Once again, North Dakota State is the champion of the Football Championship Subdivision. And this time, the Bison had to beat the defending champions to do it. After their 5-year run of FCS national championships was ended by James Madison in a stunning 27-17 FCS semifinals defeat in the Fargodome last year, North Dakota State took its revenge with a 17-13 win over the Dukes on Saturday in Frisco, Texas.
North Dakota State (14-1) led this one throughout. After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, the Bison migrated down the field, moving 66 yards in 11 plays and six and a half minutes before scoring on a 3-yard Bruce Anderson run, grabbing a lead North Dakota State would not relinquish.
Trailing 7-3, James Madison had a golden chance to take a first quarter lead after recovering a fumble by NDSU quarterback Eason Stick at the Bison 28, but JMU quarterback Bryan Schor gave the ball right back with an interception. North Dakota State took a 14-3 lead on a 50-yard strike from Stick to Darrius Shepherd with 4:14 left in the second quarter, then carried a 17-6 lead into halftime.
The Dukes pulled within 17-13 thanks to a 33-yard punt return by D’Angelo Amos and then a 33-yard touchdown drive, culminating in a 1-yard Marcus Marshall run that cut the deficit to four with 9:26 to play in the third.
James Madison would climb no closer, though it wasn’t for a lack of chances. The Dukes committed a season-high three turnovers, failed to protect Schor (he was sacked four times) despite facing 4-man rushes, gagged away numerous drops (including one that would have given JMU a 1st-and-10 at the NDSU 30 with under 10 minutes to play) and also missed a field goal.
Even still, James Madison (14-1) had a chance to win at the end. Facing a 4th-and-9 at his own 47 with 3:06 to play and all three timeouts in his pocket, Dukes head coach Mike Houston appeared to elect to punt and trust his defense rather than go for it; instead, he chose neither, as punter Harry O’Kelly scampered down the left side for a 24-yard gain to the NDSU 29. James Madison would eventually reached the North Dakota State 18 but only went backward from there. Schor threw for a loss of two yards on 2nd-and-9, he was harassed into a hurried incompletion on 3rd-and-11 and, after a false start, could not complete a blind Hail Mary heave on 4th-and-16 with 1:10 to play.
North Dakota State took over on downs and expired the final 58 seconds to complete its march to a sixth national championship.
The win pulls North Dakota State into a tie with Georgia Southern — now a member of the FBS Sun Belt Conference — for the most FCS titles; however, the Eagles won their six in eight tries, while the Bison are a perfect 6-for-6. Georgia Southern also racked up its six titles in a 16-season stretch, while North Dakota State has done so in just seven.
And in only one of those six trips to Frisco has North Dakota State surrendered more than 13 points.
For James Madison, the loss denies the Dukes a chance to tie Appalachian State for fourth all-time with three FCS titles.
For a game that pitted two of the top three defenses nationally, this one was played as expected. Both teams combined to gain 31 first downs, the defenses won 20 of the 31 third down attempts, and neither hit 270 yards of total offense. North Dakota State won the ground game, 134-93, and Stick completed 13-of-22 passes for 130 yards with a touchdown while Schor hit just 14-of-32 for 148 yards with two interceptions. Despite snapping the ball just eight more times, North Dakota State managed a 15-minute advantage in time of possession, chewing up 37:41 in its 70 snaps compared to just 22:19 in 62 plays for James Madison.