Brian Shawn is the play-by-play man for KVLY’s broadcast of Bison football home games. He’s followed the 2014 Bison just as close as anybody. We asked him to sift through the entire season to find his top moments that lifted the Bison to its fourth straight FCS title. Here’s what he highlighted.
#5 – 34 Straight Points In The victory At Iowa State
Even the die-hard Bison fans had to wonder if the magic was gone when NDSU fell behind 14-0 on the road with some players on the field playing significant reps for the first time in their careers. But a John Crockett 80-yard touchdown run took the momentum and the Bison rolled to a 20-point road victory over another Big 12 opponent.
#4 – Fourth Quarter Rally At Western Illinois
This game is rarely talked about, but in my eyes, it was a critical piece towards building the 2014 title run. Teams are not going to play their best every single week, but great teams find ways to win ugly games, especially on the road. If the Bison didn’t storm back to eek one out in Macomb, Ill., over the Leathernecks, home field advantage in the playoffs would likely not have happened. That was a gutty performance and was important for the confidence of players having to step up in critical situations.
#3 – Carson Wentz Emerges And Bison Beat Jacks In Playoffs
Beating a team twice in the same season is difficult and beating your rival twice in the same season is an even bigger challenge. I still don’t like how the NCAA factors distance and “regionalization” in the playoff field, but the Bison didn’t complain about it. They knew it was going to be a 60-minute war and it was. The game was also the first time the spotlight was squarely on junior quarterback Carson Wentz. Yes, he was battle tested, but he was not put in a position to have to win a game in the final minute until that point. The moment was not too big for him and his mental toughness was front and center for all to see.
#2 – Defensive Dominance Vs. Sam Houston State
A week after giving up a season-high 32 points to Coastal Carolina in the FCS Quarterfinals, concerns and question marks swirled around an NDSU defense that all fans expected to dominate against every single offense it sees. Sam Houston State came into the semifinals gashing teams on the ground and making explosive plays in the passing game. You could tell the Bison defensive players were sick of hearing it. The group combined for 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and an interception. They played fast and hit with authority. Shutting down that attack in the first half in particular was important until the offense got rolling in the third quarter.
#1 – Bison Culture Wins Fourth Consecutive Title
Adversity strikes every team at some point, but winning close games when the stakes are high takes leadership, belief and trust. There are new players, new coaches, a new athletic director, but the success continues. More importantly, the culture continues. A lot of programs claim to have tradition, but very few truly have it. NDSU is one of the few that really has it. On the stage after the win over Illinois State, the celebration, the sheer joy, the relief, the journey meant so much to so many people. It’s historical and I feel lucky that I have had the chance to witness it.
A Switch in 2015
In 2014, most of the experience returning came on the defensive side of the ball, but it will be the exact opposite in 2015. With Zach Vraa coming back for a sixth year, the offense will have many familiar faces back on the offensive line and wide receiver. King Frazier, Chase Morlock and redshirt Lance Dunn will have to fill the shoes of John Crockett, which certainly won’t be easy, but the defense will have to rely on some players that have not seen a lot of significant games reps. It will be exciting to watch new guys on defense emerge and it should provide some great competition at the linebacker and safety position. There are capable and talented players there, but who will stand out? That remains to be seen.