FARGO — As the North Dakota State and South Dakota State University football teams took the field for their NCAA FBS second round playoff game Saturday, all expectations were a close one.
Interstate rivalry? Check. Pockets of the stadium lined with loud crowds from either school? Check. When the teams met up just a few weeks ago at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, the game was decided by a field goal.
But in the rematch, the visiting Jackrabbits seemed to left their lucky foot, or feet, at home.
The Bison limited Zach Zenner, the top rusher in the FCS, to 46 yards on 15 carries in a 28-3 win over SDSU.
"I thought it would be a closer game than that," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said after the game. "That was going to be a critical part of this game, if we could take (Zenner) out of the equation and force them to throw the football, it wasn't something they wanted to do consistently."
Throughout the game, they put pressure on the SDSU offensive line and kept Zenner from being effective, limiting him to only 15 yards at halftime, the majority of them on a 12-yard run.
From there, the offense took over, balancing strong running with timely passing by Brock Jensen en route to a 21-point halftime lead, which was extended to 28 points later in the half.
It sets up the Bison for a quarterfinal game at home Saturday against Wofford College.
Along the way, the Bison had plenty of success offensively, racking up 328 yards, 218 of them on the ground.
NDSU got behind early when the Jackrabbits used strong passing by Austin Sumner to go ahead.
SDSU received the ball at their own 26 and started off with two straight completions , an eight-yarder and a 49-yarder up the middle to Brandon Hubert, to get to the NDSU 17. From there, NDSU held SDSU to three more plays before the Jackrabbits settled for a 26-yard field goal.
When the Bison got the ball back, runningback John Crockett took it for his own big gains. He started it off with an 11 yard run, then got 37 more on the next play to take it to the SDSU 27 before time expired in the first.
When the Bison opened up the second half, Jensen hit Garrett Bruhn for the first of two touchdowns in the game to go up 7-3.
On the next drive, the Jackrabbits worked the ball into Bison territory and opted to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the NDSU 37. But on the play, lineman Cole Jirik broke through, sacking Zenner for a 10-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
Jirik finished with two sacks and two tackles for a loss.
NDSU then had another scoring drive, which it capped with a 32-yard run by Ryan Smith, in which the Bison offensive line stood up to conceal the handoff.
As the Jackrabbit defense went to their left looking for the play, Smith had an open lane on the defense's right where he ran it in with no problem to go up 14-3.
After the Jackrabbits got the ball back, they were hurt by a penalty and Sumner threw an errant pass to NDSU's Marcus Wlliams near midfield.
NDSU then worked the ball 52 yards, scoring on 2-yard run by Jensen to go up 21-3 at halftime.
The second half, the Bison controlled the clock, opting to play a run-heavy offense that would limit turnovers.
"You're up by that number of points, the only way South Dakota State can get back in the ball game is if we have some turnovers," Bohl said. "South Dakota State played well, I thought they continued to play hard, but we wanted to make sure that we weren't going to put ourselves in a tough position."
NDSU's only scoring came on a touchdown pass from Jensen to Bruhn with 5:27 left in the game.
Afterwards, Bohl joked that Bruhn had nine lives based on his history of injuries that have left his season in question.
"I don't know if he's at full speed yet, but it certainly was super to have him out," Bohl said. "Many times, he describes himself as an old plow horse, 'oh, I'm just a blocker', but he wasn't just a blocker."
Jensen finished the game with 15-25 passing for 110 yards. Smith was the top receiver with 31 passing yards and 32 rushing yards. John Crockett led NDSU with 90 rushing yards.
Sumner finished 17-31 for SDSU with 196 passing yards.