COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Bison defeat Western Illinois, move into sole possession of Valley lead
FARGO—At the halfway point, there's just one remaining unbeaten team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. That would be North Dakota State, which used a familiar formula to move to 4-0 in the league.
The Bison defense kept the Western Illinois offense out of the end zone in a 24-12 win before 18,630 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The No. 2-ranked Bison held the Leathernecks scoreless in the second half and to 216 total yards.
The Western offense, in fact, didn't reach the end zone, scoring only on an interception return in the first half. With the University of South Dakota losing to Illinois State, the result left NDSU in sole possession of the MVFC lead.
USD, Illinois State and Northern Iowa are right behind at 3-1.
"I spent nine years in the SEC," said Western head coach Charlie Fisher. "I know what it's like to battle with a high level of competition every week. It's the same thing here. You're playing well-coached teams who are physical. It's a great league, that's the beauty of it. That's what we all love about it."
The standings were the last thing on the minds of Bison players after the game.
"Definitely not right now," said senior receiver RJ Urzendowski. "It's something we don't talk about or look at. You can get beat on any given day in the Valley."
Urzendowski helped prevent a Bison defeat, hauling in a 58-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. It was NDSU's most explosive play of the day, with the play getting a helping hand when cornerback Xavier Rowe fell down.
"He got tangled a bit," Urzendowski said. "It was a really well-thrown ball and it worked out for us."
NDSU created some space in the third quarter, scoring the first two times they got the ball. Quarterback Easton Stick converted a fourth-and-inches with a 2-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown, which erased a 12-10 halftime deficit.
"We had to come out and own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball," said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. "That was the challenge we gave the guys at halftime."
After the Bison defense held on three plays, Stick was back at it again. His 22-yard run on a quarterback draw ignited a six-play, 70-yard drive, capped with Stick's eight-yard scoring run. That made it 24-12 with 4:02 remaining in the quarter.
It wasn't always that easy for Stick. Western capitalized on the first interception this season thrown by Stick, who was hit as he was delivering a pass downfield. Linebacker Quentin Moon picked it off and returned it untouched 43 yards to give the Leathernecks a 9-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Stick was also picked off two plays later, this time near midfield, but the Bison defense held on three plays and forced a punt. The two mistakes ended a streak of 150 straight passes without an interception for Stick, who broke Carson Wentz's team record in that category last week.
NDSU ran off the next 16 plays, but the last one was a one-yard loss by running Bruce Anderson on fourth-and-1 at the WIU 8-yard line. The Bison went long distance the next time they had the ball, however, with the Urzendowski touchdown.
It gave the Bison a 10-9 lead.
WIU, however, went into the locker room with the lead on a 52-yard field goal by Nathan Erickson on his first career attempt. Erickson handles all the kickoffs for the Leathernecks.
NDSU finished the game with just one healthy running back in Anderson. Running back Lance Dunn left the game with a hip injury that Klieman said probably won't keep him out next week.