NDSU bucked the FCS trend by getting back to five straight title games
FARGO—North Dakota State started its FCS football dynasty in 2011 with a 17-6 win over Sam Houston State (Texas). Both teams did the unusual the following season by returning to the title game in Frisco, Texas.
That was the end of Frisco for Sam Houston, however, which hasn't been back since. The Bison faced Towson University (Md.) in 2013 and won convincingly against a Tigers team that came into the game as a formidable foe.
Since that '13 appearance, Towson has never been heard from again on the national FCS scene. The following year, it was fellow Missouri Valley Football Conference foe Illinois State that saw a rise in power and both NDSU and ISU reached the 2014 title game.
The Bison won that game, but the Redbirds were expected to contend for the '15 title with their star quarterback and running back returning along with a strong supporting cast. ISU lost in the semifinals, at home, in 2015 and did not make it back to Texas.
NDSU did, and faced Jacksonville State (Ala.) in the title game, a contest that the Bison won convincingly 37-10. Like Illinois State in 2015, the Gamecocks returned their star quarterback this season and were expected to make a run at returning to Frisco.
They never made it, losing at home to Youngstown State in the second round.
The moral of the story, says NDSU head coach Chris Klieman:
"It's hard to do," he said of getting to the FCS title game. "Somehow those guys got back there five straight times. That's unheard of in college football."
The end of the greatest run of football titles in NCAA history came Friday night in a 27-17 loss to James Madison. The Dukes got off to a strong start and made the plays they needed to do in the second half to do something nobody else has done in the FCS: Win a postseason game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
NDSU's last playoff loss was in the 2010 quarterfinals at Eastern Washington.
"I hope you realize how difficult it's been," Klieman said. "And we made it to the semifinals."
Klieman was addressing a question about the possibility of his team feeling pressure to repeat so many titles. Did each championship add another pressure monkey on the backs of the players?
Bison players in the postgame press conference didn't think so. Klieman said his team was more about playing James Madison than playing the expectation game.
"There was no pressure with these kids," he said. "They teed it up and battled every game."
The Dukes did it by matching NDSU at the line of scrimmage, something other Colonial Athletic Association teams Richmond, Towson and New Hampshire couldn't do since the Bison started their playoff run in 2011, ironically, against JMU.
"We're disappointed but we're not going to be miserable," Klieman said after the game. "We lost a football game and life moves on. The sun will rise tomorrow and the (seniors) will be productive in whatever they decide to do. Mark my words, we will not be miserable."
On Saturday morning, in Fargo, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun did indeed come up. For the first time since 2010, however, NDSU will not be making plans for Frisco.
It's not easy reaching the title game.