Add in the unmatched intensity and physicality and the 40th FCS championship game showed why it was one of the most anticipated in history.
North Dakota State University is back on top of the FCS mountain with a 17-13 win in the championship game from Toyota Stadium. The Dukes dropped to 14-1 with the loss. Asked what he could take from that game, Bison coach Chris Klieman said, "Nothing, really".
The game was nothing short of epic.
Weber State did teeter on eliminating James Madison in the quarterfinals, but a field goal as time expired kicked the Dukes into this season's semis, where they blasted South Dakota State 51-16.
Easton Stick is in his second season as the Bison' starter.
The Bison outgained James Madison 264-241 and held the Dukes to just 93 yards rushing.
Klieman says, "They got different players, just like we got different players".
"This", Steele said, "is going to be a moment that we talk about for the rest of our lives". "There's no doubt. And we're excited about it too". That difference could likely be Bison quarterback Easton Stick who's a risky runner.
James Madison comes up short in quest for back-to-back FCS Championships, falling to NDSU 17-13
In the bruising matchup of the two best defenses in the FCS, the Stick-to-Shepherd score was the biggest offensive play of the game. Bison quarterback Stick then hit receiver Darrius Shepherd for a 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter, followed up with a Cam Pedersen 32-yard field goal to make it 17-3 NDSU.
Schor had two interceptions, including one by Marquise Bridges in his first career start at the NDSU 3 late in the third quarter.
"We thought that look could be there", Shepherd said. "Darrius was able to run underneath and get us in the end zone, and that was a huge play for us".
James Madison scored on its first possession of the third quarter to close within 17-13.
Marcus Marshall had a 1-yard run for the only touchdown for the Dukes, who lost the turnover battle 3-1 after forcing 10 takeaways in the semifinals. Houston said the victory gave his team respect for North Dakota State's program and confidence it had reached its level.
NDSU - Bruce Anderson had 18 carries for 63 yards and 1 touchdown.
Senior linebacker Nick DeLuca missed that game because of injury, so he'd been waiting for over a year to get another shot at the Dukes.
James Madison is seeking to win back-to-back titles under coach Mike Houston and join four other programs to have at least three FCS titles. "We take that on as a responsibility and it's something that we set as a goal every year".
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