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Six years later, Bison want payback for playoff loss to EWU

They haven’t forgotten.

North Dakota State has won five straight national titles, but Bison fans believe they were cheated out of a possible sixth on a snowy day in Cheney a half dozen years ago.

That scab was scratched again this week, as NDSU fans relived the infamy on social media ahead of Saturday’s long-awaited home game against Eastern Washington.

This will be only their second meeting. Everyone remembers the first; that was Eastern’s dramatic playoff win in 2010, which wasn’t decided until NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen fumbled at the goal line in overtime and the Eagles’ Zach Johnson recovered.

But was Jensen’s knee down before the fumble? After long deliberation, officials said no.

Final score: Eastern 38, NDSU 31. Six weeks later, the Eagles went on to win the FCS national title.

The echoes of controversy surely will reverberate Saturday throughout the 18,700-seat Fargo Dome as both teams figure they have something to prove.

Eighth-ranked Eastern wants to show that last week’s 45-42 win at Washington State was no fluke; No. 1 NDSU wants to prove that a lackluster overtime win over Charleston Southern was merely an aberration.

And that’s the point: not a single player on either team was in uniform back in 2010. Heck, Eastern cornerback Nzuzi Webster was in junior high at the time.

Blissfully ignorant of history, Webster was focused only on NDSU’s power-I formation.

“You don’t usually see that,” Webster said.

For the players, that figures to be the focus of Saturday’s game: Can the Eagles offense blunt NDSU’s running game and get off the field?

Lost in the euphoria of the win over WSU was the fact that the Eagles gave up almost 6 yards a carry to the Cougar running backs, and that WSU was 7 for 12 on third down, continuing an unwelcome trend from last year.

A big priority will be slowing running back King Frazier, last year’s top rusher with 5.3 yards per carry and 1,158 overall. The Eagles also must account for mobile quarterback Easton Stick; that wasn’t a problem last week against Luke Falk.

“We’ve got to reset, because it’s a different animal with their power running game,” EWU linebacker Miquiyah Zamora said. “This really makes you get on your toes.”

Forcing punts will be the priority against an NDSU offense that led the FCS last year in time of possession. Expect the Bison to try to limit the chances for Eastern’s nation-leading passing offense.

Last week, quarterback Gage Gubrud had the best first start in school history, going 34 for 40 with 474 yards and five touchdowns. Reigning FCS Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp caught three of those TD passes and finished with 12 grabs for 206 yards.

“Kupp is a phenomenal player – we’ll have our hands full,” said NDSU coach Chris Klieman, who’s breaking in some young cornerbacks.

Notes

The Bison are 49-4 at home since 2010, and have won 52 of 53 nonconference games in the FargoDome with a current streak of 43 since a loss to UC Davis in 2003. … EWU nose tackle Matt Sommer is listed as questionable after missing the WSU game with a knee injury.

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