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Kolpack: Not much changed for Bison running backs in eight years

Lance Dunn of North Dakota State runs for a touchdown against Montana State during their NCAA FCS second-round playoff football game Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO -- The last time Montana State saw a North Dakota State student in a football uniform, D.J. McNorton was doing everything but scaling a mountain next to Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman. The Bison running back set an NDSU playoff record with four touchdowns.

This week, McNorton was in high media demand to talk about that 2010 Division I FCS second round game. Many believe that victory set the table for the six national titles in seven years.

Eight years later, the Bobcats are still having trouble figuring out a Bison running back.

Senior Lance Dunn tied McNorton’s record with four touchdowns and NDSU steamrolled the Bobcats with a razor-sharp first half. The 52-10 win Saturday, Dec. 1, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome put the Bison into next weekend’s quarterfinals against Colgate University (N.Y.).

Counting the last 15 minutes in Bozeman and the first 15 in Fargo, the Bison outscored the Bobcats 49-10 in that span. The damage was done on the ground.

The running attack was so deflating to the Bobcats that NDSU didn’t need perhaps its fastest back to carry the ball. Quarterback Easton Stick had all of one attempt for three yards, which came early in the fourth quarter.

NDSU put three backs over 100 yards with Dunn (127), Anderson (118) and Ty Brooks (103). Sophomore Adam Cofield would have broken the barrier, too, if he had more carries. The last time NDSU had three backs hit the century mark Moorhead High football coach Kevin Feeney was running the old Division II veer offense. Reggie Scott had 170 yards, Feeney 145 and Jake Morris 109 against Minnesota State-Mankato in 1996.

Those were the days when the dome was more like a restless church for a home-crowd advantage. These days, the church effect is hitting in the second half with games well in hand and many fans leaving for something else to do.

The Bison are a machine. They’ve been a motorcycle in a bicycle race in the last month.

“That was a dominant performance today,” said Montana State head coach Jeff Choate.

The NCAA doesn’t give weekly awards in the FCS playoffs, but if there were an Offensive Lineman of the Week honor, somebody from NDSU would be up for it. Or the entire five starters up front would be up for it.

It reached a point in the post-game press conference where offensive guard Luke Bacon had a hard time thinking of any missed assignments.

“I think I may have had one today and that was frustrating,” Bacon said. “There was a little miscommunication between Tanner (Volson) and I. That’s the first thing. And we always look at rushing yardage, not so much the statistics but the fact we can move people and allow the running backs to be successful.”

And there’s one other non-statistical matter.

“Keep Easton clean,” he said, referring to Stick not having to take a hit. “I don’t think he had 100 passing yards today … which is great, we’d rather run the ball anyway.”

Not to be lost on all the rushing yards was the guy who ran the show. Stick is like having another offensive coordinator on the field. Montana State linebacker Josh Hill said the Bison quarterback was changing plays all day.

“He sees the game so well,” said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. “It slows down for him out there. We know how blessed we are to have Easton Stick as a trigger man. He doesn’t panic. The things he can do at the line of scrimmage the general fan can’t see; he’s changing a lot of things and doing a phenomenal job.”

The Bison finished with 407 yards rushing. It could have been worse if the game didn’t turn into a second-half blowout.

The running backs look like they’ve played one game in a flag football league, not 11 in the regular season including eight in the physical Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Dunn missed the last regular season game against Southern Illinois with a hamstring issue. Anderson missed most of the final four Valley games resting the same injury. Brooks had an ankle problem, but he looked explosive against Montana State. And now NDSU has Seth Wilson, perhaps the most talented of them all, back as part of the new four-game NCAA redshirt rule.

Wilson, who played as a true freshman, saw action in just one game this year.

“Lance was fresh today, Bruce is back healthy, Ty is back healthy, we didn’t play Seth today so I feel good about our running back situation,” Klieman said.

Dunn was asked if he truly feels healthy. Bison backs usually by this time of the year are a walking bruise.

“Coming out today, my legs felt fresh like it was the beginning of the season,” Dunn said.

Jeff Kolpack

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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