Coaches know game could have gone either way

FARGO -- The Fargodome was empty and quiet -- nearly 90 minutes after North Dakota State's football team survived the most dramatic playoff game in school history Friday night.

FARGO -- The Fargodome was empty and quiet -- nearly 90 minutes after North Dakota State's football team survived the most dramatic playoff game in school history Friday night.

Players from Georgia Southern were sitting on the Gate City Bank Field turf behind the north end zone where Bison quarterback Brock Jensen scored a late-game winning touchdown to give the Bison a spectacular 23-20 Football Championship Subdivision semifinal victory.

Those players, waiting to depart for their charter flight back home to Statesboro, Ga., were nursing aches and pains from one of the most physical games in Bison history. They were also dealing with the heartache of losing a third straight semifinal game.

They, and probably the majority of the 18,484 Fargodome fans, knew that this game could have gone either way.

Craig Bohl, who is now only four victories from becoming the all-time winningest coach in Bison football history, described Friday night's classic as one of the most draining games he has ever experienced during his three decades as an assistant or head coach.


The stress and intensity of this game was never more evident than when the Bison were flagged for a roughing-the-punter penalty in the end zone. It ended any momentum the Bison gained after taking a 16-13 lead early in the second half.

Bohl was livid -- not with the call, but with the fact the Bison were even rushing the punter in the first place. Note to self: Remind all coaches to call off any kind of rush in a situation like that in the future.

The blunder helped Georgia Southern regain the momentum and the lead. The visitors had a 20-16 lead and the ball with six minutes remaining. Was it possible the Bison could suffer only their third home playoff loss in school history?

Not so fast my friend.

Even though it gave up 430 total yards, the Bison's nationally ranked defense made stops when it had to. And even though it mustered only 276 total yards, the Bison offense scored when it had to.

It had Georgia Southern wondering what more it could have done to win this game. While four of its players were answering questions during the postgame news conference, head coach Jeff Morken was sitting on the floor nearby -- eventually burying his head in his hands to hide his sobbing.

When the players were done answering questions, they walked over and gave their coach big hugs. Morken had to exit the room to compose himself for his postgame news conference.

"I apologize for losing my composure there," Morken told the media.


No need to apologize. His team and the Bison produced a playoff game for the ages.

It may be the last time Bison fans get to see a Georgia Southern team play. The school is considering a move to the highest level of college football, leaving an FCS legacy with 45 playoff wins and six national championships.

Now, it's NDSU making a bid to become the next Georgia Southern.

In the 34-year history of the FCS, NDSU becomes only the seventh school to make a repeat appearance in the championship game. They join the elite company of Georgia Southern plus Eastern Kentucky, Youngstown State, Montana, Appalachian State and Marshall.

And when it plays in the Jan. 5 championship game, NDSU will make a bid to become only the fourth school to win back-to-back titles. Youngstown did it once. Appalachian State once won three straight. And Georgia Southern won back-to-back titles three different times.

"I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Georgia Southern," said Bohl, who once again reiterated how difficult it is just to get to a national championship game. "Some things have to go right. It's not by chance that we are here, but we are very fortunate to be here."

Schnepf is the sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications. Schnepf is a .

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