Oct. 31—If there was ever a Missouri Valley Football Conference team that you can easily define — it's perennial power North Dakota State.
They grind, that's what they do, that's who they are. They play an old school style — generally dependent on the run — that they execute extremely well.
NDSU has shown few signs of being a big-play offense this season, so imagine Indiana State's surprise when the Bison diversified their attack and hit the Sycamores with a stout passing game on Saturday at NDSU's Gate City Bank Field?
NDSU, ranked No. 2 in FCS, had 148 passing yards in the first half, many of the yards gained on the first three series.
That seemed to throw ISU's defense off-guard, and from there, the Bison used big plays on the ground and the air to pull away from the Sycamores for a 44-2 MVFC victory in Fargo, N.D.
"I don't think anyone did anything well enough to win today," ISU coach Curt Mallory said. "We can't do some of the things we did out there against a good football team and expect to be in the game."
ISU (4-5, 2-4) almost certainly fell out of long-shot FCS playoff contention with the loss. The Sycamores have only two games left after they have their bye week next Saturday. It was a bitter reality on a day that had other bad things happen for the Sycamores.
ISU's defense gave up 477 yards of total offense, a step backwards after a performance against Youngstown State the week before that seemed to portend progress.
Quarterback Anthony Thompson left the contest in the second quarter after he suffered a rib injury on a designed run. Kurtis Wilderman played in Thompson's place for the rest of the game.
One bright spot was the ISU running attack. Peterson Kerlegrand rushed for 89 yards against a NDSU defense that only allowed 72 per game entering the contest. Overall, ISU rushed for 94 yards.
"I thought there were some good runs in there. Petey battled and I saw it out of quite a few guys," Mallory said.
Dante Hendrix also had nine catches for 87 yards. ISU actually had more first downs (17) than NDSU had (14), but the big plays the Bison were able to conjure were decisive.
The big-play die was cast on NDSU's first series. A 55-yard connection from NDSU quarterback Cam Miller to lightly used Josh Babicz set up a 3-yard touchdown catch by Babicz two plays later to get the Bison going.
Michael Haupert fumbled the ball away on ISU's next series, but ISU's defense held NDSU to a field goal. It was one of the few bright moments of the first half for the ISU defense.
After NDSU (8-0, 5-0) got the ball back again, Miller found tight end Noah Gindorff for a 43-yard pass play to bail NDSU out of poor field position. A 21-yard Christian Watson rush led to a 20-yard TaMerik Williams touchdown run to make it 16-0.
"We challenged our kids all week to start and we were going to leave the month of October with a bang to play our best football in November," NDSU coach Matt Entz said.
At this point, ISU gave itself its best chance to get into the game. The Sycamores drove 76 yards to the NDSU 1. ISU had three shots from the goal line, but couldn't score.
On the fourth down play, Kerlegrand seemed to have a clear path to the end zone, but NDSU middle linebacker Jackson Hankey put a wicked, legal hit on Kerlegrand and stopped him cold.
"The linebacker scraped over the top, but even then, a yard? He made a nice play, but doggone it, we have to get it in," Mallory said.
The damage from not getting into the end zone would be brought in sharp relief two plays later. NDSU running back Kobe Johnson broke a tackle on the left side and broke free against an ISU defense loaded right. He raced 97 yards — the longest run in NDSU history — for a 23-0 Bison lead as the Sycamores' hearts sunk a bit.
Thompson left the game with 9:15 left when he was hit on a designed run. NDSU's Hankey and Michael Tutsie hit Thompson hard after a 4-yard gain. Thompson had to be assisted from the field.
A Christian Watson touchdown catch with 4:05 left in the first half gave the Bison a comfortable 30-0 halftime lead.
The second half offered no respite. NDSU added two more touchdowns and ISU struggled to mvoe the ball until late in the contest. ISU's lone points came on a blocked punt by Hunter Lunsford that ricocheted out of the back of the end zone deep into the final quarter.
After the bye week, ISU hosts Southern Illinois on Nov. 13 in the home finale.