didn’t play up to my standards, and that was the reason why we lost this game. We’re a great offense and I’m proud of our offense the way we played all season, but we just weren’t clicking today. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t click.”

Etc. etc. etc.
Bison offensive lineman Joe Haeg found out before the game that he was also invited to the Senior Bowl along with Wentz. “I’m so excited Joe Haeg got an invitation,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “It’s a great honor for him because he’s done this for four years.” ... Fullback Jedre Cyr, playing in his last game, appeared to injury the MCL ligament in his knee late in the game. ... The 21,836 attendance was a record crowd for FCS title games played in Frisco, which has hosted the event six times.

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