Jan 10, 2015; Frisco, TX, USA; North Dakota State Bison wide receiver Trevor Gebhart (3) holds up the trophy after the game against the Illinois State Redbirds in the Division I championship at Pizza Hut Park. North Dakota State beat Illinois State 29-27.
FRISCO — Illinois State said all along it would like to be the team who ended North Dakota State’s run of three straight wins in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game. And late in Saturday’s title tilt at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, it looked like the Redbirds would do exactly that.
With 1:38 remaining, ISU junior quarterback Tre Roberson fooled much of the Bison and many in the stadium by scampering 58 yards right up the middle to put the Redbirds up 27-23.
However, NDSU (15-1) got the ball back and went ahead 29-27 when junior quarterback Carson Wentz, named the game’s most outstanding player, scored on a five-yard run, capping a 78-yard drive that saw him complete three key passes to true freshman RJ Urzendowski.
But ISU still had a shot as they Redbirds got the ball back for one final chance. Three plays into that drive, NDSU senior linebacker Esley Thorton, who had come to the Bison originally as a quarterback, intercepted Roberson near midfield and the celebration was on.
"Yeah, time was running out. I was trying to make a play and I made a dumb throw in the middle of the field," Roberson said postgame. "I shouldn’t have made that throw. That’s what happened."
Less than a minute later, it became official, NDSU joined Augustana College of Illinois, who won four straight NCAA Division III titles between 1983 and 1986, as the only schools in NCAA history to win four consecutive titles in football.
"What great resolve by our guys," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. "That’s a great football team that we were able to beat. We just made one more play, really, because it was a game of making plays, and we were fortunate enough to make one more play."
Wentz finished with 87 yards rushing and threw for 237 more. Urzendowski finished with an even 100 yards receiving and senior kicker Adam Keller was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, connecting twice from 41 yards and again from 24.
But the Redbirds, who finish the year at 13-2 after sharing the Missouri Valley Football Conference regular-season title with the Bison, were far from an easy out. Roberson led the way with 161 yards rushing and threw for 157 more while accounting for all four of ISU’s touchdowns.
Senior running back Marshaun Coprich also ran for at least 100 yards for the 14th time in 15 games this season, finishing the day with 106 yards.
But in the end, as Klieman so aptly put it, this game boiled down to which team made more plays and on a cold Saturday afternoon in Frisco, again it was NDSU doing so for a fourth straight year.
"I just told our players after the game that you didn’t lose the game, you just ran out of time," ISU head coach Brock Spack said. "It was just very, very close, but very proud of our team."
NDSU will now have some time to enjoy their latest trip to Frisco, one which again ended in glorious fashion. But rest assured that Kleiman, who won a title in his first year as the Bison’s head coach, will soon be thinking about the run toward title number five, a run which could end in similar fashion and in NDSU’s recently adopted winter vacation spot in Collin County.