Bears Fall to No. 1 North Dakota State, 41-26
Oct. 12, 2013
FARGO, N.D. - Top-ranked North Dakota State rode a career-best passing performance from Brock Jensen and a strong second-half defensive effort to extend its Missouri Valley Football Conference record win streak to 15 games with a 41-26 victory over the Missouri State Bears Saturday afternoon before a school-record crowd of 19,108 at the Fargodome.
After Missouri State (1-6, 1-2 MVFC)reeled off 13 unanswered second-quarter points to claim its first lead of the game, the Bison (6-0, 3-0 MVFC) scored a pair of momentum-swinging touchdowns in the final 2:32 of the first half to re-gain control. Jensen connected with Zach Vraa on two critical pass plays -- a 52-yarder that set up a short TD run, and a 36-yard scoring strike in the closing seconds of the half that made it a 24-13 game.
Jensen, who completed 20-of-28 passes for a career-high 313 yards and three touchdowns, teamed up with Vraa on another NDSU touchdown in the third quarter, giving the Bison a double-digit lead with a 23-yard scoring pass after the Bears had pulled to within four points on Caleb Schaffitzel's 19-yard interception return early in the period.
In all, Jensen and Vraa would team up on four separate completions of 23 yards or more, with the Bison junior receiver making five catches for a career-high 179 yards on the afternoon.
Given a comfortable lead, the Bison defense made sure of the outcome by forcing a key fumble and holding the Bears to 86 yards of total offense in the second half. MSU was limited to 45 rushing yards on 27 carries for the day, but passed for a season-high 260 yards.
Despite the outcome, the Bears engaged the two-time defending FCS champions in a back-and-forth battle in the opening half, rebounding from an early 10-point deficit to claim a three-point lead on a 65-yard scoring pass from Kierra Harris to Julian Burton midway through the second quarter. MSU gained 305 yards of total offense against the nation's top scoring defense, marking the third time in 2013 the Bears have topped the 300-yard marker.
After the Missouri State defense held its ground with a 4th-and-1 stop on the Bears' 31 on North Dakota State's opening drive, the Bison turned to their defense and special teams to establish an early lead. Harris hooked up with Dorian Buford for a first down, but Travis Beck and Bryan Shepherd teamed up to sack the MSU signal caller on third down to stall the drive. Next, NDSU's Ryan Smith jolted the Bears with an 85-yard return of a Chris Sullens punt to give the home club a 7-0 lead just six and a half minutes into the contest.
Following a three-and-out for the Missouri State offense, the Bison went to work again, using a 56-yard Jensen-to-Vraa completion to set up another scoring chance deep in MSU territory. The Bears' league-leading red zone defense kept NDSU out of the end zone, but Adam Keller's 33-yard field goal extended the advantage to 10 points with just under five minutes to play in the opening period.
The Bears got on the board early in the second quarter, moving the ball 53 yards in 12 plays to set up a career-long 47-yard field goal by Marcelo Bonani. Harris's 18-yard completion to Buford represented the key play of the drive and put the MSU junior over the 2,000-yard passing mark for his career.
MSU came up with its longest scoring drive of the season on its next possession, taking over at its own two following a 52-yard Ben LeCompte punt and marching 95 yards on 13 plays. Harris completed 6-of-8 pass attempts for 91 yards on the drive, finding Julian Burton for gains of 18 and 19 yards and connecting with Buford on a 31-yard gain. Phoenix Johnson's 17-yard reception set up a first-and-goal for the Bears, before Harris threw to Eric Christophel for five yards to the NDSU 3. The Bison held their ground, however, forcing another field goal try from Bonani, who calmly nailed a 21-yarder to make it a 10-6 game with 6:44 to play in the half.
Harris and the Bears' offense would need only two plays to find pay dirt on their next drive. Harris delivered a 65-yard touchdown strike to Burton, who hauled in the pass at the NDSU 12 and fought off a Bison defender to reach the goal line for the longest reception of his MSU career and a 13-10 Bears lead with 5:17 left on the clock.
But NDSU answered with a long pitch-and-catch of its own to reclaim the upper hand. Jensen found a wide-open Vraa for a 52-yard gain to the Bears' 2, and Sam Ojuri took it in from there on the next play, handing the Bison a 17-13 edge with 2:26 remaining in the half.
The lone turnover for either club in the opening half led to one final score for the Bison. Christian Dudzik picked off a Harris pass and returned it 29 yards to the MSU 36, before the tandem of Jensen and Vraa delivered on the first play of the drive for a critical Bison touchdown with just 32 seconds left on the clock.
MSU turned the momentum back in its favor early in the second half drawing to within 24-20 when Schaffitzel stepped in front of a Jensen pass and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown - his second in as many seasons against the Bison. With the return, Schaffitzel eclipsed the Missouri State career record for interception return yardage (235), moving past Adrion Smith (230) for the honor.
The Bison answered yet again, scoring on their next two possessions to stretch the margin to 18 points. Jensen led the charge on NDSU's 13-play, 75-yard drive that ate up nearly seven minutes, completing four passes for 39 yards before finishing things off with another long scoring pass to Vraa at the 6:25 mark. Jensen tossed his third touchdown pass of the day moments later, hitting Kevin Vaadeland on a 33-yard score the first play after the Bison recovered a Bears fumble.
NDSU stretched its lead to 41-20 early in the fourth period, using another 13-play drive that resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Keller. MSU made one final push late in the game, as Ashton Glaser connected with Dorian Buford on an 11-yard touchdown pass, marking the first points for a Bison opponent in the fourth quarter this season.
Burton led the Missouri State offense with a career-best performance of six catches for 128 receiving yards. Harris finished his day 10-of-20 for 189 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury at the end of the first half. Glaser recorded his first TD pass of the season and completed 9-of-13 passes for 71 yards in relief of Harris.
Schaffitzel led the Bears' defensive effort with seven tackles to go along with his seventh career interception, while Jeremiah Plowden recorded a team-high eight stops in his first career start. Nick Canavan also came up with seven total tackles, two of which went for losses.
Up next, the Bears return to Plaster Field for a 1:05 p.m. Homecoming contest against South Dakota State next Saturday (Oct. 19). Tickets to the game are available through MissouriStateTix.com, by calling (417) 836-7678 or stopping by the Chevy Pickup Window at JQH Arena during regular box office hours.