No. 2 North Dakota State beat No. 1 James Madison in the FCS Championship on Saturday, 17-13, in Frisco, Texas.
The Bison avenged a loss to the Dukes in last season’s national semifinal, dethroned the defending champions, and took the title for themselves. It’s the sixth title in seven years for NDSU, which had been on a five-year run before the Dukes snapped it last season. They’re the most dominant program in Division I football right now.
Here’s how the game unfolded.
NDSU 17, JMU 13, 0:00: The play that effectively finishe this game off: a fourth-down stop by the Bison, who batted down this Bryan Schor heave to the end zone:
The Bison killed the clock from there.
NDSU 17, JMU 13, 1:19: James Madison has a chance to score a game-winning touchdown. Why? Because of this fake punt:
That’s a 24-yard con by punter Harry O’Kelly, which brought the Dukes from their own 47 to the North Dakota State 29. We have drama.
NDSU 17, JMU 13, 4:37: The Dukes have made a ton of mistakes in this game, but they’re not even close to dead yet. They just blocked an NDSU field goal attempt and have the ball down 4 with solid field position at the NDSU 27. Buckle up.
NDSU 17, JMU 13, 0:00: The Dukes lopped off more than half of an 11-point deficit in that quarter. They’ll need to get a stop, and they’ll probably need to score a touchdown to win, unless things break exactly right for them.
NDSU 17, JMU 13, 5:26: If James Madison loses this game, it’ll be because the Dukes didn’t finish enough drives when they had the chance. NDSU just intercepted Bryan Schor at the Bison’s 2-yard line on a second-and-10. That’s on top of another interception in NDSU territory and a missed field goal.
NDSU 17, JMU 6.
The Dukes put together a critical drive at the end of the first half, taking the ball with 39 seconds and getting a field goal to chip away at a two-touchdown deficit. The spark on that drive was this stunning catch by receiver Riley Stapelton, which went for 28 yards and got the Dukes across midfield on the first play of the drive.
Still, the Bison are in a good position, with an 11-point lead and the ball coming their way to start the third quarter. They’re 30 strong minutes from avenging last year’s national semifinal loss to JMU and winning their sixth title in seven years.
NDSU 17, JMU 3, 0:39: NDSU extended its lead on a 32-yard Cam Pedersen field goal, which followed some posturing on a fourth-and-1. The Bison decided not to chance a conversion try, and they’ve got a two-touchdown edge with the ball coming their way in less than another minute of clock time.
NDSU 14, JMU 3, 2:11: The Dukes are in serious trouble. A fumble just gave NDSU the ball back with great field position at the JMU 41, with a chance to extend the lead before halftime. And the Bison get the ball to start the third quarter, too.
NDSU 14, JMU 3, 4:14: The Bison have the game’s biggest lead after a 50-yard Easton Stick touchdown pass to Darrius Shepherd. Setting that up was an interception in NDSU territory by defensive tackle Nate Tanguay, a senior who didn’t play in NDSU’s loss to JMU in the national semifinal a year ago. That was a game-turning sequence, as JMU had a chance to take the lead on the other end of the field.
NDSU 7, JMU 3, 5:29: James Madison keeps failing to finish drives. After a missed 42-yard field goal at the start of the quarter, Bryan Schor threw an interception after getting to the NDSU 29-yard line. Points are at a premium against these defenses, and it feels like not getting anything for these possessions could be devastating later.
NDSU 7, JMU 3, 14:15: North Dakota State linebacker Chris Board dropped what looked like a sure interception on a third-and-13 for JMU, in the shadow of his own goalposts. It turned out to actually help the Bison with field position, because JMU kicker Ethan Ratke missed a 42-yard field goal on the next play.
NDSU 7, JMU 3, 0:00: The Dukes got the ball back after cutting NDSU’s lead to 7-3. This will shock you (kidding, it won’t!), but we’re probably in for a close game today.
NDSU 7, JMU 3, 3:48: JMU answered NDSU’s score-opening touchdown by mounting a field goal drive, capped with a 31-yard make by Ethan Ratke. That was important for the Dukes, who’d kneecapped themselves with a dumb penalty to set up NDSU’s TD.
NDSU 7, JMU 0, 6:40: NDSU leads on a Bruce Anderson 3-yard touchdown run. NDSU’s drive stalled after three plays but continued after a JMU roughing penalty on the Bison’s punt attempt. That turned out to be a crucial error, setting up an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive.
NDSU 0, JMU 0, 11:12: The Bison forced a punt on JMU’s opening series. JMU did the same when NDSU got the ball, but a roughing-the-punter penalty has for now extended JMU’s first drive of the day. Both of these teams are elite all around, but it’s likely we’ll get a defensive struggle in this game. The Dukes have the country’s No. 1 scoring defense (10.7 points allowed per game), and the Bison are No. 2 (11.5).