In many ways, North Dakota State has been the Alabama of the FCS. On Saturday, they will be pursuing their seventh title in the last eight seasons. Conversely, Eastern Washington won the first even FCS championship in 2010. Now, they are looking for their second championship in program history just eight years later.
FCS Championship Preview: North Dakota State vs. Eastern Washington
What: 2019 FCS National Championship
Who: North Dakota State (14-0) vs. Eastern Washington (12-2)
When: Saturday, January 5th; 12:00 PM EST
North Dakota State
Expectations are sky high in Fargo and 2018 has been no different. They have been the wire to wire number one ranked team in the country this season. Like most good teams, they have gotten stronger as the season has progressed. In the playoffs, they have defeated their three opponents by a combined score of 131-31. Important to note, this also included a rematch with third-ranked South Dakota State in the semi-finals. The Bison narrowly defeated South Dakota State 21-17 in the regular season but won comfortably last week by a score of 44-21.
Comparatively, the Bison have their best quarterback since Carson Wentz. Senior quarterback Easton Stick is 48-3 as a North Dakota State starting quarterback. For the season, he has thrown 26 touchdowns while only throwing five interceptions. He also has 14 touchdowns on the ground and is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award which is given to the best player in the country. Conversely, the Bison have spread the wealth on the ground as five players have at least 500 yards rushing. But, they are paced by Bruce Anderson who has 940 yards rushing on the season.
North Dakota State comes into the game ranked second in the FCS in scoring defense only surrendering 11.8 points per game. Leading the charge is Mr. Versatility in linebacker Jabril Cox. Cox has 88 tackles with 9 1/2 of those going for lost yardage. Also, he has four sacks and four interceptions with two of those being returned for scores. Finally, the back end protector is the ball-hawking safety, Robbie Grimsley. Grimsley leads the team in interceptions and passes defended at seven and 11 respectively.
Although it may be true that North Dakota State is known as the giant killers, Eastern Washington certainly holds their own in that regard. in 2016, the Eagles defeated Washington State 45-42. In fact, they competed with the Cougars again this year to an 11-point game in the fourth quarter before eventually falling 59-24. Now, Eastern Washington dismantled Maine after narrowly defeating UC Davis in the quarterfinals.
Even with a bit of a revolving door at the quarterback position, the Eagles finished with the number three offense in the country. Heading into the season, Gage Gubrud was the incumbent at the position. However, after a season-ending injury on September 29th, Eric Barriere became the full-time starter. He hasn’t missed a beat in amassing 31 total touchdowns on the season. This included a seven-touchdown effort against Maine in the semi-finals. Historically, the Eagles have been a heavy passing tendency team but this year they have gained balance. Part of that balance has been through senior running back Sam McPherson. He has contributed 1,564 scrimmage yards in 2018.
Defensively, equal to the task in the versatility column to the Bison’s Cox is Ketner Kupp. If that name sounds familiar, it should. He is the brother of current Los Angeles Ram and former Eastern Washington alum, Cooper Kupp. The younger Kupp leads the Eagles with 104 tackles on the season. He only has one interception, but he made the most of it returning it 95 yards for a touchdown.
- Eastern Washington played in and won the first FCS National Championship game in 2010.
- North Dakota State has won six out of the last seven FCS National Championships.
- This will mark the final game for North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman. He has accepted the head coaching job at Kansas State. Klieman is 68-6 in five seasons with the Bison which includes three national championships.
- Aaron Best is in his second season as the head coach for Eastern Washington. Best was promoted to head coach at his alma mater in 2017 after serving as the offensive coordinator for the previous nine seasons.