In 2007, fresh off winning its second consecutive FCS national title, Appalachian State started its quest for a third by beating fifth-ranked Michigan 34-32.
That win, often referred to as the “greatest upset in college football history,” sparked the Mountaineers to their third straight title in 2007, setting an FCS record.
Long before North Dakota State traveled to Manhattan, Bison coach Craig Bohl invited the man who orchestrated the Mountaineers’ run, coach Jerry Moore, to speak to his team, which is seeking to tie the record with a third straight national title.
After the 24-21 win over Kansas State on Friday, Bohl recalled a note Moore gave to him that he kept on hand.
“I have a note that I keep and he says ‘you have one shot at Kansas State, make the most of it,’” Bohl said.
The Bison made the most of their chance against K-State in the fourth quarter, using an 18-play, 80-yard drive that spanned 8:30, culminating with a 1-yard sneak from quarterback Brock Jensen that gave North Dakota State the lead with 28 seconds left.
The Bison intercepted K-State quarterback Jake Waters for the second time to seal the deal, completing a comeback that featured 17 unanswered points.
After conceding a couple long touchdowns passes to Waters early on, Bohl thought his team stayed tough and made the right changes to stay in the game.
“Many, many teams have come in and K-State jumped up and they folded, our guys didn’t do that,” he said. “I thought our assistant coaches made some really excellent adjustments when we needed to. It’s a great win for our program.”
The Bison have come accustomed to beating teams from the FBS level, seven times, in 10 games — including their last four. Each of the teams the Bison have defeated over the past three years, have gone on to win no more than four games that season.
This win, though, felt a little different than those others. Especially for Bohl, who coached at Nebraska from 1995 to 2002, and has experience with playing against Bill Snyder and K-State.
“We’ve had a lot of these type of wins, but never over a program like this,” he said. “I have a great deal of respect for Kansas State and coach Snyder, (from) all those years at Nebraska. They’re a tremendous program so for us this is a great win.”
Bohl became connected with Moore after being coached by him in 1977 at Nebraska. The NDSU coach invited Moore to speak to his team during the spring, and he came and stayed with the team over a three-day period.
Jensen said he gave them inspiring words in the search for a third title.
“He was phenomenal, coach Moore,” he said. “We have the most respect for him and we appreciated him coming in and giving us inspirational words before the season on what it takes to go for the three-peat.”
The Bison final scoring drive started with less than nine minutes to play from their own 20-yard line, and featured North Dakota State converting on all four third-down attempts. Bohl said the goal was to get into four-down territory and burn as much clock as possible. It worked.
Jensen said they went out on the field knowing it was touchdown or bust.
“That last drive, we had to score a touchdown,” he said. “We practice (late game situations) frequently, every week in practice. It was one of those moments where we just had to gut it out. It wasn’t easy by any stretch — we were tired, they were tired — we just found a way.”
The Bison defense held K-State to 41 yards on 23 carries, while the offense had the ball for more than 12 minutes longer than the Wildcats’ offense did. Although he made the play that ultimately put the Bison ahead for good, Jensen said all credit has to go to the offensive line and the defense.
“Our offensive line was phenomenal, those guys were the MVPs of this game, along with our defense,” he said. “They gave Sam (Ojuri), John (Crockett) and Derrick (Lang) running lanes, and we were just able to stick together as a team and find a way to get it done as a team.”
The Bison diced through the Wildcats inexperienced defense on the ground, rushing 43 times for 215 yards, adding another 165 through the air. Ojuri, who led the way with 10 rushes for 127 yards said even when they fell behind by two scores in the third quarter, they were confident they could come back.
“We were down 14 points and coach Bohl said ‘a lot of teams will lay down against these guys, but we’re not, we’re going to fight,’” he said. “We fought. We fought back and came back and won.”