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Eastern Washington, North Dakota State haven’t forgotten epic 2010 playoff game

Eastern Washington University celebrates a recovered fumble and the win after North Dakota State lost the ball on the goal line in overtime, Saturday, December 11, 2010, in Cheney, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington University celebrates a recovered fumble and the win after North Dakota State lost the ball on the goal line in overtime, Saturday, December 11, 2010, in Cheney, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Seven years later, it’s still a fumble.

North Dakota State football fans will get another poignant reminder of that fact on Saturday, when the Bison visit Eastern Washington for the first time in almost seven years.

Literally and figuratively, the Bison fans will see red: the bright turf of Roos Field and the sign on the press box that reads “2010 National Champions.”

The Bison later won five straight FCC titles, but that game in Cheney will always be the one that got away. The NDSU fan forums were still full of revenge talk when the teams met last year in Fargo.

Regardless of the outcome, this year’s game should help most folks come full circle, with closure for NDSU fans and some happy reminiscences for the Eagles.

Eastern earned that national title over the course of 13 games, but few were bigger than the FCS quarterfinal on at snowy Roos Field on Dec. 11 of that year.

Back and forth went the Eagles and the Bison until the Eagles marched 90 yards to force overtime. Eastern scored first in the extra period to take a 38-31 lead, then tried to hold on as North Dakota State was poised to tie.

On second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Bison quarterback Brock Jensen pivoted, saw an opening and went straight ahead. He was met at the 3 by linebacker J.C. Sherritt and safety Allen Brown, then stretched for the goal as he fell to the icy turf.

That’s when the ball came loose, bounced into the end zone and into the arms of linebacker Zach Johnson.

But did Jensen’s knee hit the turf before the ball came out? Eastern’s celebration halted as officials pondered that question. A few minutes later, the fumble call was confirmed and the celebration was on.

Eastern went on to beat Villanova in the semifinals and then edged Delaware 20-19 for the title.

“That’s the one thing about our guys,” then-EWU coach Beau Baldwin said after the game. “No matter how bad it’s going, or how bad things look, to them it’s all history. It’s always in the past.

“They always think about the next situation that’s coming up and embrace the moment – which is what they did again today.”

No one has forgotten.

Before a recent Canadian Football League game between Ottawa and Edmonton, Jensen approached Sherritt and reminisced.

“We didn’t talk specifically about that play, but Brock came up to me and said you broke my heart,” Sherritt said. “But he has more rings, so we called it even.”

The Bison learned a lesson: that offense alone won’t win a championship. Barely a year later, NDSU beat Sam Houston State 17-6 to win its first FCS title.

It was the first of five straight for the Bison, whose combination of balanced offense and run-throttling defense has been an almost unbeatable combination. NDSU’s overall record since 2010 is 84-11 going into Saturday’s game.

Meanwhile, Eastern has won four Big Sky Conference titles and three times reached the FCS semifinals, but the Eagles haven’t been back to Frisco since that magical year.

“But that’s always the goal,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said.

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