FARGO — Confidence was visibly high for Central Arkansas when the Bears took a fourth quarter lead against North Dakota State on Saturday afternoon. In the pandemic era of college football with very few fans in the stands, a sideline full of players was audible from all corners of Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
It was about then that Seth Wilson appeared to have enough of the visitors taking control of the non-conference Division I FCS game. He took the first play of NDSU’s ensuing drive and bulldozed his way for eight yards.
It was his reaction, however, that was a lasting impression in the 39-28 victory. He turned to his sideline and made some “time to get going” gestures.
It would also be appropriate if he was doing a couple “I’m back” gestures to himself. The junior running back missed all of last year rehabilitating a torn ACL injury.
“I don’t feel or think of my knee whatsoever,” Wilson said. “I’m back to exactly where I was.”
The last time Wilson played at the dome he broke off a 78-yard run against South Dakota State on the first play of the second half in the 2018 FCS semifinals. It helped stake the Bison to a two-touchdown lead and eventually another trip to Frisco, Texas.
Wilson injured his knee during practice in the following spring football.
He followed his energized carry against UCA two plays later with a 13-yard burst that was part of an eventual game-winning drive. It put the Bison up 32-28 with 7:35 remaining in the game.
“Seth Wilson, how about the energy that young man brought to the team?” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said after the game. “Coming off an ACL tear, it was his first opportunity to be back.”
Entz said Wilson had the Bison at University of Oregon game circled on his calendar as the target return date. That Sept. 5 game was canceled because of the pandemic, but Wilson said he took the extra time to continue to develop his knee.
“At first, it was a little rough because I had my hopes up for that,” he said of the Ducks game. “Even though it was tough, mentally I realized it wasn’t going to hurt me to have more time to recover.”
Wilson led the Bison running backs in rushing against the Bears with seven carries for 55 yards. Quarterback Trey Lance led the ground game with 143 yards on 15 attempts.
“Amazing, I can’t say anything but thank the Lord to give me the opportunity to come out here today and the healing he has done on my knee,” Wilson said, “and for me to be able to be back where I need to be to compete at this level.”
NDSU’s lone fall game means it will take a 1-0 record into next spring’s Missouri Valley Football Conference season. By then, wide receiver Phoenix Sproles should be plenty healed after suffering a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. His leg appeared to get rolled up on while he was blocking on a running play.
The Central Arkansas game concluded a fall practice that for a while was treated like spring football before game prepping for the Bears. It served as a coming back party for Wilson, also.
He played as a true freshman in 2017 getting his redshirt pulled halfway through the season. He rushed for 194 yards in a win over Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals.
Nagging injuries forced him to redshirt in 2018, although he played in four games because of the NCAA four-game eligibility rule.
He averaged 10.5 yards in his 21 carries.
“We have a lot of great running backs in that room,” Wilson said. “A lot of dudes were getting touches and I was waiting for my opportunity to show them what I have.”