When playing in the most important games of your season, you expect your stars to shine. So will be the case when North Dakota State and New Hampshire meet for their FCS semifinal matchup.
It should be a close game, with Dave Kolpack of the Associated Press noting how similar the two teams are:
Those elements include stingy defense — NDSU is No. 1 in FCS in fewest points allowed per game and New Hampshire is No. 14 — and offenses that are effective, if not flashy.
The teams have been known to grind down their opponents, especially the Bison. NDSU has held 12 of its 13 opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter.
With the game being played in Fargo, N.H., head coach Sean McDonnell noted how the home crowd will play a factor in the game. Per the Concord Monitor's Tim O'Sullivan, he said, "Our kids are not going to forget the noise and the environment they’re going to be in because it’s so intimate, so up close and personal that you can’t replicate anything close."
In order to overcome the home-field advantage in the Fargodome, McDonnell will expect his playmakers to show up. It's much the same for North Dakota State, as the Bison look for their third straight FCS title.
Among the stars for both these schools, these four players will play the biggest roles in their team's success.
North Dakota State
Brock Jensen, QB
Many college football fans will recognize Brock Jensen from the Bison's win over Kansas State early in the season. The senior quarterback went 21-of-30 for 165 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He engineered the final scoring drive of the game that put North Dakota State up 24-21 with 28 seconds left.
It was a performance that led Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder to write a note congratulating Jensen on his win.
In North Dakota State's 48-14 win over Coastal Carolina, Jensen threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns while completing 14 of his 21 passes.
Jensen isn't the kind of quarterback who puts up gaudy statistics, but his ability to manage a game has gotten the Bison this far. If they want to win the national title, he'll have to make sure to limit turnovers and move the football.
Sam Ojuri, RB
Sam Ojuri is one of two 1,000-yard rushers on North Dakota State. He leads the team with 1,266 yards, while John Crockett is in second with 1,023. Between the two, it's Ojuri who'll play the bigger role. He's more of the home-run hitter, while Crockett is the more physical inside runner.
Last week, Ojuri was splendid against the Chanticleers, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns on two carries.
Much of North Dakota State's offensive success is predicated on Ojuri getting positive yardage. If New Hampshire can slow him down, the Bison will be in trouble.
Akil Anderson, LB
New Hampshire won't want to turn this into a shootout. The Wildcats rank 32nd in scoring, while the Bison are up at 14. The defense must disrupt Jensen and the passing game and limit Ojuri on the ground.
In order to make that happen, Akil Anderson must continue leading the Wildcats defense. The sophomore linebacker is first on the team in tackles and tackles for loss and second in sacks. Anderson has been the tone-setter all season for this unit.
Having him pressure Jensen and shut down Ojuri in the backfield would severely hamper the Bison offense.
Justin Mello, WR
In order to beat North Dakota State, the Wildcats will need their fair share of big plays. When playing a better team, it's important to have one or two long touchdowns, as it helps to build momentum and level the playing field.
When it comes to the passing game, Justin Mello will be counted upon to provide the big plays.
The senior wideout leads the team in receiving yards (1,020), touchdowns (10) and yards per reception (14.4). If he can get space in the secondary, the Bison will have all kinds of problems reining him in.