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9:00 AM PT10:00 AM MT11:00 AM CT12:00 PM ET5:00 PM GMT1:00 AM 北京时间10:00 AM MST12:00 PM EST, Jan. 11, 2020
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas  Attendance: 17,866

North Dakota State is FCS champ once again

(AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

FRISCO, Texas (Stats Perform) - It's easy to say North Dakota State winning another FCS national championship was fate, destiny, something supernatural.

But don't.

To help college football move toward the conclusion of its 150th season, North Dakota State beat James Madison 28-20 on Saturday while appropriately playing its 150th game of one of the greatest decades the sport has ever witnessed.

Quite frankly, the Bison have taken "dynasty" by the horns and not relied on magical powers; they are the power in the FCS and create the magic. To cap the 2019 season under first-year coach Matt Entz, the first FCS program to finish 16-0 made it three straight national titles and eight in the final nine seasons of the decade. Their record was a gaudy 137-13 (.913), including an FCS-record 37-game winning streak since 2017.

"Hard to believe," Entz said. "It probably won't sink in for a couple days yet. Maybe on the flight home. I know it will feel more real the minute I walk through these doors and go in the locker room and see these guys."

Redshirt freshman Trey Lance, fresh off winning the Stats Perform FCS Walter Payton Award as national offensive player of the year, was named the championship game's most outstanding player. He set career highs with 30 carries for 166 rushing yards, including a 44-yard touchdown scramble to open the fourth quarter, which made it 28-13.

Still, the top-ranked Missouri Valley Conference champ had to hold on in the closing seconds against James Madison (14-2). The Dukes, who stalked the Bison all season from the No. 2 ranking, pulled within 28-20 on quarterback Ben DiNucci's second 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Riley Stapleton with 6:55 left. They got the ball back with just under three minutes to go and drove to the Bison 3 with eight seconds left, but senior safety James Hendricks intercepted DiNucci at the goal line to preserve the win.

"It was on film all year," the team captain said. "We knew that when they got in that set they were going to run a pick play. And honestly, they got us in a good call. They picked our guy. I just left my guy and knew that they were going to throw it and trusted that he was going to make that throw to the flat and not the guy that I'm supposed to cover. And I made the play and the rest is history."

History? North Dakota State has made quite a bit of that.

"We kind of knew what we had in our locker room," said leading tackler Jackson Hankey, one of 15 new starter on the 2019 team. "Maybe everybody else didn't. But we had an idea we were going to be pretty good this year. And to see that all come to reality over a six-month season or whatever it is has just been an unbelievable journey."

"It's what you play for, you play for this moment -- the No. 1 and No. 2 team," James Madison defensive end Ron'Dell Carter said. "Obviously, we didn't come out on the winning end, but I think they'll probably tell you that we were their toughest opponent."

A raucous Toyota Stadium was electrified by the highly anticipated playoff rubber match in a four-year span. North Dakota State's only postseason loss since 2011 was to James Madison in the 2016 semifinals, but the Bison captured the rematch in the 2017 national championship game.

James Madison, the CAA champ, made quite the game-opening statement with a 17-play, 86-yard touchdown drive, capped by DiNucci's first touchdown pass. But North Dakota State settled in behind Lance and never trailed after Adam Cofield's 1-yard plunge tied the game 7-7.

The Bison simply made game-winning plays. To open the second quarter, a motioning wide receiver Phoenix Sproles took a handoff and sold James Madison defenders on a faked reverse before scoring from 38 yards out for a 14-7 lead. The Bison then faked a field goal attempt on their next drive and Hendricks - the holder - went untouched around left end for a 20-yard touchdown and a 21-10 advantage.

Field goals aren't going to beat North Dakota State. Three times, James Madison settled for attempts from FCS field goal leader Ethan Ratke, who made a pair while also misfiring with a doink off the upright.

James Madison, behind DiNucci's 204 passing yards, outgained North Dakota State 365-353, although the Dukes allowed 281 rushing yards after only one opponent to surpass 100 rushing yards this season.

"Well, obviously didn't get the result we wanted today," James Madison first-year coach Curt Cignetti said. "I give North Dakota State a lot of credit. It's a great football team -- the reason they won so many. They played better than we did. Deserved to win. Quarterback's a tremendous player."

Updated January 11, 2020

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