Photo By Bruce Crummy
Ater North Dakota State beat UC Davis 27–16 in a contest of Top 5 teams at the Fargodome in September, improving their record to 4 – 0, Bison head coach Matt Entz was asked if he was concerned that the Aggies piled up 422 yards. To a former defensive coordinator and fierce competitor, you might as well have waved the red flag in front of the bull.
“I’m not even going to worry about it. Last time I checked, nobody gets bonus points for yards gained,” said Entz. In the only statistic or analytic that matters, NDSU’s Code Green defense kept the high-flying UC-Davis offense mostly grounded. The Bison held the Aggies All-American quarterback Jake Maier to a single touchdown. They also picked him off three times.
Do you want to talk style points? Give me that ratio any day of the week, against any quarterback, especially a supposed Walter Payton candidate. That math is pretty simple. For every touchdown Maier threw, the Bison picked him off three times. “It’s all about the 16 points.”
Here’s even simpler math. 27 points is greater than 16 points. It’s a pattern NDSU has mastered in tough games. In the 2017 regular-season finale, the Bison won a slugfest 20–7 at Illinois State in driving sleet and snow. Nursing a six-point lead in the final minutes, Easton Stick plowed through the conditions for 56 yards to set up the game-clinching score. That game was anything but style points, but it guaranteed NDSU home-field advantage in the Fargodome during the playoffs.
Last fall, on an afternoon where the Bison offense couldn’t find its rhythm against Youngstown State, the defense froze out the Penguins at every turn in a 17–7 win. There were no style points that day, just one of many hardhat and lunch pail performances over the course of the last eight years for NDSU. Eight years with seven national championship banners.
Mark Packer, the host of the “Off Campus” radio program on SiriusXM 84, an authoritative and well-respected voice among knowledgeable college football fans, said on his daily show following the UC Davis game that nobody closes out games like the Bison. Packer is right. You can keep your style points, thank you very much. In football currency, real football currency, where you measure success by wins and losses – and in NDSU’s case, championships – style points don’t matter. Closing games does. And like Packer says, nobody closes out games like the Bison.
When the game was on the line against the Aggies, those 422 yards didn’t mean a thing. It was Michael Tutsie, Cole Karcz and Trey Lance making the plays that counted – Tutsie and Karcz with those key fourth-quarter interceptions, and Lance’s bulldozing touchdown that iced the victory. That’s how you close a football game and secure the win.
“We’re trying to figure out who we are. I challenge our guys every day that the first team that’ll beat us will be ourselves,” said Entz. NDSU will be tested, as they always are, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. In the first five conference games, the Bison face three teams ranked in the Top 20 on the road, number eight Illinois State, number three South Dakota State and number 20 Youngstown State, and see another Top 10 team at home in number seven Northern Iowa. “We have to continue to get better as we’re going into the toughest part of our schedule right now, going into the Missouri Valley,” Entz said.
I’ve never understood fans or commentators that talk about “winning ugly.” That is an oxymoron if there ever was one. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines oxymoron as “a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (such as cruel kindness).” Winning is contradictory to ugly. In my mind, there is no such thing as winning ugly.
The legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Chuck Knoll, once said, “The critics are always right. The only way you shut them up is by winning.” It’s a good thing Knoll, who won four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers and is in the NFL Hall of Fame, wasn’t coaching in the Twitter Age. Yes, we’re in a golden era where buffoonery and jackassery of the online sage is the norm, and instant analysts decry outcomes where their favored team doesn’t put up a video game-esque 56-3 beat down on the opponent.
“Yah, the Bison won the game, but those dropped passes,” or, “Davis was throwing the ball and burning us all day long.” You can sail those sentiments right down the river Styx along with your style points.
To borrow a page of coaching scripture from the iconic man in that checkered houndstooth hat, Mr. Paul “Bear” Bryant, “Winning isn’t everything, but it beats anything that comes in second.” You get an amen from this congregation on that. Ask those teams that hung in there with the Bison, like UC Davis, who get style points from poll voters for simply keeping it within two touchdowns of the champs, if losing feels any better because they gave the Bison a “competitive” game.
Or how about James Madison? A team that has gotten more mileage out of beating the Bison that one time in the Fargodome. You can give them, as some voters do, all the style points in the world. We’ll take the championships and trips to Frisco. When you mention the Dukes, it’s always in the same breath of them being the only team that was the briefest of hiccups in the Bison Dynasty. How’s that for style points?
Appreciate the wins, friends, because they ain’t easy, and any college football fan not cheering for Alabama or Clemson would trade their best Sunday britches for the success we have enjoyed as Bison fans (even JMU fans). Anyone complaining about a win, keep your style points, I like the national championship trophies better anyway.
Everybody up for the kickoff, the march is on!