Illinois State defensive back Jarrell Jackson (26) celebrates after blocking a field goal at Hancock Stadium, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

In recent years Illinois State football's games with North Dakota State have been defensive battles.

That trend continued in the Redbirds' 21-13 loss to NDSU. The Bison showed a strong defensive front that stopped the Redbirds from scoring until the third quarter.

Special teams struggles have plagued the Redbirds all season. The trend continued with NDSU's first score. Jayden Price was able to return an ISU punt 85 yards with 11 minutes left to go up 7-0.

The Bison extended their lead about five minutes later with a Kobe Johnson 15-yard rushing touchdown.

A meeting from head coach Brock Spack got ISU locked in after going down two scores early. 

"I called them up after the first quarter and gave them a talking to," Spack said. "They really responded well and got back in the game. It was kind of déjà vu from the last time we played up here. We had a chance the last possession but could not get it done."

Despite allowing a score early, ISU locked down on defense for two quarters. NDSU was shut out for the second and third quarters.

Over that span, the Redbirds were able to nab three turnovers: two Charles Woods interceptions and a fumble recovered by Clayton Isbell. ISU wasted the first two turnovers after being forced to punt. 

Those were the first turnovers from ISU defensive backs this season.

"We knew we would need to be physical and produce turnovers," Isbell said. "Prior, as a defensive back unit we did not have one turnover. We knew this game we would need to produce a lot and give our offense the opportunity to score."

But ISU was able to capitalize on Isbell's turnover. Isbell made a play on the running first stripping the ball then recovering it.

"During practice we always work on ripping the ball out," Isbell said. “When I saw the opportunity, I ripped it. I saw the opportunity to take a chance and I did."

Woods cited his two interceptions to staying with his game plan.

"I was just trusting my technique and play calls," Woods said. "The opportunity showed itself and I made plays on the ball."

Driving downfield, Bryce Jefferson connected with tight end Tanner Taula for his second throwing touchdown of the year.

ISU continued their strong offensive push on the next possession. ISU found the end zone on a Tyler Pennington rushing touchdown. A strong rushing attack helped the Redbirds on both scoring drives. ISU notched 133 yards on the ground.

"I think we got our running game going," Spack said. "We had a couple tail backs play well. The running game was much better than the last time. We made a couple of big plays on the offensive side."

Special teams once again came back to hurt ISU as Aiden Bresnahan's extra point was blocked.

After the Redbirds' second straight touchdown, the Bison looked to respond before the game got out of hand. Marching downfield the Bison used a strong rushing attack to take off eight minutes of the game clock and go up 21-13.

"That is what we needed," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "It was a great job executing. We ran the ball really well."

Spack saw his defense get tired in the end struggling to stop the Bison.

"We are thin on defense and ran out of gas at the end," Spack said. "We do not have enough guys up front. It has been frustrating."

ISU was unable to score on the next two possessions falling 21-13.

The Redbirds will be back in action  at 11 a.m. March 20 against Western Illinois at Hancock Stadium.

JAKE SERMERSHEIM is a Sports Editor for The Vidette. He can be contacted at vidette_jrserme@ilstu.edu. Follow Sermersheim on Twitter at @JakeSermersheim

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