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.”

NDSU Dining Center went above and beyond during blizzard

By Jeff Kolpack
Forum News Service

FARGO — Nineteenth Avenue North just in front of Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome was closed for more than a day because of the weekend blizzard that hit the Red River Valley. That didn’t mean it was a vacation storm day for the North Dakota State football team.
The Bison did what they could with the Jan. 11 Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title game against James Madison not that far away. That included keeping players in training well fed.
Perhaps the most valuable player of the weekend? If you ask NDSU head coach Matt Entz, it would be the NDSU Dining Center. It did not miss prepping for a meal.
“We have a great team,” said Katie Tarter, the NDSU director of dining. “They’re amazing. Unbelievable.”
Her team includes an array of people and entities, such as the NDSU facilities department that cleared roads and parking lots for the dining staff. A blizzard plan includes the NDSU Department of Residence Life, which provides on-campus rooms for workers who live too far from campus.
In this case, it included Jim Kramer, NDSU’s associate athletic director for athletic performance and Roxanne England, associate director for the dining center. Those two were in constant communication in regards to the football team and the dining center, Tarter said.
“Those two do all the back-and-forth conversations with times and things like that,” Tarter said. “The football team works with us. Based on the weather, they made adjustments.”
That included a continental breakfast for the players on Monday, so the dining staff didn’t have to come in early and prepare hot food items. The main day meal on Monday, then, was more of a brunch before the Bison practiced Monday afternoon.
“When you’re feeding a smaller group, like the football team now, you don’t need as many staff,” Tarter said. “The football team worries about our staff, too, to make sure we’re safe as well.”
For Entz, that meant adjusting the practice schedule on Monday to give the campus and city workers time to clear the roads. NDSU cut its Sunday schedule to a minimum. It canceled a weightlifting session on Monday morning, but Entz said they’ll make that up later.
“We’re trying to do the best we can to stay active,” Entz said.
There are players staying in on-campus dormitories and players who live off campus. To help with transportation, Entz said players with four-wheel drive vehicles picked up other players.
Nobody missed a minute of anything.
“What you don’t want is a couple of days of no practice, then you do feel like you’re behind,” Entz said. “The players did a great job of helping get the other guys here.”
For the true freshmen, especially for the ones from out of state, the blizzard was probably a first-time experience. For the veteran players, it’s just part of Bison football.
“A lot of returning players understand this is the way Mother Nature can be in Fargo, North Dakota,” Entz said. “You take the good with the bad. Regardless, we need to get ready and we need to have every opportunity we can.”
That includes food for athletes who depend on it to maintain strength and speed.
“The people in the dining center — their commitment to not only North Dakota State football but NDSU athletics is off the charts,” Entz said.

Bison offense looking to rebound from Illinois State performance

FARGO — Sixty minutes of Division I FCS playoff football. And no touchdowns. That’s what the North Dakota State offense took away from last weekend’s 9-3 victory over Illinois State and it’s something that didn’t go unnoticed this week as the Bison prepared for Saturday’s semifinal clash with Montana State in the Fargodome.
Most of the credit was given to the Redbirds for a blitzing scheme that appeared to confuse the Bison.
“I think we have to focus more on preparing schematically during the week,” said Bison left tackle Dillon Radunz.
That was probably in reference to an anticipation that the Bobcats will do the same thing against the Bison at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Radunz called the ISU blitz package “double smoke off the edges.”
“We had schematically prepared for it but it was almost the luck of the draw,” Radunz said. “They prepared well and did really well so give their defense credit. Every single play we ran, they knew how to counter it and we have to perform better.”
Radunz said Missouri State threw a similar scheme at the Bison, a game in which the NDSU offense was OK at best in a 22-0 win in mid-October.
“We have to run the ball better and pick up these blitzes better,” Radunz said. “Hopefully this week we’ll learn how to do that and have a better game plan on Saturday.”
The Bison twice got inside the ISU 10-yard line only to settle for field goals.
“We know we have to be better but at the same time we have to forget about the last game,” said Bison running back Ty Brooks. “It’s frustrating when you can’t score, especially with the playmakers we have on the field. But hats off to Illinois State, they did a good job of playing us, scheming us up and attacking us with the right stuff at the right time.”
Part of the remedy for the Bobcats is to learn from what Illinois State did, Brooks said. But also don’t lament on the game and move forward.
“You don’t want to think about it too much,” Brooks said. “Sunday was the last day I thought about it. I don’t know what (MSU) is going to do, but we’ll be ready.”
MSU coach: Dome experience a plus
It will be the second straight year Montana State will travel to the Fargodome and Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate thinks that could help his team. There was plenty to learn from after the Bison stuck a 52-10 loss on MSU in last year’s FCS second round.
“I think it really matters because it’s a unique environment,” Choate said. “It’s loud, very packed. It’s different and having been there does help. We’ve been there when it’s loud and rowdy and I think that helps. I don’t think it’s one of those things where we’ll be intimidated; we’ve been there and seen it. We didn’t compete well but it helps to have a chance to have seen it.”
Unlike last year, MSU will not do a walk-through practice Friday at the dome. Instead, the Bobcats will take their customary day off on Thursday, practice on Friday in Bozeman and fly to Fargo.
“We’re not going to go to the venue because we’ve been there,” Choate said earlier this week. “We’ll do everything here and go compete.”
Choate said he’s not a fan of “revenge” being a motivator, mainly because the game last year was, well, last year.
“You’re not the team you were yesterday let alone a year ago,” Choate said. “It doesn’t matter for them and it doesn’t matter for us. We have to avoid the PTSD from our traumatic experience at the Fargodome but our guys have played a ton of football since then and played to a higher degree. We’re more competitive and we’re more well rounded. What happened last year, you can throw it out the window.”
Wentz tapes
message for fans
It appeared NDSU put some extra marketing effort into the semifinal game this week. That included getting former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz into the mix, although it’s not certain if Wentz or his sponsor Scheels initiated the effort. Whatever the case, Wentz posted a video on his personal Twitter account this week.
“Hey everyone, I’m calling Bison Nation, we’re on the road to another national championship and it starts right here,” he said. “Right now, with you. So stand up and be loud and be proud and let’s go get another one.”
Wentz did it on a week when his Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for perhaps their biggest game of the season Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a grudge match that will determine the winner of the NFC East title and a playoff berth.
Luepke hoping to return
Redshirt freshman Hunter Luepke is not be the starting fullback, but the Bison offense may have missed his presence last weekend against Illinois State. Luepke did not play after suffering a sprained ankle in the second round win over Nicholls State (La.).
The 6-foot-1, 249-pound Luepke practiced this week and he said was hopeful to play against Montana State.
“I’m good now,” Luepke said earlier this week.
Senior Garrett Malstrom, who has been battling an injured knee, is the starting fullback. But the Bison coaches have steadily used Luepke in more situations as the season has progressed.
“I was just looking to find my role on the team this year and whatever that is I’ll do it,” Luepke said. “The coaches put more and more on my table each week and I’m loving it right now. Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’m confident in what my skills are and how they’ve trained me.”
More national
honors for Bison
It was another good week for NDSU in the awards department. Radunz and defensive end Derrek Tuszka were named to the Associated Press All-American first team headlining five Bison selections for three teams.
Quarterback Trey Lance and offensive guard Zack Johnson were named to the second team. Linebacker Jabril Cox was a third-team pick.
Radunz and Lance were named to the FCS Athletic Directors Association All-American team. It’s a different award in that it recognizes the top individual at 11 different positions. Radunz, for instance, was named the top offensive lineman in the FCS, the seventh straight year NDSU has had the top offensive lineman.
Lance was the top quarterback and Pete Guerriero of Monmouth was the top running back.

Usual Friday commencement-football game routine for Bison players different this year

FARGO — Before 12 North Dakota State players put on their football helmets this weekend, they will don another cap that also comes with a gown. They will be walking the stage at winter graduation on Friday afternoon to receive their degree.
It’s nothing unusual at this time of the year for NDSU.
“We actually have a routine and it’s crazy to say it’s a semifinal week and it’s routine,” said senior safety James Hendricks. “But we’re used to it and we’re ready to do another one.”
There is one adjustment in the routine this week. NDSU’s semifinal clash with Montana State for the right to go to the FCS national championship game is on Saturday. The last time that happened was in 2011 when the Bison defeated Georgia Southern 35-7.
ESPN changed its usual format at this time of the year and on Friday night will air an NBA game on the main network and the Frisco Bowl between Utah State and Kent State at Toyota Stadium on ESPN2. On Saturday, the Bison and Bobcats will be on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. with the other semifinal game, Weber State at James Madison at 5:30 p.m., to be aired on ESPNU.
From 2012 until last year, every Bison FCS semifinal game was played on Friday night at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
It means the players that are graduating won’t be receiving their diploma on a Friday afternoon and then immediately have to turn into game mode.
“I think it’s going to be a little more normal to be honest,” Hendricks said. “It might be better. But Friday night was always cool, the fans were crazy and the atmosphere was insane. Maybe this will be a better routine.”
NDSU is 8-1 in semifinal games since that first Georgia Southern game. The hiccup was in 2016 when James Madison stuck a 27-17 loss on the Bison, a year in which the Dukes went on to win the national title.
Take that Friday night game away and the Bison had their way with the other six by outscoring their opponents by an average of 40.3-13.0.
Still, it’s not as if time won’t be of the essence on Friday for the Bison graduates. The ceremony is at 2 p.m. and the players won’t have much time until they have to turn to football with meetings and a walkthrough practice.
“So hopefully we’ll get in and out of there in a timely manner because we have a full afternoon,” said senior tight end Ben Ellefson. “There are a lot of distractions but focusing on the things that we can control is pretty important.”
Hendricks is majoring in business management. Ellefson was the recipient of the NCAA Elite 90 Award at last year’s national title game that goes to the player with the highest cumulative GPA of the two participating teams.
Friday’s ceremony isn’t necessarily for a senior in his last year of eligibility, either. Long snapper Ross Kennelly, a junior, graduated last summer in sport management but had to wait until Friday to go through a ceremony.
“It’s fortunate that the people at records and registration let me walk,” Kennelly said. “It’s important to me because of the history and past years of guys being able to walk and play a football game. There are not many college football players that are able to do that with teammates.”
Kennelly is currently enrolled in NDSU’s MBA program. His last final was Thursday but that could last into Friday morning.
“Commencement will be fun and everything but I’ll be in that mode for the game by then,” he said. “We’re in the playoffs and you have to survive and advance and that’s what we’ll focus on.”

UND lands two St. Cloud State players

GRAND FORKS — In a matter of six days, Devon Krzanowski and Adam Stage went from veteran members of NCAA Division II St. Cloud State to verbal commitments to Division I University of North Dakota.
Krzanowski, an inside linebacker with two years of eligibility remaining, and Stage, a kicker with one year left, announced verbals to the Fighting Hawks early this week after a Saturday recruiting visit to Grand Forks.
The commitments come on the heels of last Tuesday’s decision by St. Cloud State to eliminate its football program.
“The start of last week was really tough, getting the news out of the blue, then trying to figure out what you’re going to do while you’re trying to do homework, go to class, take finals … and that whole time you’re taking calls from coaches all day,” Krzanowski said. “It was pretty tough.”
Krzanowski, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound Fond du Lac, Wis., native, was a second team all-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference selection in 2019 as a middle linebacker in the Huskies’ 4-3 scheme. He finished the year with 72 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.
UND will be looking to rebuild at inside linebacker in 2020 after losing seniors Donnell Rodgers and Tyron Vrede.
Stage, of Appleton, Wis., was 11-for-19 on field goals in 2019. He had a long of 45 yards and also 26 touchbacks.
UND has struggled to kick the ball into the end zone the past few seasons on kickoffs. In 2019, UND kickers Brady Leach and Brady Stevens combined for four touchbacks, while UND’s opponents racked up 24 touchbacks against the Hawks.
Stage was second team all-NSIC in 2019. He was honorable mention all-NSIC as a sophomore and first team all-conference as a freshman.
As a rookie, Stage kicked a school record 55-yard field goal against the University of Mary.

New Bison assistants reveling in playoff run

FARGO — North Dakota State assistant football coach Nick Goeser could probably write a doctorate on what it’s like to work during the Division I FCS playoffs. He’s been a part of all 35 Bison games since the school first qualified for postseason in 2010.
That 2010 run ended in a loss at Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals. Since, there were two different NDSU head coaching generations that led the Bison to seven national titles in eight years. The third generation under head coach Matt Entz has brought a few assistants going through the playoff frazzle in Fargo for the first time.
For a guy like offensive line coach AJ Blazek, the alternative at the FBS level may not have worked out so well. He was part of the staff at Rutgers that was let go after three games this season. Blazek took the Bison job last winter. One of his players at Rutgers, offensive guard Jonah Jackson, transferred to Ohio State as a graduate transfer.
Combined, Blazek’s and Jackson’s teams are 26-0.
“We were together three years. Went through the ups and downs and how do we motivate every week,” Blazek said of coaching Jackson at Rutgers. “He’s on an undefeated run at Ohio State. We chuckle at how your fortunes turn out. It all goes back to being around the right people. I knew the program here, what I was getting involved with and this staff has been a lot of fun.”
Blazek has been through one FCS playoff run before. In 2015 as the offensive line coach at Western Illinois, the Leathernecks defeated Dayton in the opening round before running into No. 2 playoff seed Illinois State, losing 36-19 in Normal, Ill.
Ironically, Blazek will face the Redbirds again in the playoffs when NDSU hosts Illinois State at 11 a.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The winner of the quarterfinal game moves on to next weekend’s semifinals.
Defensive coordinator David Braun had a similar FCS playoff run as Blazek did when he was an assistant at Northern Iowa in 2017 and 2018. The Panthers defeated Monmouth in the 2017 first round before losing to South Dakota State in the second round. UNI had the same fate last year beating Lamar (Texas) in the first round before falling to UC Davis 23-16 on the road in the second round.
So it’s the first time getting this far in December with an FCS team for Blazek, Braun, wide receivers coach Noah Pauley and running backs coach Dan Larson. It’s the first time as a coach for linebackers assistant Grant Olson, although he played on the first three NDSU FCS national title teams.
“They’re getting used to the system and the organization, how we move and our culture,” said NDSU senior offensive guard Zack Johnson. “I think they’re going along with it and loving every minute of it.”
Blazek, Braun, Pauley and Larson all trace their coaching roots to Division II or Division III levels. The biggest connection was Winona State (Minn.), where Entz, Blazek and Braun were all assistants.
Braun was the co-defensive coordinator at Winona State from 2011-14. He had to game-plan for one postseason game in 2012 when the Warriors beat Lindenwood (Mo.) in the Mineral Water Bowl. He was at UC Davis before two years at UNI.
“Everything is different in Fargo in a good way,” Braun said. “This is a special place. It’s different for our family, it’s different for our boys and it’s just a different feel around the coaching staff and players. We understand the magnitude of the game, but there’s a process, and it’s something we’re diligent about sticking to. Our guys are excited to play, but it hasn’t changed the way we approach a Tuesday practice.”

NDSU QB Lance one of four finalists for Walter Payton Award

FARGO — North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance is among the top four finalists announced Monday, Dec. 9, for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Lance, a 6-foot-3, 221-pound redshirt freshman from Marshall, Minn., will be invited to the Walter Payton Award announcement Friday, Jan. 10, in Frisco, Texas, along with Northern Arizona senior quarterback Case Cookus, Monmouth junior running back Pete Guerriero and Sacramento State junior quarterback Kevin Thomson.
NDSU has had five previous finalists for the Walter Payton Award including quarterback Easton Stick, whose third-place finish in the 2018 vote was the highest by a Bison player.
The only freshman nominated for this year’s Walter Payton Award, Lance is also a finalist for the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award to be announced Wednesday, Dec. 11, recognizing the top freshman player in the FCS. Voting by a national panel of 156 broadcasters, writers and sports information directors was conducted at the end of the regular season.
Lance ranks first in the FCS in passing efficiency (187.8), first in yards per pass attempt (10.03), third in pass completion percentage (.685), and seventh in total points responsible for (216) through 13 games. He was the first freshman to be named Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year and was the fourth to take the league’s Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards.

UND QB, WR no longer with team

GRAND FORKS — As the University of North Dakota football program turns from the 2019 season ahead to the 2020 campaign, two offensive players have left the team.
Quarterback Noah Grover and wide receiver Izzy Adeoti are longer on the roster.
Adeoti, a 5-foot-10 junior from Plano, Ill., had a role in the offense for parts of his first two seasons on campus before suffering a significant injury in 2018.
In 2017, the true freshman played in 10 games, catching eight balls for 93 yards. In 2018, Adeoti finished with 13 catches and was third on the team with 217 receiving yards.
Adeoti had a career-high 82 receiving yards at No. 5 Sam Houston State in 2018 and scored his first touchdown against Montana later in the year. Adeoti, considered a deep threat for the Fighting Hawks, was injured in an Oct. 21 win at Sacramento State.
After the injury, Adeoti spent most of the 2019 season on the UND scout team.
Grover, a 6-2 junior college transfer from Phoenix, Ariz., ran the UND scout team. His only game action came in UND’s 2019 opener against Drake in which he finished 2-for-2 passing for 11 yards. He also had a 5-yard touchdown run.

Sleepless away from Seattle: Retired Bison fan driving to every game in 2019

FARGO — The road trip Dan Mitchell has been on this year is by no means approaching the status of Bob Clark. The latter is the North Dakota State “Road Warrior” who this Saturday will be attending his 475th straight Bison football game.
Bob just keeps truckin’ along, sometimes flying out Thursday to a destination to not risk missing a flight connection. What he’s done for years is what Mitchell is doing in 2019.
There are several reasons the Bison are playing Nicholls State (La.) on Saturday in a second round playoff game and finding a MVP among the Bison players is debatable. There are several candidates.
As for the NDSU fans, the conversation for MVP starts with Mitchell’s 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. It’s been as reliable as the Bison bringing their West Coast offense and Tampa 2 defense to the field every Saturday.
“Thankfully it gets good mileage,” Mitchell said. “And it’s gotten a lot of miles on it this year.”
For starters, Mitchell lives in Seattle and has driven to every Bison game this season, albeit all not from Seattle. A 1973 Fargo North graduate, he retired from BNSF Railway after 36 years with the company in 2014.
“So I have the time,” he said.
He thought about following the Bison for an entire season a couple of times since retiring. Perhaps the last straw was running into an NDSU player at Costco in Fargo who was impressed with Mitchell being such a great fan.
“And I thought, I’d like to see how this kid does this year,” he said.
Mitchell is a lifelong Bison fan who can rattle off some of the best memories at old Dacotah Field like when warm-weather Sacramento State (Calif.) came to Fargo for a very cold Division II semifinal playoff game in 1988. NDSU won 42-20 to advance to McAllen, Texas.
“They spent most of the game huddled around their sideline heater,” he said.
He attended Division II title games in McAllen and Florence, Ala. He counts one of his favorite memories when former NDSU head coach Chris Klieman once returned his phone call and the time a Bison assistant coach let him and his nephew watch the final practice at the Fargodome before the team headed to the 2014 FCS title game against Illinois State.
“To hear Chris Klieman in his last talk before Frisco …” Mitchell said.
He saw NDSU play at the University of Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa. This year he’s seen everybody.
For the most part, the weather has cooperated with his few thousand of miles behind the wheel. He’s been able to incorporate seeing his brother in Holmen, Wis., his sister in Silver Spring, Md., and a high school friend who lives in Ellicott City, Md., along the way.
The Maryland connections came about with the Bison playing at the University of Delaware on Sept. 14. That could go down as the favorite trip this year, so far anyway.
“Afterwards we hung out a good hour and a half with the Delaware fans,” he said. “They were great people.”
The constant three months of travel went something like this: Mitchell left Seattle and drove to Minneapolis for the Bison season opener against Butler University at Target Field. He returned to Fargo, where he has four rental properties, for the University of North Dakota home opener at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
Then it was the approximate 1,400-mile drive to Newark, Del., with an overnight stop in Indiana and the personal connections in Maryland. It was back to Fargo for the final non-conference game against UC Davis before Missouri Valley Football Conference play commenced.
“It’s been enjoyable seeing the country,” Mitchell said.
Driving to Normal, Ill., Brookings, S.D., Youngstown, Ohio and Carbondale, Ill., gave Mitchell the taste of life in the Valley. At Youngstown, he sat with Penguins fans who didn’t have much to cheer about — NDSU won 56-17.
The weather was cool and drizzly at Southern Illinois. The conditions at Illinois State in early October were much better than they were when he attended the Bison and Redbirds game two years ago in November. His brother from Holmen also attended that game.

FCS football playoff matchups at a glance

(FNS) — Here is a quick look at Saturday’s matchups for the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. (Seed ranking for the top eight teams are indicated):
Nicholls State
(9-4) at No. 1 North Dakota State (12-0)
NDSU leads the series against Nicholls 2-0, with a 24-14 road win in 2004 and a 26-13 home win in 2005. NDSU is 12-1 against Southland Conference opponents, its only loss a 48-45 loss to Sam Houston State in 2009.
NDSU has a 32-2 record in the FCS playoffs, including a 24-1 record in the Fargodome. A win would extend NDSU’s current winning streak to 34 games, which would set an FCS record.
Nicholls sophomore running back Julien Gums set the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,155 yards. … Senior quarterback Chase Fourcade has program records in passing touchdowns (69) and rushing touchdowns (35). He ranks 10th all-time in the program for rushing yards with 1,869 yards…. Junior wide receiver Dai’Jean Dixon is the school’s third all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,220. He averages 122.2 yards receiving per game this season. … Senior defensive lineman Sully Laiche has 36.5 sacks for his career, which places him in the top 10 on the FCS all-time list.
Illinois State (9-4) at No. 8 Central
Arkansas (9-3)
These two teams have played twice before with Illinois State claiming an 18-3 home win in 2006 and Central Arkansas winning at home 31-24 in 2016.
Central Arkansas, co-champs of the Southland Conference with Nicholls State, is led by quarterback Breylin Smith, who has thrown for 3,506 yards and 31 touchdowns, completing 63.9% of his passes. Freshman Tyler Hudson has caught 52 passes for 939 yards, averaging 18.1 yards per catch.
In last week’s 24-6 playoff win at Southeast Missouri, Illinois State’s James Robinson broke the school record with 297 yards rushing and set school and conference records for most rushing yards in a playoff game.
Albany (9-4) at No. 5 Montana State (9-3)
Montana State’s only previous game against a Colonial Athletic Association opponent was a 26-25 home win over New Hampshire in the 2011 FCS playoffs.
Montana State has scored 25 points in four straight games and more than 40 in three of those.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler threw a program-record six touchdown passes in Albany’s 42-14 playoff win over Central Connecticut — the first FCS playoff win for Albany. Undercuffler leads the FCS with 39 touchdown passes and has thrown for 3,270 yards this season.
Austin Peay
(10-3) at No. 4 Sacramento State (9-3)
This marks Sacramento State’s first-ever FCS playoff game and first playoff appearance since advancing to the semifinals of the 1988 Division II playoffs.
Austin Peay claimed its first FCS playoff win with last week’s 42-6 victory over Furman. Quarterback JaVaughn Craig averages 217.8 passing yards and 43.6 rushings yards per game.
Sacramento State junior quarterback Kevin Thomson, the Big Sky Conference offensive player of the year, has thrown for 2,910 yards this season and ranks third in the program with 6,118 career passing yards.
Kennesaw State (11-2) at No. 3 Weber State (9-3)
Weber State, appearing in the FCS playoffs for the fourth straight year, is led by quarterback Jake Constantine who has 1,733 yards passing and running back Josh Davis who has 1,015 yards rushing.
Two of Weber State’s losses came against FBS schools San Diego State (6-0) and Nevada (19-13). Weber also lost to Montana 35-16 on Nov. 16.
Kennesaw State sophomore Jonathan Murphy, who came in for an injured Tommy Bryant at quarterback in the second quarter of last week’s 28-21 playoff win over Wofford, rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns in that game.
Southeastern Louisiana
(8-4) at No. 6 Montana (9-3)
This will be the first meeting between these two teams. Montana is 15-4 and has never lost at home to a team from the Southland Conference.
Southeastern Louisiana has won four of its last five games, including a 34-0 win at Southland Conference co-champion Central Arkansas.
In Southeastern Louisiana’s 45-44 opening-round win over Villanova, quarterback Chason Virgil — a Fresno State transfer — racked up 602 yards of total offense. Eight of Southeastern Louisiana’s 16 FBS transfers are listed as starters.
Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed enters his first postseason game ranked No. 3 as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards per game and total offense per game. Samori Toure is the first Montana player to pass the 1,000-yard receiving threshold since 2015.
Northern Iowa (9-4) at No. 7 South Dakota State (8-4)
When these two teams met in Brookings on Nov. 16, SDSU claimed a 38-7 win as UNI had four turnovers. Nursing a 7-0 halftime lead, SDSU outscored UNI 31-7 in the second half.
Since quarterback J’Bore Gibbs was sidelined with an injury on Oct. 26 against North Dakota State, Keaton Heide has become the starter completing 71 of 100 passes for 905 yards in six games. Pierre Strong has run for 1,018 yards and Cade Johnson has caught 67 passes for 1,187 yards.
In its 17-3 opening-round win over San Diego, UNI’s defense forced four turnovers including an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Quarterback Will McElvain, who has thrown six interceptions this season, has passed for 2,540 yards.
Monmouth (11-2) at No. 2 James Madison (11-1)
In its first meeting with Monmouth, this marks the first time since the 2011 playoffs James Madison has not been matched up in the same bracket with a team from its Colonial Athletic Association.
James Madison’s defensive ends Ron’Dell Carter and John Daka are finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the top defensive player in the FCS. James Madison lead the nation in rushing defense allowing only 62.8 yards per game and is third in total defense allowing only 277.8 yards per game.
James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci, the CAA offensive player of the year, leads the nation in completion percentage (70.3%) and ranks second in passing efficiency (175.2).
Monmouth is led by Big South Conference player of the year Kenji Bahar who has passed for 3,511 yards and 29 touchdowns. Running back Pete Guerriero leads the nation with 1,888 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.