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KOLPACK: Abdullah, a tank with speed, put an end to NDSU's title run

FARGO -- There will be no wondering if the renovation of Toyota Stadium and the temporary reduction of seating will affect the thousands of North Dakota State fans that descend to Frisco, Texas, every January. There will be no app showing the mas...

North Dakota State students cheer the Bison during their NCAA FCS Semifinal football game against James Madison Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in the Fargodome.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Ethan Ratke of James Madison lands on top of King Frazier of North Dakota State during their NCAA FCS Semifinal football game Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO - There will be no wondering if the renovation of Toyota Stadium and the temporary reduction of seating will affect the thousands of North Dakota State fans that descend to Frisco, Texas, every January. There will be no app showing the masses on their way to the Texas border.

And there will be no NDSU flag tied to the Texas state line sign.

It had to end sometime, somewhere and somehow. And James Madison University running back Khalid Abdullah put up a stop sign that the rest of the Division I FCS subdivision was probably wondering if it would ever come.

It did. Friday night at Gate City Bank at the Fargodome. The Dukes came in and beat the Bison at their own game to take a 27-17 victory that left over 18,000 fans with a rare feeling leaving the dome: a playoff loss.

They were the more physical team. They had the better running back. They won the line of scrimmage.

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It left the home locker room in a world of hurt. Defensive end Brad Ambrosius, for one, couldn't put it into words.

"No I can't," he said. "Hurt. It was a good physical game."

It couldn't have been easy with those five titles teams were gunning for. Bison head coach Chris Klieman said he didn't believe his players felt that pressure. Ambrosius said there are always whispers if you play for a good team, but nothing specific with the Bison.

"I don't think there was pressure on us," he said. "We just couldn't get it done."

Abdullah did get it done, rushing for 180 yards averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Rare was the solo tackle on him and Bison defenders will feel his hits in the morning.

"He's a physical running back," said Bison linebacker MJ Stumpf. "I wouldn't say we had tackling issues but a few times we had trouble bringing him down."

For awhile, it looked Abdullah was not only going to run over the Bison, but entire north Fargo as well. At 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, he was a steel-clad armored tank with speed.

Abdullah already had 105 yards rushing with 13:16 left in the second quarter. He wasn't the only one making plays, either. The Dukes had a 214-35 advantage in total offense and it was still just 7-0.

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By the time quarterback Bryan Schor hit Abdullah for a 10-yard touchdown pass that made it 17-0, you would have thought this was NDSU vs. a Southwestern Athletic Conference team, not JMU vs. the Bison.

The social media world was paying attention, too. ESPN analyst David Pollack tweeted Abdullah plays the game at a different speed than everyone else.

The Dukes had 301 yards of total offense at halftime and the Bison went into halftime with the task of figuring out how to slow them down, with Abdullah having 175 yards of total offense himself.

"From the beginning, you could tell we're a hard-nosed football team," said offensive lineman Matt Frank. "We have a team willing to face anyone."

NDSU trailed South Dakota State 10-0 early in the quarterfinal matchup last week, but this deficit felt different. JMU played the game at Eastern Washington speed and everybody knows what the Eagles did at the Fargodome in September - score 44 points, albeit NDSU had 50 in the overtime victory.

The mission of defensive adjustments, however, was accomplished for the Bison in the second half. Those holes Abdullah had in the first half? Closed. The Dukes had 17 yards of total offense in the third quarter and the Bison tied it at 17-17 heading to the final 15 minutes.

It was a striking reversal, sort of.

Abdullah finally broke free for a 55-yard run with just over eight minutes left and his team leading 20-17. It reached the Bison 25-yard line and JMU had a potential knockout punch in sight.

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"We missed some fits on him," Klieman said. "He broke some tackles and is just a dynamite player. We did some good things on him but missed some fits we typically don't do."

The Dukes provided it with a 25-yard touchdown pass to John Miller with 6:59 remaining. The bartenders in Frisco had to have been bummed, seeing the best weekend of business of the year going out the window.

You could manufacture all kind of theories why the Bison lost, like injuries to Nate Tanguay and Nick DeLuca that left the defense relying on its depth. Nope. This defeat came because JMU was the better team.

Abdullah's production were the most yards a running back put on NDSU since Eastern Washington's Taiwan Jones had 230 in the 2010 quarterfinal game.

"It's something he's done all year and we're lucky to have him," Schor said.

Those are stats that are hard to overcome.

Those are stats that ended a dynasty.

"This is what late-December football is all about," Schor said.

It's what head coach Mike Houston had in mind when he took over the program last winter. He didn't hesitate to talk about NDSU to his players in the offseason, essentially saying if you want to win a national title, you have to run a program like NDSU.

"We talked about the traits this program has at North Dakota State," Houston said. "They are traits we believe in and we talked about North Dakota State. If we wanted to achieve our goals, we made no qualms about it."

Related Topics: FOOTBALLNORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITYCHRIS KLIEMAN
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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