North Dakota State’s 34-7 victory over Western Illinois on Saturday was the program’s 103rd since its dominance of Division I Football Championship Subdivision began at the beginning of the 2011 season. One hundred and three wins in seven seasons plus six games is remarkable.
Equally remarkable: The Bison have only lost eight games in that same stretch.
Just stop and think about that for a moment.
A college football team going 103-8 in a 111-game stretch.
One thing that might be surprising: Of the eight defeats, five have come at the Fargodome. Only three were on the road.
The memorable wins are numerous, of course. Six national championships in seven seasons. Wins over Power Five teams Iowa, Kansas State, Iowa State and Minnesota. Comebacks, nail-biters, playoff wins, unexpected blowouts.
Breaking them down could take reams of space, honestly. And fans can have fun arguing about the “biggest” or “most important” or “most exciting.” There’s much to hash over.
But what about the defeats? There are but a handful and, while only one ended NDSU’s season, how do they rank as “worst,” “most unexpected” or “least surprising?”
Let’s take a stab, shall we?First, the eight losses:
⦁ Nov. 12, 2011 — Youngstown State 27, @ NDSU 24
⦁ Oct. 13, 2012 — Indiana State 17, @ NDSU 14
⦁ Nov. 8, 2014 — @ Northern Iowa 23, NDSU 3
⦁ Aug. 29, 2015 — @ Montana 38, NDSU 35
⦁ Oct. 17, 2015 — South Dakota 24, @ NDSU 21
⦁ Oct. 15, 2016 — South Dakota State 19, @ NDSU 17
⦁ Dec. 16, 2016 — James Madison 27, @ NDSU 17 (playoff semifinals)
⦁ Nov. 4, 2017 — @ South Dakota State 33, NDSU 21
How shall we rank them?
LEAST SURPRISING — Northern Iowa 23, NDSU 3
The Bison walked into a buzzsaw at the UNI Dome and the result was expected, if one can expect NDSU to lose.
NDSU entered the game with an FCS-record 33-game winning streak and had won three straight national championships, but the Panthers were an uber-talented team that had a tremendous defense and a handful of future NFL players.
Ever heard of running back David Johnson? Yeah, was on that UNI team. So was defensive lineman Xavier Williams, cornerback Deiondre Hall and linebackers Jake Farley and Brett McMakin.
The game was tight through three quarters with the Panthers leading 10-3, but the Bison couldn’t get any offense going. Quarterback Carson Wentz had one of his worst games, going 15 of 25 for 132 yards while suffering from an ankle injury. The Bison had just 43 rushing yards.
UNI, meanwhile, rode Johnson’s 138 yards on 28 carries as the Panthers ground down the Bison defense in the fourth quarter.
UNI fans stormed the field when the game ended and head coach Mark Farley called it one of the biggest victories of his lengthy career.
Money quote: “That was a big burden on those guys … shoot, that has been 30-some games. That’s something I don’t think will ever be done again. To win that many games in a row, I would be hard-pressed if any FCS school was able to do that again.” — NDSU coach Chris Klieman.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PERFORMANCE — SDSU 33, NDSU 21
The Bison had some so-so performances in their losses, but none moreso than in 2017 at Brookings.
The FCS world expected a slobberknocker and instead got NDSU turning over the ball five times, including three interceptions from quarterback Easton Stick, in a 33-21 defeat.
SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion was all-world, with 329 passing yards and two touchdowns, but the player who stood above all others was tight end Dallas Goedert. Receiver Jake Wieneke might have gotten more attention to this point, but Goedert showed (again) why he was going to be a high NFL draft choice, catching seven passes for 116 yards and a TD. The Bison couldn’t defend him.
Despite a subpar performance, NDSU still trailed only 17-14 in the third quarter before the Jackrabbits pulled away with 10 straight points to take a 27-14 lead.
Money quote: “It’s one game. It’s a big game, it’s the Marker game, but by no means is our season all of the sudden in jeopardy.” — NDSU coach Chris Klieman, whose team didn’t lose the rest of the season and won their sixth national title in seven seasons.
MOST HUH, WELL-I’LL-BE-DARNED — Indiana State 17, NDSU 14
The Sycamores have been the worst team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference since the Bison joined the league, and Brock Jensen is perhaps the biggest hero of NDSU’s unprecedented run of success in FCS, but on this day not so much.
Indiana State’s Johnny Towalid returned two Jensen interceptions for touchdowns — 27 yards in the second quarter and 31 yards in the fourth quarter to give the Sycamores a 17-6 lead — to help pull off a head-scratcher of a victory.
Oh, and Jensen threw another pick at the Sycamore 19 as the Bison were driving late in the game to sink any chance NDSU had of coming back. It was probably Jensen’s worst performance in a career that didn’t have many low points.
Jensen finished 16 of 31 for 171 yards and those three interceptions.
Money quote: “That’s on us, that’s on me for throwing interceptions and not taking care of the football like we usually do. You rarely see a Bison offense turning the ball over three times a game and that’s the fact of the matter. Anytime you do that, that’s what is going to happen.” — NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen.
MOST HO-HUM — Youngstown State 27, NDSU 24
Before the Bison had won one FCS national title, before they’d beaten all the FBS teams, before ESPN GameDay came to Fargo twice, before … well, everything … NDSU lost a late-season game to Youngstown State at the Fargodome.
It was feared the loss would, on the second-to-last regular season game of the season, cost the No. 1-ranked Bison a high playoff seeding and perhaps homefield advantage in the upcoming playoffs — but the loss wasn’t stunning or catastrophic because the remarkable run of success that happened in the meantime hadn’t happened yet. It was a loss. Everybody loses.
Not that it didn’t hurt the Bison or their fans. An unremarkable Penguins team that would finish 6-5 and miss the playoffs piled up 451 yards of offense as quarterback Kurt Hess (who?) completed 20 of 24 passes for 237 yards. Jamaine Cook rushed for 147 yards on 33 carries.
The Bison, meanwhile, lost two fumbles. Included was one by DJ McNorton, who inexplicably lost the ball after a 29-yard rush in the third quarter that had the ball to the Youngstown 24. NDSU was leading 21-17 at the time. Youngstown used the turnover to march down the field and score a TD for a 24-21 lead.
It would be the Bison’s only loss en route to their first FCS national title and while fans were surprised, it just seemed like a loss. Normal, for most teams.
“This loss puts the hunger back. I don’t know where everyone was at, but this puts us down to earth. We’re human.” — NDSU linebacker Preston Evans.
WORST IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE — South Dakota 24, NDSU 21
When Miles Bergner booted a 33-yard field goal as time expired at the Fargodome, the Coyotes had delivered NDSU its most stunning loss of the Bison’s Division I era.
And it wasn’t even the biggest loss of the game.
That would be discovered the next day, when it was announced quarterback Carson Wentz had broken a bone in his wrist during the game and would be out indefinitely.
The game itself was a head-scratcher. The Bison took an easy 14-0 lead near the end of the first quarter, but the Coyotes rallied to tie. USD quarterback Ryan Saeger, not known as one of the top QBs in the MVFC, finished 12 of 20 for 202 yards and two touchdowns while also having 92 rushing yards.
The Coyotes finished 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the conference. They just weren’t very good.
Neither was the news about Wentz. He was already being touted as a possible late first-round or early second-round draft choice and was expected to lead the Bison back to Frisco, Texas, for the national championship game as a senior.
But Wentz’s injury thrusted redshirt freshman Easton Stick into the starting role and he — and the Bison — thrived. Stick went 8-0 as a starter as NDSU’s offense relied more on a power running game behind the youngster, leading the Bison to three playoff wins on the way to Frisco. Once there, Wentz started the title game against Jacksonville State and starred as the Bison took an easy victory.
Money quote: “You could see it coming a million miles away. This is a program-changing win for those guys and we let it happen at our place.” — NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.
LEAST RESEMBLANCE TO WHAT HAPPENED LATER IN THE SEASON — Montana 38, NDSU 35
In a terrific setting (26,472 packed Washington-Grizzly Stadium on a smoky, hot afternoon) between two traditional FCS powers on national television, the Grizzlies eked out a victory on Joey Counts’ 1-yard touchdown run with 2 seconds left.
NDSU’s defense couldn’t stop Montana’s offense, led by quarterback Brady Gustafson, who threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns. The Griz rolled up 544 yards of offense, compared to 427 for the Bison.
Still, NDSU had a 35-31 lead late in the fourth quarter with a chance to run down the clock but went three-and-out to allow Montana’s winning drive.
It was Montana coach Bob Stitts’ first game and his up-tempo offense caused the Bison fits.
In the end, the loss mattered little. The Bison and Griz met again in the second round of the playoffs at the Fargodome and NDSU cruised to a bruising 37-6 victory. NDSU returned two Gustafson interceptions for touchdowns and hammered the QB for four quarters.
After the playoff game, Bison coach Chris Klieman took a thinly veiled shot at Montana’s glee at winning the season opener by saying, “You don’t win championships in August. You win them in December.”
Money quote: “Those guys had to defend 92 plays. When was the last time North Dakota State had to defend 92 plays?” — Montana coach Bob Stitt.
MOST EMOTIONAL — South Dakota State 19, NDSU 17
The Bison had dominated the Dakota Marker rivalry game since establishing themselves as the best program in FCS, but a combination of excellent SDSU offensive players — and perhaps an emotionally draining week — gave the Jackrabbits a thrilling victory.
Quarterback Taryn Christion ran for 141 yards and passed for 303 more as SDSU stacked up 523 total yards against the normally stout Bison defense. Tight end Dallas Goedert caught 11 passes for 150 yards and Jake Wieneke had six for 108.
It still took a last-second 2-yard TD pass from Christion to Wieneke to give SDSU the victory as the Bison left the big receiver in one-on-one coverage.
SDSU freshman linebacker got Bison fans riled up when it appeared he twisted Bison running back Bruce Anderson’s leg on a play on which Anderson was injured.
The loss capped a difficult week for the Bison. Senior running back Chase Morlock’s father died earlier in the week and the team attended his funeral. In a change of tradition, Morlock led the Bison out of the locker room before the game instead of Klieman.
The playoffs turned out to be a similar situation to the previous year. NDSU and SDSU met in the playoffs at the Fargodome and the Bison dominated, winning 36-10 and holding the Jackrabbits powerful offense in check.
Money quote: “You get Jake Wieneke one-on-one and there’s a 99.9 percent chance I’m going to him.” — SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion.
MOST ACCEPTED — James Madison 27, NDSU 17
The playoff semifinal loss at the Fargodome ended NDSU’s string of consecutive national championships at five as James Madison announced itself as a challenger to the Bison’s FCS dominance.
James Madison had a number players missing because of suspension and the Bison were shorthanded because of injuries, but the game turned into a thriller. The Dukes looked like they were going to blow out the Bison, taking a 17-0 first half lead behind the running of Khalid Abdullah.
But the Bison scored a touchdown before halftime to make it 17-7 and tied the game 17-17 in the third quarter. When Robbie Grimsley picked off a Bryan Schor pass late in the third quarter, Bison fans shook the dome with their cheering and it looked like NDSU was going to withstand James Madison’s push.
But the Bison missed a couple of opportunities to take the lead, and a phantom offsides call on Bison defensive end Brad Ambrosius allowed Tyler Gary to hit a 45-yard field goal with 11:46 left to give JMU a 20-17 lead. The Dukes added a dagger touchdown.
It was the end of a record title run and Bison fans seemed more appreciative of the successes than upset over the loss. It had to end sometime, after all.
But the fact was, NDSU wasn’t going back to Frisco for another title game.
Money quote: “I hope you all appreciate what you’ve seen. It’s hard to do, guys. And somehow these guys got there five straight times. It’s unprecedented in college football.” — NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.