This year’s FCS National Championship Game lived up to everything it was hyped up to be. The defenses showed out, the point total was low, and it was up for grabs until the very end.
When it was all said and done, North Dakota State avenged its semifinal loss to James Madison last year and won its record-tying sixth national title 17-13.
Both teams entered the game with stalwart defenses, and they were on full display throughout Saturday’s game. The Bison were allowing just 237 yards per game, while the Dukes were giving up 251 per game. With how great their respective scoring defenses have been as well, with NDSU giving up 11.5 points per game and JMU allowing just 10.7 per game heading into the title game, it was impressive that both teams allowed a higher total than average in such a defense-dominated game.
Each team came away with a short rushing touchdown, but the rushing attacks were fairly ineffective for the two programs. North Dakota State junior Bruce Anderson was the game’s leading rusher, but his 3.5 yards per carry didn’t end up being a major factor. The quarterback duel between two of the nation’s most efficient passers was crucial for both the Bison and Dukes.
Bison junior quarterback Easton Stick did not have his best game, but he played well enough to get the win. He averaged under six yards per attempt for the game, but he avoided turning the ball over through the air. His second-quarter touchdown pass to junior Darrius Shepherd was also the deciding score of the game.
His counterpart didn’t do so well in terms of ball control. Senior Bryan Schor had one of his worst games for James Madison, completing just 14-32 passes for 148 yards and no scores, but he did throw two interceptions.
One of those picks was arguably the turning point in the game. Midway through the third quarter, James Madison was driving and had the all the momentum after a touchdown on its last drive and a short North Dakota State punt. On second down at the Bison 20, Schor threw an interception over the middle to junior Marquise Bridges.
Neither team scored after that interception and James Madison only got back into North Dakota State territory once more.
North Dakota State’s win restored a degree of normalcy to FCS. North Dakota State has become a power that’s an anomaly even in a division historically filled with title streaks. During the now-segmented streak, the Bison and the team staff have ascended to a new level of success.
With the win, coach Chris Klieman became the second NDSU coach with three national championships. Additionally, Stick is already drawing comparisons to former Bison quarterback and national champion Carson Wentz.
Despite the title-game loss, James Madison put together an impressive season by any standard. The Dukes won 26 games in a row before falling to the Bison, and 28 in a row against FCS opponents. In the span of two years, coach Mike Houston turned James Madison into a national power.
James Madison will replace its starting quarterback next year, but should still compete for a championship. North Dakota State, however, will have its starting quarterback back, as well as several other key position players. The Bison will start 2018 in the familiar position of being the favorite to repeat as national champion.
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