Feature photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
After NDSU won its sixth FCS national title in seven years, head coach Chris Klieman joked at the postgame press conference that people in his and Courtney Messingham’s circle told the first-year offensive coordinator during the season to not screw it up. Klieman and Messingham grew up together in Waterloo, Iowa, which is also the hometown of defensive coordinator Matt Entz.
Klieman turned to his longtime friend when the offensive coordinator position became open in February. Messingham knew he was entering a program with an outrageous amount of expectations. With his new wrinkles added to the West Coast Offense, the unit tied the 2013 Bison team for most points per game (38.7) since the run of FCS national titles started in 2011. That number ranked NDSU second in the subdivision.
“It was a fun season,” Messingham said. “Our guys really stayed in focus. We had some adversity during the year with injuries and then getting beat. But then I thought we focused well, especially during the playoffs. Our guys just play hard and continually give themselves a chance to be successful.”
Messingham came to NDSU with 27 years of coaching experience, making several stops throughout all divisions of college football. He came to a program not only expecting to compete for national championships, but to win them. And he got his first ring and was able to celebrate it with childhood friends.
“I think there is a bond there,” Messingham said. “As much as anything, not so much that we’re all from Waterloo but the fact that we’ve known each other for so long. I’ve known coach Klieman since I’ve been in fifth grade and I’ve known coach Entz since he was in sixth grade. All of us know how much hard work is put in and the time and effort there is by the players. When it all comes together and you have an opportunity to win a national championship, it’s pretty special.”
His offense was tested in the second half of the title game against James Madison. After 17 first-half points, the Bison were held scoreless after halftime as the Dukes mounted a comeback. But the offense did just enough to extend drives and give the defense a chance to get stops.
“My mindset to him was to make sure he understood we all believed in him and we all truly believe he’s the best quarterback in the country.” – Courtney Messingham
“I talked to the running backs and really our whole staff about just taking care of the football,” Messingham said. “The main key was, do not turn it over. Don’t give them short field opportunities because our defense was playing lights out. I don’t know if I wanted to finish the day with only 17 points, but I truly felt if we don’t turn the football over, we have a fighting chance to win with just 17.”
Besides that second half, the Bison were explosive all postseason, averaging 45 points in the second round, quarterfinal and semifinal games. NDSU answered any questions critics had after its only loss of the season at South Dakota State where the Bison turned the ball over five times, including three Easton Stick interceptions.
The Bison rallied after that, finishing No. 10 nationally in third-down conversion percentage (.465), No. 5 in first downs (318), No. 5 in time of possession (33:00), No. 4 in rushing offense (272.2 YPG) and No. 12 in total offense (448.9 YPG).
“(Easton’s) mindset was, go attack the process,” Messingham said on the Monday after the SDSU loss. “My mindset to him was to make sure he understood we all believed in him and we all truly believe he’s the best quarterback in the country. He’s all about winning and we knew he’d bounce back and he did.”
Bison Illustrated: On Darrius Shepherd’s 50-yard touchdown catch to go up 14-3, did your eyes light up in the booth when you saw how the defense was aligned?
Courtney Messingham: “Yeah, as soon as we lined up in the formation and saw the coverage they were going to play, the only concern there at all was the field corner. If he played man coverage on the outside receiver, then we knew we had a good chance that Shep would be open.”
BI: You also coach the running backs, so how great was it to have Lance Dunn back out there for you when calling plays?
CM: “It was great for him to have the opportunity to play. He started out the year playing extremely well and was unfortunate to have the injury. For us, to have the opportunity to get him back on the field and have him be a big part of it was awesome.”
BI: What was the discussion like on that last play when Easton ran backward to run out the clock?
CM: “We went from are we going to run a base play and make sure we extend the play long enough so the four seconds run out? Or are we just going to block up front and let him run backward and run the clock out? Obviously, we decided at the end to just let him run around out there.”