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North Dakota State Beats James Madison 28-20 for 3rd Straight FCS Championship

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2020

North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance (5) runs the ball as James Madison safety D'Angelo Amos (24) pursues during the first half of the FCS championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)
Sam Hodde/Associated Press

The top-seeded North Dakota State Bison defeated the No. 2 James Madison Dukes 28-20 on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, to win the 2019-20 FCS National Championship Game.

With the win, NDSU completed its second consecutive undefeated campaign and continued its dominance over the FCS by winning its eighth national title in the past nine seasons. Meanwhile, James Madison lost to North Dakota State in the National Championship Game for the second time in three years.

One day after NDSU quarterback Trey Lance became the first freshman to win the FCS equivalent to the Heisman Trophy—the Walter Payton Award—he led the Bison to victory thanks largely to his legs.

North Dakota State rushed for 281 yards as a team in the win, and it held the Dukes to 365 total yards.

The Bison defense made the pivotal play of the game as well with safety James Hendricks intercepting James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci at the goal line in the closing seconds to secure the win.

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

The final moments on a Bison Victory!! #FCSChampionship https://t.co/9MzzyvumUq

         

Notable Stats

Trey Lance, QB, NDSU: 6-of-10 for 72 YDS; 30 CAR for 166 YDS and 1 TD

Adam Cofield, RB, NDSU: 7 CAR for 24 YDS and 1 TD

Phoenix Sproles, WR, NDSU: 1 CAR for 38 YDS and 1 TD; 1 REC for 13 YDS

Ben DiNucci, QB, JMU: 22-of-33 for 204 YDS, 2 TD and 1 INT

Percy Agyei-Obese, RB, JMU: 18 CAR for 73 YDS

Riley Stapleton, WR, JMU: 10 REC for 100 YDS and 2 TD

             

Lance Dazzles on National Stage as Bison Win 8th National Title

Despite NDSU's dominance for nearly a decade, James Madison entered Saturday's game as a slight favorite, and it was expected to be a tightly contested affair.

That is primarily because the Bison and Dukes boasted two of the best defenses in FCS this season, per ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The FCS National Championship Game takes place on Saturday (Noon ET, ABC) as North Dakota State - winners of an FCS record 36 straight games - goes for a 3rd straight title when they face James Madison. NDSU is 1st in FCS in scoring defense, while JMU is 1st in total defense. https://t.co/QryHGUZvNe

The defensive excellence wasn't on full display in the early going, as JMU bled 7:33 off the clock on its first drive, which lasted 17 plays and 86 yards, and concluded with a five-yard touchdown pass from DiNucci to Riley Stapleton:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

The Dukes drive their way into the end zone first!! TOUCHDOWN @JMUFootball 👑 #FCSChampionship Q1 | (2) JAMES MADISON 7 | (1) NORTH DAKOTA ST. 0 https://t.co/oJkNteHEXv

James Madison made a big-time statement on that drive, which meant the Bison needed to answer in impressive fashion.

They did precisely that, as Lance orchestrated a 70-yard drive in less than four minutes. After Lance set the Bison up on the 1-yard line with a 13-yard run, Adam Cofield punched it in from one yard out to tie the game:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

The Bison bounce back 🤘🤘 #FCSChampionship Q1 | (2) JAMES MADISON 7 | (1) NORTH DAKOTA ST. 7 https://t.co/VwLHGdNQiQ

North Dakota State struck again on its next drive after forcing James Madison to punt, and it didn't take the Bison long to assume the lead.

After a pass interference call and a 14-yard run by Lance set the Bison up in JMU territory, NDSU used some razzle dazzle, as wide receiver Phoenix Sproles scored on a 38-yard reverse that saw him fake the pitch:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

Phoenix Sproles rushes for 38 yards and it's another touchdown for the Bison!! #FCSChampionship Q2 | (2) JAMES MADISON 7 | (1) NORTH DAKOTA ST. 14 https://t.co/tSphLYL9k9

James Madison did manage to answer with a field goal to cut the deficit to four, but it was the Bison who entered halftime with momentum on their side.

The Dukes thought they executed a huge third-down stop late in the half, but NDSU outsmarted James Madison again with a fake field goal that saw Hendricks rush for a 20-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 11:

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

The gamble pays off 🏃‍♂️💨 NDSU brought out the fake field goal during the FCS Championship game! https://t.co/EmKlGSzpiM

While the total yardage numbers were comparable in the first half and the numbers didn't indicate that North Dakota State should have a two-score lead, first-year head coach Matt Entz's willingness to call some trick plays were the difference.

Lance's ability to do damage with his legs also played a big role in NDSU's early success, including this run, which saw him plow through the entire JMU defense and give his team a ton of energy:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

Not even a herd can stop Trey Lance 🤘 #FCSChampionship https://t.co/xPaDeB72Tp

As pointed out by Bob Grebe of WHSV, James Madison didn't have the defensive game plan it needed to keep Lance in check from a running perspective:

Bob Grebe WHSV @WHSVBobGrebe

JMU blitz, miss the sack, Trey Lance scrambles for a first down Rinse, repeat. If you're going to rush you have to get him on the ground

That seemingly began to change in the third quarter, as James Madison held North Dakota State scoreless and kicked a field goal to pull to within eight points.

Just when it looked like the Dukes were trending in the right direction, though, Lance made another highlight-reel play on a 44-yard touchdown run in the opening second of the fourth quarter to give NDSU a 15-point advantage:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

He just felt like running 🏃‍♂️💨 #FCSChampionship https://t.co/xIW5Zq3zSF

It would have been easy for James Madison to pack it in against a top-flight defense at that point, but the Dukes continued to fight. They cut the lead back down to eight on another five-yard touchdown pass from DiNucci to Stapleton with 6:55 remaining.

The key play on that drive was conversion by DiNucci on a 4th-and-6 that saw him lower his head and bowl over a defender on a six-yard run:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

When you have to do it yourself 💁‍♂️ Ben DiNucci does it! #FCSChampionship https://t.co/hzO2btldCJ

North Dakota State had a chance to essentially put the game away on the ensuing drive, but the Dukes stopped the Bison on a 4th-and-2 and took control of the ball at their own 37 with 2:40 remaining.

JMU got the ball all the way down to the NDSU 3-yard line, but DiNucci was intercepted by Hendricks, who scored a rushing touchdown earlier in the game, which sealed the win for the Bison.

Lance wasn't asked to do much through the air, but he carries the NDSU offense with his legs and finished the season with no interceptions in 16 games, while the Bison defense came through in the clutch as well.

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