That was NOT business as usual. North Dakota State tested the heart health of every member of BisoNation with their 31-28 victory over rival Northern Iowa. Quarterback Carson Wentz hit freshman Darrius Shepherd in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left for his second touchdown of the day and the defense held, sending the Fargodome into a frenzy. Despite giving up 277 yards on the ground, 157 of those to QB Aaron Bailey the Bison stayed undefeated in the Missouri Valley.
It was an up and down game for Wentz. The star QB turned the ball over three times including a red zone interception. Despite the mistakes, head coach Chris Klieman wouldn't want anyone else leading the Bison.
"I told CJ, get ready for two minute defense, it's going to be a two minute situation. I'm not going to doubt number 11. He's going to find a way to get it into the end zone.
Wentz had a season high 335 yards and 4 touchdowns to go with those turnovers, with none of the TDs being as crucial as the corner route to Shepherd from the 18 yard line deep into the 4th quarter. It was Shepherd's second touchdown of the day. The redshirt freshman from Blue Springs, Missouri continues to impress. Every time Shepherd touches the ball he seems to make a play.
Speaking of making plays, sophomore wide receiver RJ Urzendowski continues to add to his reputation as a "clutch" player. The kid from Creighton Prep had 5 catches for 109 yards including two huge receptions during NDSU's final drive. North Dakota State faced a 3rd and 20 and two separate 4th down situations during a final drive that started with 2:30 left on the clock.
Northern Iowa played well enough to win. The Panthers piled up 435 yards of offense and turned North Dakota State over three times, winning the take/give. UNI accomplished all of that despite losing the time of possession battle 20:52 to 39:08. Bailey and receiver Daurice Fountain were the stars of the game for Northern Iowa. Fountain toasted Bison CB CJ Smith on the 3rd play of the game for a 67 yard touchdown to set the pace.
Bison fans have gotten used to regular season wins with wide margins of victory. The Thundering Herd did not oblige on Saturday afternoon. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. The second Missouri Valley contest of the Bison season had the feeling of a heavyweight fight bout, and both teams were throwing haymakers.
When the dust settled, the Bison came out on top. This win was reminiscent of victories early in the Bison dynasty. While this young defense might struggle at times and not allow the Thundering herd to dominate, Carson Wentz and the offense have proven that they are capable of carrying the team. They've also shown the intangible ability to win close games late. As long as Wentz and the offense get the ball last, the Bison have a chance to win.