FCS Playoffs: South Dakota State Falls to North Dakota State in Quarterfinals
Sometimes the numbers don't lie.
The South Dakota State defense - 12th worst in the nation on 3rd down this season - struggled to get North Dakota State's offense off the field time and time again Saturday in Fargo, as the Bison rallied from a 10-0 deficit to beat the Jackrabbits 36-10 in the quarterfinals of the 2016 FCS Playoffs.
NDSU avenged their only loss of the regular season, a 19-17 loss to SDSU in October, by converting on ten of 13 third down opportunities, several on third and long to keep scoring drives alive.
Both teams had to do a little extra work for their first touchdowns.
On their opening drive, the Jackrabbits marched down the field and appeared to take an early lead when Kyle Paris scored on a 27-yard run, but after a review it was ruled that he had stepped out at the one.
SDSU then had to endure a false start penalty and a timeout, before taking a page out of the Bison playbook - literally - going to the same trick play NDSU used against them in the playoffs four years ago, disguising a direct snap to the running back, in this case Brady Mengarelli, with a bunched up formation. The result was a five-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
After a Jackrabbit field goal made it 10-0, North Dakota State appeared to pull within three when Easton Stick completed a a 76-yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Williams, but the play was called back when the Bison were flagged for a lineman illegally downfield.
NDSU wasn't daunted, later converting on 3rd and 15, to setup a Lance Dunn 49-yard touchdown run to cut the SDSU lead to 10-7.
After a Jackrabbit punt, the Bison put together one of their signature drives - 20 plays over 12 minutes and nine seconds - to take the lead for the first time. Again it was a big 3rd down conversion, this time on a 3rd and 23, that kept the drive alive, before Stick went the final three yards on the ground to make it 14-10 NDSU. On the drive, the Bison converted six third downs, two on penalties.
The SDSU offense got the ball back with less than two minutes to play before halftime, desperately needing some points before intermission. But on their second play, quarterback Taryn Christion fumbled and North Dakota State's Greg Menard recovered inside the Jackrabbit one yard line, ready to deliver a dagger going into the locker room.
But, the Bison offense was out of sync, first taking a delay if game penalty which came with a five-yard loss and a ten second runoff on the clock, and then taking way too long to get a play off, with Stick stopped at the one yard line as time expired.
North Dakota State got the ball to start the second half, and promptly drove the ball to the Jacks 19. But the SDSU defense rose to the challenge when Nick Farina intercepted Stick on the one yard line, giving the Jackrabbit offense the ball deep in their own territory, but only down four.
Two plays later, it was the Bison defense's turn to come up big as Grant Morgan dropped Mengarelli in the end zone for a safety and a 16-10 advantage.
Down 19-0 later, the Jackrabbits finally appeared to get the big play they were looking for as Christion hit Jake Wieneke for an apparent 64-yard touchdown pass, but the play came back when SDSU was flagged for having an ineligible man downfield. Two plays later, the drive ended with Tre Dempsey picked off Christion, leading to another field goal, stretching the lead to 22-10.
The Jackrabbits could only manage a three and out after that, and this time the SDSU defense couldn't keep the Bison out of the end zone. NDSU ground out another long drive - 90 yards in ten pays - with two more third down conversions, as Stick ran the final 14 yards for a touchdown, and the rout was on.
North Dakota State dominated the time of possession battle, holding the ball for nearly 41 minutes, running 73 plays to SDSU's 39.
The five-time defending FCS Champions (12-1) advance to next weekend's semifinals with a home game against fourth seeded James Madison.
South Dakota State finishes the year 9-4.