North Dakota Sports

Lance, NDSU rally to win in their only fall appearance

FARGO (AP) — Trey Lance threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores and three-time FCS defending champion North Dakota State rallied with a 21-point fourth quarter to beat Central Arkansas 39-28 on Saturday in the Bison’s lone fall game
The Bison extended their winning streak to 38, the longest in FCS history, and home streak to 29, the longest active run in Division I. They will take part in the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s spring season with an eye on winning a 17th national championship.
“It wasn’t as if we were off,” North Dakota State coach Matt Entz said. “It’s a game of inches. We needed to settle down a bit and get into our comfort zone.”
The game was a de facto audition for Lance, judged to be a potential first-round pick if the redshirt sophomore declares for the NFL draft. As last season’s Walter Payton Award winner, he threw 28 touchdown passes with no interceptions in 287 attempts but that run ended Saturday when he had a pass picked by Nick Nakawaasah in the third quarter. That led to Breylin Smith’s TD toss to Lujuan Winningham that gave the Bears a 20-18 lead.
Lance, who had thrown 307 passes without an interception, had little to say about the end of that streak and declined to talk about whether he is turning pro.
“It’s just playing football,” he said about the interception. “I really don’t have anything else to say about that.”
In the fourth quarter, Lance ran for a score and, after Smith and Winningham connected for another TD, threw to Hunter Luepke for a 32-28 lead. Luepke added the final points on a 13-yard run with under two minutes remaining.
“I’m just doing what I can to help the team win on Saturdays,” Luepke said.
Lance rushed for 143 yards on 15 carries and was 15-of-30 passing for 149 yards.
Smith was 25 of 38 for 226 yards, three scores and two interceptions.
Central Arkansas (2-1) opted out of a potential spring season with the Southland Conference and is playing a 10-game schedule this fall. The Bears were conference co-champs with Nicholls State last season.
Fan attendance at the usually packed 18,700 capacity Fargodome was limited to players’ families. The official attendance was 471.
“It was tough right away,” said linebacker James Kaczor, who led the Bison with 11 tackles. “I think we were a little bit flat coming out but we all picked it up after that.”

North Dakota Sports

Bison: 1-game fall season worth the uncertainty with virus

FARGO (AP) — Perennial Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State may play one division down from the big-time programs, but any doubts about its commitment to staying on top were answered when the Bison scheduled a single game this fall.
Coach Matt Entz made it clear he wanted the extra practice time to evaluate players and get more experience, despite “every day sitting on pins and needles” worrying about players becoming infected with the coronavirus. In the end, he said, the benefit of preparing for and playing Central Arkansas (2-1) on Saturday outweigh the risks and frustration of forcing to quarantine some players.
The Bison got four weeks of practice out of the deal.
“I think getting our team together and continuing to develop was a positive,” Entz said. “Again, this is my opinion only so you can take if for that, but I don’t think COVID was spread from the game of football. I didn’t see it spread at practice and I didn’t see it spread in the weight room.”
The game also gives the team’s two highly touted pro prospects, sophomore quarterback Trey Lance and senior left tackle Dillon Radunz, a chance for encore performances on their home turf. Radunz has already said he is passing on the spring season and Lance is likely to declare early for the NFL draft.
Lance’s astonishing statistics told the story of last year’s unbeaten season. He set an NCAA record for all divisions by throwing 287 passes without an interception. He passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns, rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, and set school records with 3,886 yards of total offense and a whopping 180.6 pass efficiency rating.
He has been mum about going pro and deflected questions about his future Monday.
“I’m one thousand percent focused on winning this game and everything is just hypotheticals at this point,” Lance said. “I’ll let you guys talk about the NFL and all that, but that’s not my job right now.”
Radunz said playing in one last game was an easy decision and his reasoning spoke to the passion of the program.
“I am in the mindset of, I am a football player and this is what I do,” he said. “Playing football is the best way to prepare for playing football.”
Most North Dakota State players and fans aren’t thrilled about a spring season and Bison brass at one point was looking to schedule three fall games. Season ticket holder Nic Prothero said he offered to donate more money to the school for more autumn games, but added that one game is better than none.
“The hunger for football is there,” he said. “Everyone has their own opinion. I’m not a big fan of the pandemic. I just feel it’s getting blown out of proportion. There comes a point in life where you need to get the world back.”
It will be a strange afternoon for Bison fans. Only family members of players will be allowed inside the Fargodome, a move announced Tuesday that reversed an earlier decision to let about 8,000 fans inside the 19,000-seat arena.
It will be a rare Saturday for the players as well, Bison defensive coordinator David Braun said.
“I think the hard part is not having another game on the horizon after that,” Braun said. “The thing we keep pushing to our guys is that it’s their one guaranteed opportunity. Better make the most of it.”

North Dakota Sports

Guide and outfitter exam scheduled

The next guide and outfitter written examination is Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department office in Bismarck.
Preregistration is required no later than Sept. 11 by calling the Department’s enforcement office at 701-328-6604. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the North Dakota Department of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be followed. Details will be provided upon registration.
In addition to passing a written exam, qualifications for becoming a guide include a background check for criminal and game and fish violations; certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and standard first aid; and employment by or contract with a licensed hunting outfitter.
Hunting outfitter eligibility requirements include the guide qualifications, as well as an individual must have held a hunting guide license for two years; and must have proof of liability insurance. The test is given periodically to anyone interested in becoming a guide or outfitter in the state.

North Dakota Sports

Whopper Club

Here is the North Dakota Game and Fish Department Whopper Club entries, date & weight for July:

Lake Audubon smallmouth bass:
Donald Loeb, Mandan, July 6, 3 lbs., 2 oz.
Ila Berg, Minot, July 17, 3 lbs., 8 oz.

Missouri River chinook salmon:
Marty Schumann, Coleharbor, July 4, 12 lbs., 13 oz.

Lake Sakakawea freshwater drum:
Jeff Frank, Hazen, July 3, 7 lbs., 10 oz.

Missouri River rainbow trout:
Dylan Martell, Hazen, July 11, 16 lbs., 10 oz.

Missouri River walleye:
Sheldon Cieslak, Hazen, July 1, 8 lbs., 4 oz.
Rockie Sicble, Linmcoln, July 1, 8 lbs., 0 oz.

Heart Butte Reservoir walleye:
Tim Beckler, Bismarck, July 4, 8 lbs., 8 oz.

Lake Sakakawea walleye:
Travis Voegele, Beulah, July 4, 8 lbs., 8 oz.
Sawyer Tooz, Dickinson, July 10, 8 lbs., 1 oz.

Missouri River walleye:
Ryan Hahn, Mandan, July 14, 8 lbs., 14 oz.

Devils Lake walleye:
Gary Hoefs, Grand Forks, July 7, 9 lbs., 14 oz.
Kristi Huston, Devils Lake, July 9, 8 lbs., 6 oz.

North Dakota Sports

Duck brood numbers increase

State Game and Fish Department biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is up 9% from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July duck production survey.
This year’s duck brood index was comparable to last year’s estimate and showed 4.5 broods per square mile, 52% above the long-term average (1965-2019). Average brood size was also similar at 6.8 ducklings per brood.
Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski said observation conditions were better this year among most wetland types, but observers still struggled with getting good looks on most routes.
“Obstructed views by emergent vegetation is typical, but was slightly more problematic than average this year,” Szymanski said. “Routes in the northeast had recently received heavy rains, rewetting temporary and seasonal basins that had dried up during spring and expanded other waters into emergent and upland vegetation. These heavy rains likely affected brood distribution and negatively impacted nesting ducks using cover that had recently dried this spring, whereas over-water nesting species did quite well.”
Despite inconsistent rainfall with little precipitation in spring, Szymanski said the July survey showed duck production was quite good across most of the state.
Observers also count water areas during the July duck brood survey, and this year’s water index was up 11% from last year, and 49% above the long-term average. Szymanski said wetland conditions were stable to declining across most of the state, except for the northeast region and other smaller, isolated areas.
“Generally, numbers and conditions of wetlands were fair to good on most routes, and very wet on our four most northeastern routes, starkly contrasting routes in the north central and central parts of the state that were fairly dry,” he added.
Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in mid-September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.

North Dakota Sports


Today – Outlaw Walleye Derby, White Earth Bay, Lake Sakakawea, 770-1442.
Today – Youth Shooting Event, Velva Wildlife Club, 720-2134.
Aug. 14-15 – AIM Walleye Series, Beulah Bay, Lake Sakakawea, 920-505-0122.
Aug. 15 – Badlands Bass Bandits Lake Audubon Derby, Cabin Site ramp.
Aug. 15 – CANCELED – Lake Region Anglers Derby, Creel Bay, 351-0433.
Aug. 15 – Great Planers Trout and Salmon Derby, Lake Sakakawea State Park.
Aug. 21 – Bite Me Invite, Indian Hills Resort, 743-4122.
Aug. 22 – ND Student Angler Federation High School Bass Fishing Qualifier, East Park Lake, 471-0013.
Aug. 25 – National Park Service Birthday, Free Admission, Theodore Roosevelt Nat’l. Park.
Aug. 29 – Badlands Bass Bandits Spiritwood Lake Derby.
Sept. 1 – Mourning Dove season opener.
Sept. 2 – Full Moon, 12:22 a.m., Harvest Moon.
Sept. 4 – Mountain Lion season opener.
Sept. 4 – Pronghorn archery season opener.
Sept. 4 – Deer archery season opener.
Sept. 4 – Elk archery season opener.
Sept. 4 – Elk regular season opener, units E3, E4.
Sept. 4 – Moose archery opener.
Sept. 7 – Labor Day.
Sept. 9-11 – National Walleye Tour, Ft. Stevenson State Park, 501-317-7281.
Sept. 12 – Upland Game season opener.
Sept. 12 – Prairie Knights Casino Walleye Derby, Lake Oahe, 854-7743.
Sept. 12 – ND Student Angler Federation Bass Fishing Championship, Lake Audubon, 471-0013.
Sept. 18 – Youth Deer gun season opener.
Sept. 19 – Sandhill Crane season opener (tentative).
Sept. 19 – Youth Waterfowl season opener (tentative).
Sept. 19 – Bis-Man Reel & Rec Walleye Derby, Graner Bottoms, Missouri River, 400-4395.
Sept. 19 – Outlaw Walleye Derby, White Earth Bay, Lake Sakakawea, 770-1422.
Sept. 26 – Duck and Goose season opener (tentative).
Sept. 26 – Public Lands Day, Free Admission, Theodore Roosevelt Nat’l. Park.
Sept. 26 – Badlands Bass Bandits Club Classic, Ft. Stevenson State Park.
Sept. 27 – Badlands Bass Bandits Club Classic, Lake Audubon Cabin Sites.
Oct. 1 – Full Moon, 4:05 p.m., Hunter’s Moon.
Oct. 2 – Pronghorn gun season opener.
Oct. 2 – Elk regular season opener.
Oct. 3 – Youth Pheasant season opener.
Oct. 9 – Moose regular season opener.
Oct. 10 – Pheasant season opener.
Oct. 10 – Fall Turkey season opener.
Oct. 24 – Mink, Weasel, Muskrat trapping opener.
Oct. 30 – Bighorn Sheep season opener (tentative).
Oct. 31 – Full Moon, 9:49 p.m., Blue Moon.
Oct. 31 – Halloween.
Nov. 3 – Election Day.
Nov. 6 – Deer gun opener.
Nov. 7 – Bobcat season opener.
Nov. 11 – Veteran’s Day, Free Admission, Theodore Roosevelt Nat’l. Park.
Nov. 26 – Thanksgiving Day.
Nov. 27 – Deer Muzzleloader season opener.
Nov. 30 – Full Moon, 3:29 a.m., Beaver Moon.
Dec. 25 – Christmas Day.
Dec. 29 – Full Moon, 9:28 p.m., Cold Moon.

North Dakota Sports


Here is the North Dakota Game and Fish Department Catch-and-Release Club qualifiers, date & length for July:

New Johns Lake tiger muskellunge:
Cayla Bendel, Lincoln, July 10, 44 inches.

Lake Audubon smallmouth bass:
Brock Mattson, Minot, July 5, 19 inches.

Lake Sakakawea smallmouth bass:
Tyler Kast, Dickinson, July 3, 18 inches.
Jim Kurtz, Enderlin, July 11, 20 inches.
Brittany Mosbrucker, West Fargo, July 16, 18 inches.
Elijah Essler, Bismarck, July 17, 18 inches.
Kekoa Schwab, Thompson, July 24, 18 inches.

Lake Sakakawea walleye:
Neil Berger, Williston, July 6, 28 inches.
Neil Berger, Williston, July 6, 25 inches.
Claude Wangen, Mandan, July 6, 27 inches.
Laura Johnson, Bismarck, July 11, 30 inches.
Madisyn Spacht, Culbertson, July 15, 31 inches.
Kekoa Schwab, Thompson, July 24, 18 inches.

Devils Lake walleye:
Jeff Eliason, Thompson, July 18, 27 inches.

Lake Ashtabula white bass:
Jackson Paul, Fisher, July 3, 16 inches.

Devils Lake white bass:
Jeff Eliason, Thompson, July 18, 17 inches.

Devils Lake northern pike:
Jerry Nordstrom, West Fargo, July 11, 46 inches.

North Dakota Sports

NDAPSSA announces 2019-20 high school awards

By Greg DeVillers
Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — Langdon-Edmore-Munich won both the volleyball and girls basketball Class B state championships during the 2019-20 high school year. On both teams, Callie Ronningen was the player who led the Cardinals to the titles.
Ronningen has been selected as the North Dakota female athlete of the year in the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2019-20 school year. The award is given out annually by the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
Ronningen paced the undefeated (27-0) L-E-M basketball team with averages of 18.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 steals and was second on the team with 5.7 rebounds a game. She was a repeat first-team all-state selection and was named Class B senior girls basketball player of the year as well as being a Miss Basketball finalist.
Ronningen led the 38-3-2 L-E-M volleyball team in kills (441), digs (547) and blocks (67, tied for first). She was named to the Class B all-state team for the third consecutive season.
“This was the first time a Class B school has won the state girls basketball and volleyball championships in the same school year,” Cardinals basketball coach Rob Scherr said. “Callie was the leader on both those teams. She’s a special athlete, always putting team first. Sometimes we had to get on her to be more aggressive and take charge.”
Ronningen finished her high school career with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in basketball and more than 2,000 kills and 2,000 digs in volleyball.
“That tells you what kind of all-around athlete Callie is,” Scherr said. “She’s a coach’s dream.”
Other finalists: Jes Mertens, Devils Lake, and Reile Payne, Fargo Shanley.
Other high school award winners selected by the NDAPSSA are:
Female team
Devils Lake girls basketball: The Firebirds graduated three starters from the team that was runner-up in the 2019 Class A state tournament. Rebuilding went well.
Devils Lake opened the season with 22 straight wins before dropping a 79-70 decision to Fargo Davies in the East Region tournament semifinals. The Firebirds bounced back, winning a loser-out state-qualifier game, then won two straight at the Class A state tournament.
After the semifinals, however, the season was canceled to end a Devils Lake-Fargo Shanley state championship matchup. Devils Lake was 2-0 against the Deacons this season. The Firebirds finished 25-1.
First team all-stater Jes Mertens paced a balanced lineup that also included all-East Region selections Jailyn Martinson, Ramsey Brown and Abby Johnson. All four averaged between 11 and 12.8 points in the balanced, high-powered offense.
Other finalists: Langdon-Edmore-Munich girls basketball and Langdon-Edmore-Munich volleyball.
Female team coach
Rob Scherr, Langdon-Edmore-Munich basketball, and Justin Klein, Devils Lake basketball: Scherr and Klein were co-winners of the award after their two basketball teams had a combined 52-1 record.
Scherr’s Cardinals were 27-0 relying on balance. Ronningen was not only L-E-M’s lone all-stater; she was the team’s lone pick on the all-Region 4 team. Scherr’s starting five all averaged between 6.5 and 17.7 points.
Scherr also had the Cardinals playing stingy defense. The result was L-E-M almost doubled its opponents in scoring average, getting 64.8 points a game while allowing an average of 33.6.
Klein also had a team built around a balanced offense.
No Firebirds player averaged as many as 13 points a game. Yet Devils Lake had a 72.6 scoring average that was highest among all of the Class A teams in the state.
Devils Lake led Class A girls basketball with a 72.6 scoring average. That was only a 3-point drop in scoring average from a year ago, despite Klein having to work three new starters into the lineup and rebuild his bench.
Other finalist: Rob McIvor, Devils Lake hockey.
Male team
Langdon-Edmore-Munich football: The Cardinals had a second straight undefeated season, repeating as Class A state champions. They did so in dominant style.
Langdon-Edmore-Munich capped a 13-0 season by beating Minot Bishop Ryan 42-14 in the state championship game.
That was a typical margin of victory. In each of its 13 victories, L-E-M had a winning margin of 28 or more points. The Cardinals scored 39 or more points in every game while not allowing more than 16 in any game. They ended the season averaging 47.4 points a game while allowing an average of 7.5.
Langdon-E-M was led by first-team all-staters quarterback Simon Romfo, linebacker Grant Romfo and wide receiver Jackson Delvo and second-team picks Sean Gette and Jesse Fetsch.
Other finalists: Hillsboro-Central Valley football and Bismarck High wrestling.
Male athlete
Cade Feeney, Bismarck Century: The senior is a multisport standout who wasn’t able to play baseball — a sport he’ll play at North Dakota State University — due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Feeney excelled in football and basketball.
Feeney was named Class AAA senior football player of the year after leading the Patriots to a 12-0 season and the state championship. Feeney accounted for almost 2,000 yards in total offense, as he passed for 1,293 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for 703 yards and 13 TDs. He was intercepted only once all season.
The senior was a second team all-state selection in basketball with a strong all-around game. He averaged 21 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.5 steals.
In his career, Feeney played on state championship teams in football, baseball and basketball and earned all-state honors in all three sports.
Other finalists: Carson Henningsgard, Hillsboro-Central Valley; Oscar Benson, Hillsboro-Central Valley; Elijah Klein, Mandan; and Bo Belquist, New Rockford-Sheyenne.
Male team coach
Mike LaMoine, Grand Forks Red River hockey: LaMoine was named interim head coach of the Roughriders at the end of October, approximately a month before Red River’s season opener. The Riders finished the season 18-7-2 and state champions.
LaMoine, a former defenseman for the UND hockey team, brought defense to the Riders. Other than a 4-4 tie against East Grand Forks Senior High, Red River held every opponent to less than four goals. Noah Burger and Nick Antonenko, splitting time in goal, had a combined 1.7 goals-against average.
Red River took the No. 4 seed into the East Region tournament. LaMoine’s stingy defense went 6-0 in the postseason, with its 4-3 win against Grand Forks Central in the state semifinals the most goals allowed in those six games.
Eleven teams had at least one all-state pick. Red River had no all-staters, but it had a state title under LaMoine.
Other finalists: Rick Smith, Four Winds-Minnewaukan basketball, and Jordan Wilhelm, Bismarck High basketball.

North Dakota Sports

NDAPSSA announces 2019-20 college awards

FARGO — A football dynasty and its new quarterback, a hockey coach, an NAIA volleyball team and its coach and a junior college basketball player received college year-end awards from the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
North Dakota State’s football team, which has won eight of the last nine Football Championship Subdivision titles, was named the college male team of the year while its first-year quarterback Trey Lance was named college male athlete of the year. Brad Berry, who guided the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team to a No. 1 ranking, was named the college male coach of the year.
The University of Jamestown volleyball team, which reached the semifinals of the NAIA national tournament, was named the college female team of the year while its coach Jon Hegerle was named the college female coach of the year. Amber Stevahn, a basketball player from Bismarck State College, was named the college female athlete of the year.
College male team: NDSU football
The Bison capped a perfect season and became the first college football team to go 16-0 since the Yale Bulldogs in 1894. NDSU has won 37 consecutive games and eight of the past nine FCS championships, including the past three.
James Hendricks intercepted a pass near the goal line in the final seconds to seal a 28-20 victory against James Madison for the FCS championship last January before 17,866 fans at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
NDSU has a 128-8 record over the past nine seasons. The Bison are the sixth FCS team to go undefeated en route to a national title. They also had perfect seasons in 2013 and 2018. The eight national titles are also an FCS record. Georgia Southern has the second most FCS crowns with six.
College male athlete: Trey Lance
Lance, a standout quarterback from Marshall, Minn., became the first freshman to win the Walter Payton Award — the Football Championship Subdivision equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Lance, who was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at Boise State, started all 16 games in leading the Bison to its eighth national title in the last nine years. Lance, who became the first Bison player to win the Payton Award, also won the FCS Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman. He was also the first freshman voted the Missouri Valley Football Conference offensive player of the year.
Lance set the NCAA all-divisions record for most passing attempts in a complete season (287) without an interception. He finished the year with a school-record 288 career consecutive passing attempts without an interception. He threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns and led the Bison in rushing with 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.
College male coach: Brad Berry
Brad Berry has been head coach at UND for five years. In that short time, he has already led the program to two of its four best seasons in the 74 years of UND hockey.
The first one resulted in the 2016 NCAA national championship. This year, UND didn’t get the chance. But Berry, whose team won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Penrose Cup and held the No. 1 spot in the Pairwise Rankings when the season came to an abrupt end due to the coronavirus outbreak, has been recognized with the country’s top coaching honor.
Berry became UND’s first to win the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year as decided by the American Hockey Coaches Association since Dean Blais won it in 2001, which was Berry’s first year as a UND assistant coach.
College female team: Jamestown volleyball
The University of Jamestown 2019 volleyball season ended on Dec. 7 with a 3-1 loss to eventual NAIA national champion Marian University (Ind.) in the NAIA national semifinals at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Jimmies, who finished the season with a 33-6 record, were ranked No. 4 in the NAIA postseason coaches Top 25 Poll – the highest final ranking achieved in the program’s 44-year history. Jamestown finished the 2017 season ranked No. 15 in the postseason poll, which had been the best final ranking prior to this season.
One-third (11 of 33) of Jamestown’s wins came against opponents ranked in the NAIA Top 25. The Jimmies beat sixth-ranked Southern Oregon in the fourth game of the season, then in perhaps its signature win of 2019, defeated then-No. 2 ranked Northwestern (Iowa) in the quarterfinals of the NAIA National Tournament.
Britta Knudson and Isabell Wedell were named NAIA All-Americans. Knudson was a second-team selection and Wedell was an honorable mention selection.
College female athlete:
Amber Stevahn
Stevahn was one of only 10 players to earn All-American honors at the National Junior College Athletic Association level during her sophomore season at Bismarck State College.
The 2018 Bismarck Shiloh Christian High School graduate averaged 25.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.7 steals per game in leading the Mystics to a 24-7 record. The 6-foot Stevahn amassed 1,519 points, 453 rebounds, 176 assists and 158 steals in her two-year career at BCS.
Stevahn, who will play at NCAA Division II Minot State next season in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, led NJCAA Division I in scoring as a freshman (24.7). She ranked second this past season (25.1 ppg).
College female coach:
Jon Hegerle
Hegerle, who has a 270-127 record in 11 seasons as the University of Jamestown women’s volleyball coach, led the Jimmies to a program-record 33-match victories in 2019 — becoming the first Jamestown sports program to compete in an NAIA championship semifinal.
His Jamestown teams have never won less than 20 matches in a season. The Jimmies won the 2019 Great Plains Athletic Conference championship on their home court on Nov. 16, defeating College of Saint Mary (Neb.) 3-0 at Harold Newman Arena, marking the first conference championship won inside the $16 million facility opened in 2017.

North Dakota Sports

A rare fake punt kick-started Bison FCS national title run in Frisco

FARGO — To a lot of players and fans it probably seems like a few years ago when North Dakota State descended on Frisco, Texas, for its first appearance in the NCAA Division I FCS national title game. The reality is that game against Sam Houston State was nine seasons ago. It was a tight game in which the Bison trailed in the second half and the play that may have kicked off the unprecedented run of championships came from an unexpected source.
A punter, of all players.
A fake punt from Matt Voigtlander was the springboard play in NDSU’s 17-6 win over Sam Houston State in the 2011 Football Championship Subdivision title game. The Bison will be gunning for their eighth crown in nine years on Jan. 11 when they face James Madison at Toyota Stadium.
It was a play made by a career running back-turned-punter for his final season of football.
“Obviously it was a unique position change,” Voigtlander said Tuesday, Dec. 31, “and to have that be my role that year and to be part of that in the last game I ever played is certainly special and cool to be a part of.”
The timing of the fake was impeccable.
From the beginning of the second quarter until the first series of the third quarter, the Bison offense had an interception after two plays followed by three straight three-and-outs. Nothing seemed to be working.
NDSU got six yards on the first play of the third quarter, but running back Sam Ojuri was stuffed for no gain on second down-and-4. ESPN analyst David Diaz-Infante sensed the drag in the NDSU offense on third-and-4 on the first series of the third quarter as he said it was a “big third down for the Bison.”
“And one of the most critical series of the game is the first series in the second half. Can you change the momentum of the game?” Diaz-Infante said.
The answer was yes, only not on that third down play. As it was, a pressured Brock Jensen, a sophomore quarterback, threw high over the middle to an open Ryan Smith, a sophomore receiver. NDSU faced fourth down.
So the Bison sent in the punt unit. That’s where assistant coach Tim Polasek came into the picture.
“That was a pretty cool coaching deal; it happened exactly how we penciled it in,” Voigtlander said.
The cool deal came as a result of film study by Polasek, who worked with the punt unit.
“It was early on in the process,” Polasek said. “I just remember going to coach (Craig) Bohl and saying I think we’ve got something here. We repped it quite a bit.”
The Thursday before the title game, Bohl reiterated to Polasek about having the fake ready. There were two elements to the play, Polasek said. If Sam Houston gave NDSU the defensive look the Bison wanted, it was a go. If not, a shout of the color “black” was to call off the play.
“It was an easy shutdown and we would punt the ball,” Polasek said. “Coach Bohl is not a big ‘fake’ guy.”
Before the play, Bohl and Polasek had a quick conversation. Bohl said “it’s a go,” Polasek said.
It looked like any other punt. Voigtlander took the snap from long snapper Michael Murphy, but at the blink of an eye took off to his left. Sam Houston rushed two players from the opposite side toward Voigtlander, but nobody was on the other.
Lineman Anthony LaVoy was in front of Voigtlander and it was so open that even LaVoy had a tough time figuring out who to block.
“(Polasek) said if they line up the same way as they did on film, no way this doesn’t work,” Voigtlander said.
It worked to the tune of 27 yards and a first down.
On the next play, running back D.J. McNorton took a middle screen pass from Jensen with left tackle Billy Turner directly in front of him. It was a play that was a staple of the Bison attack in 2010, but McNorton said he didn’t think they ran it all that often in 2011.
He said the play-call from offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, now the offensive coordinator at Wyoming, was “brilliant.”
“Vigen dialed it up right after a huge play,” McNorton said. “They were scrambling. It was a play-action type of look, got the ball in the middle and when I turned there was nothing but green grass and a lot of guys blocking for me.”
A Sam Houston defender did not get a hand on McNorton until the 2-yard line and by then it was much too late. The 39-yard touchdown pass gave the Bison a 10-6 lead they would not surrender.
It was a play that was set up by the fake. Ironically, NDSU hasn’t run a fake punt since.
“We hadn’t run a fake all year and a lot of us were kind of waiting when they were going to do it,” McNorton said. “I had no clue we were running it. No clue, it was almost like you forgot about it. But Voigt was a running back and a really good running back.”
That fake gave Voigtlander 646 career rushing yards, with the most (265) coming in his redshirt freshman season. But an increased talent pool at running back with McNorton and Ojuri and the graduation of punter John Prelvitz from the year before created an opening at the position.
McNorton is a teacher and coach at his alma mater Channelview High School in Houston. Voigtlander, who works for a small financial planning firm in Plymouth, Minn., just had his third child on Tuesday.
Those two on back-to-back plays helped kick-start Bison history.
“You look back on how some things impacted the whole streak,” said Polasek, now the offensive line coach at Iowa. “That was one of them.”