FARGO — The final passing statistics on North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller looked almost bizarre considering the final score and circumstances of it being a Division I FCS semifinal game. The Bison junior was 1 of 12 for five yards.
And NDSU won. Not only that, it was a wild 35-32 shootout Friday night before 12,569 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
“As long as we win,” Miller said. “I couldn’t care less, as long as we win. I don’t care if I throw five picks or go 0-for-50, these guys have my back and that’s all that matters.”
Miller’s one completion went for five yards to tight end Joe Stoffel. He had receivers open on other attempts, but was just off. And this a QB who came in completing 70% of his passes on 141 of 203.
It was a tough start for the Bison offense as a whole, which didn’t have a first down in the first quarter. Miller said he reminded his teammates they were down before at Indiana State before rallying. NDSU took a 17-16 halftime lead.
“I don’t even know what to say, these guys fought so hard today,” Miller said. “Offense picking up the defense and defense picking up the offense. People picking me up when I’m not playing my best.”
Miller said Incarnate Word didn’t do anything different as far as defensive alignment.
“I was just missing,” he said. “I didn’t have a very good game passing and I told the coaches on the headset, I’m not throwing the ball very well, you have to use my legs just to get me in the rhythm of the game. I love carrying the football, I think it gets me into the game more.”
Incarnate Word believed it recovered a Kobe Johnson fumble at a key moment late in the fourth quarter, but officials said a replay review confirmed the Bison recovered the ball. The decision was important because it allowed NDSU to retain possession and later pin the Cardinals deep in their own territory.
“We thought we got a fumble there,” Word coach GJ Kinne said. “We didn’t think he was down but, you know, they reviewed it so must have seen otherwise.”
Officials indicated the review was for recovery, not whether there was a fumble.
NDSU started a drive at its own 22 with 5:11 left after stopping Incarnate Word on fourth down, leading 35-32. Johnson took a rush left and bulled ahead for 9 yards, but fumbled on his way down.
The officials blew the ball dead, but Incarnate Word’s sideline immediately pointed to the video board in the south end of the Fargodome signaling the officials to take another look at the play. The Cardinals believed one of their players recovered.
The officials did call for a replay review, with referee Eric Lewis saying the call on the field of the offense recovering was under review. The replay lasted just a few moments and Lewis announced the call on the field had been “confirmed.”
ESPN replays clearly showed Johnson fumbling, but TV views weren’t clear on who recovered. For the play to be overturned, there had to be indisputable video evidence of a UIW recovering.
Bison get wild 2-point conversion
Kobe Johnson’s 31-yard run with 8:11 left in the fourth quarter gave the Bison a 33-32 lead. Bison head coach Matt Entz decided to go for two points to try to put his team three points ahead.
Backup quarterback Cole Payton, who was injured last week in the quarterfinals and hadn’t played against Word, came into the game for the play. He lined up in a shotgun formation with only the center in the middle of the field. All the other players were spread wide on either side of the field.
Receiver Braylon Henderson went into motion. Payton took the snap and flipped it to Henderson, who sprinted toward the sideline. But as a Word defender approached, Henderson slowed down and flipped the ball towards tight end Joe Stoffel in the end zone.
Henderson’s pass was tipped by the defender, but floated high in the air before landing in Stoffel’s arms for the two points.
It was a struggle from the 2-yard line for the Bison offense
NDSU’s first quarter miseries were probably accentuated when the Bison got the ball at the Cardinals’ 2-yard line after a punt from NDSU’s Kaedin Steindorf hit IUW’s Brian Mayes in the back.
Dawson Weber pounced on the ball and NDSU had first-and-goal from the 2. And running back TK Marshall appeared to score on the first play, but Bison right guard Jake Kubas was flagged for holding and NDSU suddenly had first-and-goal from the 12
Miller lost two yards on the next play. After a third-down incompletion, Griffin Crosa’s 27-yard field goal got the Bison on the board trailing 16-3.
Earlier in the first quarter, NDSU struggled from its own 2-yard line after Bison kick returner Henderson bobbled a kickoff and stepped out of bounds. Marshall was stopped in the end zone on the first offensive play and the two-point safety gave the Cardinals a 16-0 lead.
Same old, same old with injuries
Continuing a season-long theme, NDSU was riddled with injuries to key players. Defensive end Loshiaka Roques and defensive tackle Will Mostaert both left the game in the second half with injuries.
It appeared Roques left with a shoulder injury and Mostaert was having his knee iced on the sidelines.
It left the Bison short on the defensive line, a position group that was already short after season-ending injuries early in the season to tackle Eli Mostaert and end Jake Kava.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of next man up today, we just had to get it done,” Entz said. “The exciting thing now is we’ll have three weeks and we’ll have next men up. I think there will be some guys who will get healthy.”
Linebacker Luke Weerts, running back TaMerik Williams and receiver RaJa Nelson did not play for NDSU. All sustained injuries in the playoffs. … NDSU elevated redshirt freshman Barika Kpeenu to the playoff roster to take Williams’ spot. … Bison defensive tackle Eli Mostaert warmed up but did not play. Entz has been hinting at the junior’s return for several weeks as Mostaert recovers from a broken leg suffered early in the season. … With Nelson out, running back Jalen Bussey was a deep return man on the kickoff return unit for the first time this season.