Looking Back at What Culminated in 2011 That Sparked a Dynasty
Preston Evans played middle linebacker for the Bison for four years. From 2008 to 2011, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native has seen the NDSU program at it’s worst and has seen it shine brightly on the Football Championship Subdivision’s highest stage. He, along with other 11 seniors that spent their entire careers at North Dakota State, knows how the foundation for five national championships was built. So who better to ask about how a football dynasty was ignited?
Editor’s Note: Part 2 coming Feb. 17.
How do you transform a defense that allowed over 28 points a game in 2009 to giving up just over 12 in 2011? Look no further than defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. “Coach Haze” as his players called him, took over the defensive coordinator position in 2010 after serving three years as the defensive line coach. The former NDSU graduate assistant turned around the defense his first year at the helm. In 2010, the defense ranked seventh nationally, allowing 18.2 points per game.
Preston Evans was a starting linebacker before Haze took over the play calling. He saw the defense favoring their d-line coach more as the dreadful 2009 season carried on. It all started in a meeting before the South Dakota State game.
“We had these defensive meetings that are usually long,” Evans explained. “It was the coach (defensive coordinator) who came in for 15 minutes and went over a couple plays and then he just walked out without really saying anything to us. Haze stopped everyone from leaving. Haze gets up in front of the room and just tells this story.”
Haze started talking about the Pacific theater during World War II. Japan would hold control of an island and then the U.S. would come in, liberate it, and move on to the next Japanese-controlled island. Essentially, the moral of the story was to keep climbing the mountain, no matter where you start.
“We had lost to SDSU two years in a row, and Haze gets up there and just gives us this electrifying speech,” said Evans. “And then he’s like, ‘I want to go back up that [expletive deleted] mountain.’ He starts yelling and I was like, oh, man we’re about to win tomorrow (laughs).”
The Bison did not win against South Dakota State in 2009, but Evans and many others say that was the turning point, at least mentally, and when NDSU started to believe in its future defensive coordinator.
Bohl promoted Haze the next offseason and the defense’s new mindset began showing on the field.
The 2010 season began on the right foot with the Bison going into Kansas and defeating their first of six FBS opponents in a row. The Bison ended the regular season 7-4 and limped into its first FCS playoff after losing the last game to Missouri State.
The Bison beat Robert Morris in the first round 43-17 and then went into Bozeman, Montana, and knocked off the fourth-seeded Montana State Bobcats, 42-17. But the magic from NDSU’s first FCS playoff trip was about to be tested in Cheney, Washington, in a game against the No. 1 seed.
The Bison would spot Eastern Washington 14 points in the first half of the quarterfinals. With the help of a defensive touchdown by freshman Marcus Williams and a pair of touchdowns by junior running back D.J. McNorton, the Bison climbed their way back and sent the game into overtime.
Overtime ended on a controversial fumble at the goal line by freshman quarterback Brock Jensen. The Bison lost, but the future was as bright as the floodlights gazing down on “The Inferno” field in Eastern Washington.
“It probably would’ve ruined us if we would’ve won it that year,” Preston Evans said. “I just remember being in that game and finishing it out and I was like, ‘This is what it’s (the playoffs) like?’ I don’t want to say it wasn’t easy because it’s not easy, but you get into the playoffs, and you’re like, ‘Is that it? Oh, we can do this.’”
Evans and the Bison learned that night they were capable of playing with the best teams in the FCS. The competition they saw in the Missouri Valley Football Conference year after year was preparing them for what was to come.
“I just remember being really hungry for a national championship after that,” Evans said.
Continue to Part 2.