When the clock hit triple zeroes in Fargo on Friday night, FCS fans were greeted with an all-too familiar sight in the semifinals. Once again the green and gold rejoiced on their own turf and celebrated yet another trip to the national title game. As visiting Incarnate Word walked off the field for the last time in 2022, a valuable lesson was sinking in and it was one that many, many teams before them have learned; if you don’t keep your foot on NDSU’s throat for a full 60 minutes, they will surely make you regret it. Once more the Bison are heading to Texas.
All week long questions swirled about how well Lindsey Scott Jr. and the explosive Cardinals offense would matchup against North Dakota State and those questions got answered quickly. On their opening drive, Scott led his team 75 yards in 10 plays. On third and goal, he took to the air with a leaping effort to score but came up just short. Head coach G.J. Kinne opted to roll the dice and keep the offense on the field. On fourth down, Scott found receiver Darion Chafin who walked in to make it 7-0 early.
Shortly following the impressive starting drive by their offense, UIW’s defense forced an impressive three and out on NDSU’s first series. Quarterback Cam Miller’s pass fluttered incomplete on third down and suddenly the Bison, who were already trailing, had to give the ball back to Scott.
As they are so accustomed to doing, the Cardinals moved fast and efficiently. Scott scampered 33 yards through the Bison defense to get his offense back into the red zone. One play later Jarrell Wiley silenced the Fargodome crowd with a 15-yard scoring run. Unease began to set in for the NDSU faithful as Incarnate Word held a 14-0 lead midway through the first.
North Dakota State isn’t used to being in double-digit deficits and it showed on the ensuing kickoff. Bison return man Braylon Henderson failed to cleanly make a fair catch and stepped out of bounds at the two-yard line, setting up the offense if horrid field position. It only took the Cardinals defense one snap to make NDSU pay for that mistake. TK Marshall was stuffed in the end zone for a safety. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong for the Bison.
The Cards D came to play. pic.twitter.com/osCmRJMbJ1— Southland Conference (@SouthlandSports) December 17, 2022
When they desperately needed a stop, though, the North Dakota State defense finally rose to the occasion. After forcing a turnover on downs on the following UIW drive, NDSU’s defense made the Cardinals punt the next time out. Two trips without a score for Scott is impressive and it gave North Dakota State some semblance of momentum back.
The unit that finally broke it through for the Bison, though, was the special teams. Incarnate Word return man Brian Mayes touched the ball on a punt and NDSU’s Dawson Weber flew in and jumped on it at the two-yard line. Finally the home crowd had something to make noise about.
Once more, however, the UIW defense stepped up and held North Dakota State in check, forcing a 27-yard field goal from Griffin Crosa. There are no moral victories in football but if ever one existed, it was at that point for the Cardinals. When the first quarter came to a close, UIW led 16-3.
The second quarter began with Incarnate Word making another stop. The Bison punted and returner Kole Wilson danced his way into NDSU territory. Scott and Cooper did what they do best and maneuvered their way down to the doorstep of the goal line. After an apparent Taylor Grimes touchdown catch was overturned, the Cardinals again opted to go for it on fourth down. This time, though, it ended poorly for UIW when Scott fumbled the snap and defensive end Loshiaka Roques recovered it.
Shortly after the big turnover, NDSU got another when Weber picked off Scott on a deep pass. North Dakota State proceeded to put up its best drive of the evening up that point shortly following the interception. Miller broke free on a big 35-yard run to set up Kobe Johnson for the first Bison touchdown. Johnson bolted in from four yards out to cut the deficit to 16-10.
The momentum was turning in favor of North Dakota State and the fans started to show it. With the volume rising, the UIW offense was flagged for a false start on third down. One play later Spencer Waege busted through the line and dragged Scott to the turf. The fans erupted and now it was the Cardinals who seemed to be reeling.
Jayden Price took the punt clear back to the UIW 17-yard line where Miller and company completely flipped the game back. Miller scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds to play before the half, giving NDSU it’s first lead of the night. Incarnate Word, it appeared, was coming apart at its seams.
At halftime, Miller only had completed one pass for five yards and yet his team was on top. The Bison D had forced two turnovers and the ground game, after being held stagnant in the first quarter, broke it open for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
The third frame began with the Bison holding a 17-16 edge and the newfound momentum they had only grew when Johnson rolled 49 yards down the sideline into the end zone. Offensive lineman Cody Mauch pumped his fist in celebration as Crosa tacked on the extra point. The Bison were now up eight and the Cardinals desperately needed an answer.
North Dakota State RB Kobe Johnson 49-Yard House Call ☎️ #FCSPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/QCYXSQ0Lzv— LIGHT ON COLLEGE SPORTS (@LightOnSports) December 17, 2022
Scott gave them that answer on the heels of a 15-play, 75-yard drive. After a healthy mix of passes and runs, he called his own number, shed two tacklers an bullied his way over the goal line from a yard away. The two-point try with Grimes came up short, though, and NDSU still had the advantage midway through the third. The touchdown gave Scott the NCAA Division I record for total touchdowns in a season at 70 and, more importantly, snapped streak of 24 consecutive points by the Bison.
UIW slowly started to swing the tides back its way with a stop on defense. Scott complimented that stand with a huge pass to Grimes who hauled it in at the one-yard line and silenced the crowd for the first time in a while. One play later he did it himself again for another touchdown run. Incarnate Word was back on top 29-24 late in the third quarter.
The fourth began with NDSU driving well within Cardinals territory and Miller moving the ball effectively. Aided by a big holding penalty, though, the Cardinals held firm on their end of the field and forced Crosa to try a career-long 47-yard field goal. Crosa drilled it to bring NDSU to within two.
North Dakota State’s defense took a hit on the following series when James Kaczor, the team’s tackle leader, went down with an injury. Cooper and Scott took advantage of the shorthanded Bison and moved the ball down into field goal range where Carson Mohr made his first kick of the night. The 41-yard make extended the lead back to five.
With 9:38 to play, NDSU got a boost thanks to kickoff out of bounds penalty. Shortly after, Miller burst ahead for another big run to flip the field and, as they have done so many times before, the Bison rallied once more. Johnson’s third touchdown of the evening put his team on top 35-32 after a successful two-point try.
Scott and his offense would not go quietly, though. He completed pass after pass while Cooper was slicing his way through the defense. On a 4th and four from the enemy 22-yard line, however, Kinne gambled again and this time it didn’t work Michael Tutsie batted the pass away much to the joy of the NDSU faithful.
Marshall got the Bison back into Cardinals territory with a big run but the UIW defense stiffened and forced a punt. It didn’t come without lack of controversy, though. It appeared as though Johnson fumbled early in the drive but the call of no fumble was upheld. Regardless, NDSU had to punt and with 2:47 to go, Incarnate Word’s path to the championship was not easy but it was clear; 97 yards through the heart of the Bison defense. It was officially do-or-die time.
Scott and Cooper began the drive with runs to move the chains. As the clock ticked down under 1:30, though, it wasn’t Scott that made the biggest play of the night but instead Weber. The senior safety leaped up with Grimes and came down with his second interception, perhaps the biggest of his six-year career. The Fargodome exploded in joyous celebration. The Bison had punched their ticket back to the promised land.
DAWSON WEBER WITH THE HUGE INT!!!— NCAA FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) December 17, 2022
ESPN2#FCSPlayoffs x @NDSUfootball pic.twitter.com/jfE5mkGx3I
Astonishingly Miller only completed one pass all night but it was all he needed as he ran wild all over the UIW defense for a career-high 132 yards. Johnson led the way for the rushing attack that put up 329 yards with 126 of his own and three scores. The Bison defense forced four turnovers and Weber was responsible for two of them.
Scott gave it a gallant effort completing 30 of his 46 passes for 282 yards and a score while running for two more. Cooper rushed for 112 yards and Grimes caught seven passes for 77 yards. None of it was quite enough this time, though, and Incarnate Word’s season ends with a 12-2 overall record.
The only question remaining for NDSU now is what will rematch will they get? Matt Entz’s team, now heading to the title game for the 10th time in the last 12 years, will either see MVC foe South Dakota State or last year’s Frisco dance partner Montana State. Whoever it is, though, will have one heck of a job in front of them.