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FRISCO, Texas -
Illinois State University performed at the dominant level it has shown all season Saturday afternoon, but it was not quite enough to grasp its first-ever FCS national championship title over North Dakota State University.
Most expected a competitive game, but it is unlikely that anyone could have predicted what took place in North Dakota State’s thrilling 29-27 win over ISU.
Despite Redbird Tre Roberson’s 58-yard touchdown run with 1:38 left in the game, NDSU captured its fourth straight FCS championship trophy when quarterback, Carson Wentz, scored the final touchdown with 37 seconds remaining.
“That’s a tough way to lose a ball game, especially being a senior,” Chris Highland, long-snapper, said at the post-game press conference. “But I’m extremely proud of my teammates.”
In front of a crowd of more than 20,000 fans, ISU came out strong by scoring the first touchdown of the game made by Jon-Marc Anderson. While the No. 7 Redbirds slightly trailed the Bison the rest of the game, ISU regained its lead when Roberson ran a 58-yard touchdown to put ISU up with 1:38 left to play to bring the score to 27-23. Redbird fans from Frisco to Bloomington erupted in early celebration after this moment. Then they held their breath as NDSU took its final possession.
The No. 2-ranked Bison took over at their own 22. Wentz completed a pass to RJ Urzendowski to bring NDSU to ISU’s 38-yard line.
After two unanswered passes, Wentz hit a 33-yard pass to Urzendowski to advance to ISU’s five to set up the game-winning touchdown.
With 37 seconds left, ISU was given the opportunity to win the game with a field goal after Collin Keoshian blocked NDSU’s extra point.
The Redbirds drove to their 44-yard line when Roberson threw an interception captured by Bison linebacker, Esley Thorton. ISU was denied of its first-ever FCS championship title, as NDSU took a knee during the final eight seconds.
“First of all I would like to congratulate North Dakota State; it was a very good game,” Dontae McCoy, ISU senior and defensive back, said. “Definitely my emotions are running low. I’d like to thank God for the opportunity and all the players. The taste of defeat is never good.”
The game’s first points were put up by ISU’s Jon-Marc Anderson, giving ISU a 7-0 lead with 5:28 left in the first quarter. This was Anderson’s first touchdown of the season. This play also gave Roberson the ISU season record for passing touchdowns with 28, surpassing Matt Brown.
North Dakota State was able to answer with a 41-yard field goal in the first followed by a 6-yard touchdown pass in a drive that saw Wentz complete a 42-yard pass after shaking off a couple ISU defenders.
NDSU and ISU played a slow, hard-nosed game for most of the first half, which ended with NDSU leading 10-7.
NDSU gained some momentum after ISU wide out Anderson fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half putting them at the ISU 19-yard line. The ISU defense held strong and pushed NDSU back 5 yards and forced the Bison to take a 41-yard field goal to give them the 13-7 lead with 12:55 left in the third.
ISU was stalled on its next drive. NDSU capitalized with a 7-yard touchdown run to push its lead to 20-7 with 7:28 left in the third.
ISU regained some momentum before the fourth quarter on a crazy 41-yard touchdown pass to tight end James O’Shaughnessy in which both players broke tackles.
NDSU scored the first points of the fourth on a 21-yard field goal after being stalled in the red zone, giving it a 23-14 lead with 11:28 left to play.
ISU answered thanks to 47-yard and 33-yard runs from Roberson and MarShaun Coprich, respectively, that set up a 4-yard touchdown pass to O’Shaughnessy, which was his second of the game.
Roberson’s 58-yard touchdown run was overshadowed by NDSU’s final drive with 1:38 left that ended with a short touchdown after Wentz completed a jump ball for 33-yards.
Roberson shared his sentiments on the playoff structure and his career at Illinois State University.
“I come from Indiana, I really never got a chance to play in a bowl game,” Roberson said. “I’m glad I made the decision to come to Illinois State. I love playing the game of football. I could play all day, every day. Being able to play all the way until January? That’s awesome.”
ISU tried and failed on a two-point conversion that ultimately made the difference. However there was a debate whether the NDSU defender should have been flagged for pass interference.
“You know the official isn’t going to make that call in that situation,” Brock Spack, head coach, said. “It’s been that way throughout the whole playoffs, the officiating has been very good, and they let us play. I think they called a very good football team.”
With 37 seconds left, ISU needed a field goal to win; but an illegal substitution call and a Roberson interception ended the hectic back and forth affair.
Roberson shared his sentiments about getting to play for Illinois State University.
NDSU’s Wentz was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts on Saturday, as he passed for 237 yards and rushed for 87 yards.
“This is really special,” said Wentz. “When the clock hit zero, I had so many emotions I couldn’t say anything.”
Reactions from the two opponents
North Dakota State Head Coach Chris Klieman said he had a lot of respect for ISU Coach Brock Spack and Illinois State's program.
"They have an unbelievable program and great players," Klieman said. "We just made one more play, really."
Despite the loss, Spack was very proud of how his men played.
"I was very proud of them and told the seniors I appreciated everything they've done," Spack said. "This has been an unbelievable season for us. This team has made history."
Senior ISU place kicker Nick Aussieker provided further insight on what Spack told them after the game.
"You know, (he) just really thanked the seniors, you know that was a big thing," Aussieker said. "That we didn't really lose the game, we just ran out of time."