FARGO, N.D. -- Illinois State was able to do the one thing it hasn’t been able to do all season during Saturday’s contest against top-ranked North Dakota State: start off hot.
But the momentum of the game shifted completely in favor of the Bison when ISU quarterback Jake Kolbe fumbled in the red zone during the second quarter.
Just four plays later, NDSU quarterback Easton Stick completed a 38-yard touchdown to Lance Dunn to put NDSU up 21-10.
From then on it was all NDSU, as the Bison blew out the Redbirds 31-10 in front of a sold-out Homecoming crowd at the Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
“We moved the ball pretty well early in the game,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said. “We made some mistakes and that opened the door for North Dakota State. I told our team before the game, ‘they turn our mistakes into a touchdown.’ They did exactly that. That’s what really good teams do.”
After ISU and NDSU’s first drives stalled, the Redbirds took over at their own 36-yard line and drove to the NDSU 6, where Sean Slattery knocked in a 23-yard field goal to put ISU up 3-0 at the 8:12 mark of the first.
NDSU wideout Darrius Shepherd responded with a 31-yard rushing touchdown, which put NDSU up 7-3 to end the first. The score was Shepherd’s lone rush of the game.
NDSU tailback King Frazier led all rushers with 20 carries for 76 yards. The Bison finished with 194 total rushing yards compared to ISU’s 37.
Kolbe connected with wide receiver Anthony Warrum twice on the following drive with completions of 13 and 38 yards putting the Redbirds in enemy territory. The sophomore slinger then completed an 18-yard touchdown to Anthony Fowler, which capped an eight-play, 81-yard drive, putting ISU up 10-7.
“Our plan was to execute [the passing game],” Fowler, who led all receivers with six catches for 119 yards and ISU’s only touchdown, said. “We’ve been playing fast paced and the ball just came my way today.”
The Bison responded immediately as wide out R.J. Urzendowski burned ISU defensive back DraShane Glass and hauled in a 65-yard touchdown from Stick.
“It’s a tough league,” Spack said. “You’ve got to come ready every week. It’s just growing pains for us.”
NDSU finished with 450 total offensive yards while ISU had 340, including 303 passing yards.
“They’re a really good defense,” Kolbe said. Kolbe completed 23-of-35 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown. “Some of it is them making good plays and some of it is us not making good plays. I’ve got to make better decisions and take care of the football.”
Alec Kocour finished with a game-high 14 tackles (seven solo, seven assisted).
“Illinois State’s defense was really good,” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said.
“They’re a really physical bunch. I’m so pleased with how we played in the second half. I told our guys we needed to hit the quarterback and we did.”
The Bison sacked Kolbe six times and had nine tackles-for-loss.
ISU struggled to move the chains when it mattered, converting just 3-of-14 times on third down. The Bison converted on third down 6-of-15 times and once on fourth down.
“They are who we thought they were,” Spack said. “If you don’t get these guys to play from behind then it’s very difficult.”
ISU’s loss at NDSU marks the first time head coach Spack has lost three consecutive games in his eight seasons at ISU.
The Redbirds (2-3, 0-2 MVFC) return home next Saturday when they host Youngstown State at Hancock Stadium. Homecoming weekend kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
This story will be updated.