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No. 1-ranked Bison overpower SDSU, earn return trip to FCS championship game

Bruce Anderson of North Dakota State carries against South Dakota State during their NCAA FCS semifinal playoff football game Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 3
Darrius Shepherd of North Dakota State carries against South Dakota State during their NCAA FCS semifinal playoff football game Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 3
Seth Wilson of North Dakota State makes a reception and carry against South Dakota State during their NCAA FCS semifinal playoff football game Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 3

FARGO - North Dakota State pounded its way back to Texas.

The top-ranked Bison rushed for more than 400 yards and powered their way to a 44-21 victory against rival South Dakota State on Friday night, Dec. 14, in the NCAA Division I FCS semifinals at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome before 18,286 fans.

The Bison (14-0) remained unbeaten, advancing to the national championship game in Frisco, Texas, for the seventh time in eight seasons. NDSU has won in its six previous trips to the FCS title game.

“I pinch myself. Don’t ever take it for granted. It’s so hard to do,” Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. “Never take it for granted. … I’ve been involved in the most special run in the history of college football.”

Klieman, who took the head job at Kansas State earlier this week, coached his final home game with the Bison. Klieman will lead the team through the championship game on Jan. 5.

“We love coach Klieman,” Bison senior linebacker Dan Marlette said.

NDSU quarterback Easton Stick improved to 48-3 as a starter, tying former Bison quarterback Brock Jensen for the most wins in FCS history.

Stick capped his big day against SDSU with a 28-yard touchdown run that gave NDSU a 44-21 lead with 4:50 to play in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound senior rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed 12 of 15 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought he played like a champion,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

"Most of those yards were blocked for and I was just falling forward," Stick said.

The Bison rushed for 439 yards on 49 attempts, finishing with five rushing touchdowns. Four NDSU players rushed for at least 77 yards. The Bison averaged nearly 9 yards per carry.

“I think we wore down a little bit,” said Stiegelmeier, whose team finished 10-3. “We got handled a little bit.”

The Bison erupted for 21 points in the third quarter to build a three-score cushion that proved too much for the Jackrabbits to overcome.

“I think the three scores in the third quarter was really tough,” Stiegelmeier said.

NDSU senior running back Bruce Anderson rushed for two touchdowns and added a TD catch in the third. His 41-yard scoring burst gave the Bison a 35-14 lead with 3 minutes, 32 seconds to play in the third quarter.

The Bison built a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter after sophomore running back Seth Wilson ripped off a 78-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

“It was huge for them,” SDSU defensive back Jordan Brown said of Wilson’s run to start the second half. “The Fargodome got pretty crazy after that.”

Anderson plunged in from the 1-yard line for the TD with 14:25 to play in the third for the 14-point lead.

SDSU countered on its next drive. Jackrabbits quarterback Taryn Christion threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Kunz to cut the Bison lead to 21-14 with 10:57 to play in the third quarter.

The Bison countered with back-to-back scores from Anderson.

NDSU never trailed. Stick scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to give NDSU a 7-0 with 5:11 to play in the first quarter. Wilson helped set up the touchdown with a 32-yard reception that moved the ball to the SDSU 5-yard line. Two plays later, Stick scored.

The Jackrabbits countered on the ensuing drive. Freshman running back Pierre Strong Jr. capped the scoring march with a 30-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7 with 51 seconds to play in the first quarter. Strong rushed for 102 yards in the first half.

NDSU regained the lead with Stick doing the damage again. After hitting tight ends Nate Jenson and Ben Ellefson on back-to-back 15-yard gains, the latter one reaching the SDSU 34, Stick found an opening up the middle on a quarterback draw.

The 34-yard touchdown run gave NDSU a 14-7 lead with 1:35 to play in the second quarter, giving the Bison the lead for good.

“That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” Stick said. “Guys were focused and ready to play and played so hard.”