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FARGO â€” In its run for a national championship last year, the North Dakota State University football team had only one hiccup â€” a 27-24 home loss to Youngstown (Ohio) State.
Saturday the No. 3 ranked Peguins again waddled into the Fargodome, but this year, it ended a bit differently. Instead, the top-ranked Bison got timely plays all over the field in a 48-7 rout.
"This one surprised me," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said after the game. "I felt like if we played well, we matched up with them, but nothing of this magnitude."
It was a game that seemed staged more as a heavyweight title fight with a record breaking crowd of 19,065 and two top-three programs.
But the Bison instead forced three turnovers, starting with the opening play, which set up an interception return for a touchdown and gave NDSU the ball for two drives that ended with touchdowns.
Youngstown won the coin toss to open the game, electing to receive. After returning the ball to their own 26, the Peguins started the opening drive with a handoff to Jamaine Cook.
But after Cook made it about five yards, NDSU cornerback Andre Martin, Jr., forced a fumble, which safety Christian Dudzik jumped on, giving NDSU the ball at the Youngstown 31.
Six plays later, NDSU got on the board with a one-yard run by John Crockett, who started in place of Sam Ojuri, who was suspended for the game,
When Youngstown got the ball back, they started again at their own 26. The drive moved quickly, however, as Cook and quarterback Kurt Hess continously got the ball moving forward. The Peguins scored on a one-yard pass from Hess to Carson Sharbaugh to tie it at 7.
When NDSU got the ball back at their own 20 on a touchback, the Bison again made quick work of the defense. A run by Derrick Lang and a pass by Brock Jensen got the ball to the NDSU 43. An 11-yard run by Lang then got the ball into Penguin territory, which was followed by a 46-yard flea flicker touchdown pass from Jensen to Zach Vraa with 1:52 left in the first.
Jensen said the trick play was something the team had been developing recently and credited offensive coordinator Brent Vigen for calling it at a good moment.
"We've had that the past couple of weeks here and we've been wanting to run it but haven't had an opportunity until today," Jensen said. "It was just a great play call at the right time.
After trading punts, Youngstown had an 11-play drive and got the ball to the NDSU 16.
Once there, Hess threw a pass to the right side near the goal line, which was intercepted by Marcus Williams at the two. Williams found a hole and ran it 98 yards back for the touchdown.
"It was huge," linebacker Grant Olson said. "It was a 14-point swing. If he doesn't make that play, they probably would have scored another touchdown, it would have been 14-14, a completely different ball game.
"It definitely changed the momentum, got it on our side, and we didn't look back from there."
The runback was the second longest in NDSU history.
After forcing a punt from Youngstown, the Bison got behind Crockett and Jensen for a 73-yard drive to make it 28-7 with 1:45 left.
On the first play following the score, Hess threw an interception to NDSU's Carlton Littlejohn at the Peguin 33.
Jensen then connected on two of four passes, scoring again on a 16-yard pass to Ryan Smith to make it 35-7 going into halftime.
It was all the offense needed. NDSU was held to two field goals by Adam Keller â€” a 49-yarder and a 34-yarder â€” and had a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return by Smith.
Jensen finished the game 14-21 for 189 yards. Crockett led NDSU with 84 of the team's 118 rushing yards.
Hess finished 11 of 20 for 117 yards and Cook had 43 yards rushing as the Youngstown offense was limited to 196 total yards.