FARGO, N.D. (AP) — No matter which nemesis North Dakota State faces in the FCS championship game, the Bison looked quite able to exact some payback after a 55-13 win over Sam Houston State in Friday night’s semifinal.
Bruce Anderson scored five touchdowns — four in the first half — and North Dakota State rolled up 642 yards offense in crushing the Bearkats.
The Bison will face defending national champion James Madison, which defeated South Dakota State, 51-13, in the other semifinal, for the FCS title on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
I’m just excited were going back to Frisco, it doesn’t matter who we play," Bison coach Chris Klieman said.
"We have a bunch of leaders in that locker room who deserve to go back to that game."
Friday night’s game was essentially over at halftime after North Dakota State scored touchdowns on six of its seven offensive possessions. The half ended on the Bearkats’ third turnover, an interception by Tre Dempsey, who also made a fumble recovery.
Sixth-seeded Sam Houston State (12-2) came in with the leading offense in the FCS, averaging over 45 points and 552 yards offense. But the Bearkats were squelched by the Bison, finishing with 352 yards but only 176 in the pivotal first half.
The Bearkats drove down the field on their first drive, but couldn’t get into the end zone on first-and-goal from the Bison 10, settling for Tre Honshtein’s 28-yard field goal.
"That first drive, I told the guys all week, field goals are never going to beat us because we’re going to score enough points," Klieman said. "They gave up three and honestly that was a win for us because it just takes a while to get used to the speed of the game."
The Bison responded with a 75-yard drive with Easton Stick scoring on a 6-yard run to start the run of 41 first-half points.
Marquise Bridges stepped in front of a Bearkats receiver to make the first of his two interceptions in the game and on the next play Anderson went around the left end for a 62-yard score while surpassing 1,000 yards rushing this season.
Ty Brooks had a career-long run of 55 yards to set up the next score: Stick’s 23-yard pass to Anderson, who was alone in the right corner of the end zone.
Anderson added a 37-yard touchdown run to make it 28-3. On the ensuing kickoff, Dimitri Williams forced a fumble that was recovered by Dempsey and five plays later Anderson was in the end zone again on a 33-yard run.
A one-handed catch by Jeff Illies was good for a 12-yard touchdown and the 38-point halftime lead. The Bison outgained the Bearkats 419-176 while on the way to scoring their most points and gaining their most yards ever in a FCS playoff game
The Bison added second-half touchdowns on Stick passes of 17 yards to Ben Ellefson and 31 yards to Anderson.
"We said game was going to be won up front and we had to control the line of scrimmage, both sides of the ball, and I thought we did that," Klieman said. "We capitalized on some of their mistakes and we made some explosive plays."
Anderson finished with 183 yards rushing on 17 carries and 54 yards receiving on his two TD catches.
"He’s really stepped up his last few weeks and running with great confidence, passion," Klieman said. "Running through arm tackles, catching the football, doing everything."
Wilson, a freshman who had 213 yards rushing coming in, finished with for 194 yards on 24 carries. Stick was 10 of 17 for 160 yards passing with four TD throws and an interception plus his rushing touchdown.
Sam Houston was seeking to advance to its third FCS title game with hopes of winning its first championship, and the first for the Southland Conference. Instead, NDSU increased its series lead to 5-1, including four straight wins in playoff meetings.
"Their men were definitely better than my boys, that’s for sure," Bearkats coach K.C. Keeler said. "I just can’t say enough about how good they are.
"We often talk about North Dakota State and Alabama, two great programs, and we’re trying to get there. We’re sort of that team that’s sitting on the cusp but we’re not there."
The Bearkats’ lone touchdown came on a 2-yard pass from Jeremiah Briscoe to Nathan Stewart in the third quarter. Briscoe finished 29 of 51 for 289 yards, going over 5,000 this season, and one touchdown with three interceptions.