FRISCO, Texas – Carson Wentz got one more game as North Dakota’s quarterback before the NFL draft – and another FCS title.
A potential first-round pick, Carson threw for a touchdown and ran for two more scores in his first game since breaking his right wrist in mid-October, and the Bison won their unprecedented fifth consecutive FCS championship with a 37-10 victory Saturday over top-seeded Jacksonville State.
“I felt good. I felt good for the last couple weeks now. That kind of showed a little today,” said Wentz, a two-time champion after Brock Jensen won three in a row for the Bison. “The rust people might have wanted to talk about it, that didn’t show.”
Five days after a CT scan showed his wrist was completely healed, Wentz was 16 of 29 for 197 yards with two interceptions. He accounted for two touchdowns in an 86-second span early in the second quarter.
“So happy for Carson to come in and play the way he did,” coach Chris Klieman said. “A lot of people may have questioned if he was going to be rusty. I didn’t question it at all. I know what kind of competitor he is. I know what kind of player he is.”
The Bison (13-2) won their 20th consecutive playoff game, including all five times they have made the trip from Fargo to Frisco for the title game at a professional soccer stadium. Fans clad in green and gold made up a majority of the stadium-record crowd of 21,836 – and stormed the field to celebrate once again.
Jacksonville State (13-2) was playing in the title game for the first time. It had won 12 games in a row since an overtime loss Sept. 12 at Auburn, one of the two SEC teams from its home state of Alabama. The other, the Crimson Tide, plays No. 1 Clemson on Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game.
The Gamecocks were held to a season-low 204 total yards, 325 less than their average and 181 less than their previous season low. North Dakota State held all four of its playoff opponents to well less than their season averages, but this was the most dominant.
“It was not our best day, of course,” JSU coach John Grass said. “But take my hat off to North Dakota State. They played a great game. We just didn’t give them a good game today.”
Eli Jenkins, the dual-threat quarterback for the Gamecocks, finished 7-of-20 passing for 57 yards with two interceptions, and ran 15 times for 88 yards and their only touchdown.
“We needed to hop up him early and try to get him off schedule and stop the run game. So, that was huge,” said middle linebacker Nick DeLuca, who had nine tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
Cam Pedersen had field goals of 29, 31 and 38 yards for North Dakota State after making only 1 of 7 attempts the first three playoff games.
There were seven turnovers in the game, including three consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter that ended any chance of a Jacksonville State rally.
Jenkins fumbled at the end of a run before Easton Stick, a redshirt freshman who had won all eight games starting in place of Wentz, threw an interception on his first play in the game. But Jacksonville State gave it right back when Jenkins threw an interception, leading to a 1-yard TD keeper by Wentz for a 34-10 lead.
Northwest Missouri State last month won its fifth NCAA Division II championship, matching the record number of titles North Dakota State won at that level before moving up to Division I in 2004. But the Bearcats’ titles have come since 1998, and only once have they won consecutive championships – 1998 and 1999.
Mount Union this season won its NCAA-best 12th title in Division III since 1993, but its longest streak was three in a row. The most consecutive titles at that level were four by Augustana from Illinois (1983-86).
But none can match the Bison’s streak of five in a row.
“I can’t put it into words. It’s remarkable what these guys have done,” Klieman said. “We meet every January and talk about staying hungry.”
Pedersen’s 29-yard kick ended a game-opening 15-play drive. It was 17-0 early in the second quarter after Wentz threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Bonnet and then after an interception by DeLuca ran for an 11-yard score, shaking off a defender and getting to the sideline before planting his foot near the 3 and diving into the end zone.
“I was fired up all day to be out there,” Wentz said. “It was just a lot of fun.”
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