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Allen Lessels's UNH Notebook: Wildcat pride until the end
Dakota State Bison running back Chase Morlock (25) is tackled by New Hampshire Wildcats safety Hayden Knudson (46) during the fourth quarter at FargoDome. North Dakota State defeated New Hampshire 52-14. : (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports)
North Dakota State University, the two-time defending FCS champion, was putting the finishing touches on yet another impressive win and well on its way to a third straight appearance in the national title game.
The Wildcat offense drove to the Bison 1-yard line in the closing minutes and the battle was on.
The Bison defense stuffed senior running back Chris Setian for no gain. Then it stuffed sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich for no gain.
It set the final margin at way too much to way too little - 52-14 - but constituted a small victory for the Wildcats.
The offense had pushed in its only touchdown of the day against a smothering North Dakota State defense. Remarkably, the Bison had allowed only one other fourth-quarter touchdown all season.
They took pride in the way they rallied after losing three of their first four games. Took pride in the way that rally and winning six of their last seven games earned them a spot in the FCS playoffs for a nation's best 10 straight years, a streak that was in serious jeopardy in early October.
They followed up with a 45-7 win in the quarterfinals at Southeastern Louisiana last week to advance to the semifinals for the first time.
The Bison rocked the Wildcats.
The NDSU defense gave Goldrich, the running backs and receivers little room to operate. The Wildcats turned the ball over three times, twice on Goldrich interceptions and another time when the crowd noise harried the quarterback and he was unable to handle a center snap and the resulting fumble was returned 7 yards for a touchdown.
The Wildcats managed only 184 yards of offense - way off their average of 450 yards and their previous low this season of 312, also against William & Mary.
The success was short-lived, and the Bison started picking up a lot of yards, large chunks at a time.
"They haven't lost a game in nearly two seasons for a reason," DeAndrade said. "I think what we had to do was not make mistakes and we made them. We kind of had to play not perfect football, but close to it."
The Bison won their 23th straight overall, improved to 14-0 and now move on to Frisco, Texas, to play the winner of Saturday's Towson at Eastern Washington semifinal contest in the championship game on Saturday, Jan. 4.
"We always go into the season knowing it's tradition to make the playoffs at UNH," O'Neill said. "We got past the quarterfinal hump. It sets a new standard for the football team and that's what we're always trying to do. We're trying to raise the bar and I guess the next step is to make it back to the semifinals for these next guys and actually get to the national championship."
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