Minnesotan's move from wide receiver to cornerback pays off for NDSU
FARGO—Marquise Bridges was recruited out of DeLaSalle High School of Minneapolis in 2014 to be a wide receiver for North Dakota State. And for good reason. He had 66 catches for 1,317 yards and 21 touchdowns in his senior season with the Islanders.
On Tuesday, in NDSU's 55-13 semifinal win over Sam Houston State, Bridges got the first and second interceptions of his collegiate career. Giving up the wide receiver role last season and moving to cornerback as a freshman was tough for Bridges, but he did it for a shot to play.
"It shocked me, but I was happy just to at least get on the field," Bridges said. "I wasn't playing that much, so whatever opportunity I could take to get on the field and play with my teammates."
Bridges played in three games last season, recording one tackle. After recording two tackles Friday, Bridges has 18 tackles in 14 games this season to go along with the two interceptions Friday.
His first interception came at a good time for the Bison.
After NDSU took a 7-3 lead on Sam Houston, there was confusion on the ensuing kickoff that briefly took the air out of the Fargodome. Nathan Stewart seemingly fumbled the kick out of bounds, which would have put the Bearkats deep in their own territory. Upon review, Stewart's foot was out of bounds when he bobbled the kick. As the rule reads, if any part of a player's body is out of bounds upon catching a kick it's as if their whole body is catching the ball out of bounds, therefore, it's a penalty on the kicking team.
So the Bearkats started at their own 35 instead of being pinned back near the 10. Two plays later, the Fargodome got loud for a third-and-8, but was silenced by a 13-yard pass completion. The Bison were called for pass interference on the next play, putting the ball at the NDSU 39-yard line.
The Bearkats were showing signs they could play with the Bison. On their first possession, they had reached the NDSU 9 and they were driving again.
Bridges snatched any hope away, jumping Stewart's route and intercepting quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe. Bruce Anderson scored on a 62-yard run on the next play and the Bison scored 34 unanswered points to close the half up 41-3.
"He has unbelievable ball skills," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said of Bridges. "In a game like this there's going to be a lot of 50-50 balls. He had to be able to make some plays. He has great leaping ability, good hand-eye coordination. The first one obviously was really big because it got us momentum and got the ball on a short field for us. He's just a competitor and that's what I really appreciate about Marquise."
Sam Houston's Stewart entered Friday's game with 67 catches for 1,568 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. Bridges was draped over him all night, and if it weren't for Bridges' pass deflection falling into his hands in the end zone, Stewart would have had a pretty silent night. Bridges ended his night loudly with an interception in his own end zone in the fourth quarter.
"Nobody likes it on the bench, so I was just trying to learn from the other guys," Bridges said about the position switch. "The most difficult part was just trying to catch up. Everything else just took care of itself."
The Bison will probably need Bridges in the championship game, as starting cornerbacks Jaylaan Wimbush and Jalen Allison both suffered knee injuries in the first half of Friday's game. On a Tre Dempsey interception return, a Sam Houston State player dove at Allison's legs. Allison spent the rest of the game on crutches.
Dempsey was visibly upset on the field, needing to be restrained by his teammates.
"When he dove at his legs I was already running out of bounds," Dempsey said.
Wimbush was on the sideline with ice and a brace on his right knee for the final three quarters.
"Lost both corners, lost (running back) Ty Brooks)," Klieman said. "We'll find out, probably not good on all three."
Before it was for playing time, but now Bridges has another reason to step up in a new role for the Bison.
"That's all this is about, the seniors," Bridges said. "That's all this is about. ... Everything we do is for them from now on."