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'They won't forget this one': Bison claim FCS national title

North Dakota State University football players celebrate their win over Sam Houston State during the FCS title game at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, January 7, 2012. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

FRISCO, Texas - North Dakota State rekindled its championship tradition Saturday afternoon at FC Dallas Stadium.

The two decade wait is over.

The Bison held the most explosive offense in Division I Football Championship Subdivision without a touchdown and that relentless defensive effort sparked NDSU to a 17-6 victory against previously unbeaten Sam Houston State for the FCS title.

"The people in Fargo love football," said Bison senior linebacker Chad Willson. "They won't forget this one. It's great to be a member of this team and I'm proud to say that I was a Bison."

The victory gave NDSU (14-1) its first FCS championship. Before Saturday, the Bison had won eight NCAA Division II champions with the last one coming in 1990.

"It means a lot for past players and future players," said NDSU freshman linebacker Travis Beck. "We do it all for past players. It's been big."

The Bison buried the Bearkats (14-1) with a shade under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Beck had a 63-yard interception return to the 1-yard line to set up the game's final points.

"It was an exceptional play by Travis," NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. "He showed some great athleticism and great instincts picking off the ball."

Bison quarterback Brock Jensen scored a play later. That staked the Bison to a 17-6 lead with 8 minutes, 45 seconds remaining.

The Bison special teams came up with a momentum-shifting play early in the second half. NDSU ran a fake punt on its first drive of the third quarter. Senior punter Matt Voigtlander, a former running back, rushed for 27 yards on a fourth down-and-4 play from NDSU's 34-yard line. Voigtlander got tackled at the Sam Houston 39.

The next play, Jensen dumped a middle screen pass to senior running back D.J. McNorton and McNorton did the rest, weaving through the Bearkats defense for a 10-6 lead with 12:47 to play in the third quarter.

"We work all the time on sudden change," said Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz. "It was a good play call, running a little middle screen to the back and caught us in a zone. It was the right call at the right time."

The fake punt and ensuing touchdown sequence also came at the right time for the Bison, whose offense generated 12 yards in the second quarter.

"They were the best defense I've seen this year," McNorton said. "And I'm sure a lot of the offensive players would say the same. Athletically, they have a lot of speed. They play with a lot of heart and passion."

The Bearkats took their first and only lead with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. Kicker Craig Alaniz booted a 31-yard field goal with 40 seconds to play in the opening half. Bearkats senior Brandon Closner set up those three points with a 24-yard punt return that moved the ball to the NDSU 38. Six plays later, Alaniz kicked one through uprights. That gave the Bearkats a 6-3 halftime lead.

"We really felt good about things," Fritz said about taking a lead into halftime.

The Bison had 120 yards at the half. They went three plays-and-out on its final three possessions of the first half. NDSU also committed two turnovers in the opening 30 minutes and had a punt partially blocked. The Bearkats turned that blocked punt into their first three points.

The Bison missed an opportunity to score a touchdown in the first half. The Bison moved the ball to the Sam Houston State 2-yard line late in the first quarter. The Bearkats defense stiffened.

McNorton was stoned for a 1-yard gain on second-and-goal. A play later, sophomore running back Sam Ojuri got stuffed for no gain from the 1. NDSU settled for a 19-yard Ryan Jastram field goal that gave the Bison a 3-0 lead with three seconds to play in the first quarter.

Those early struggles were forgotten when the Bison fans stormed the field after the final seconds ticked off the clock. A mosaic of green and yellow covered most of the midfield part of the playing field.

"Typically, we say we have the 24-hour rule," Bohl said. "We won't have the 24-hour rule on this one."

Readers can reach Forum sports writer Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513