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Key defensive stops propel NDSU into semifinals

Good teams find ways to win no matter what.

For North Dakota State, the defending FCS national champion, it might not have been the prettiest of wins, but when a team has a superb defense, it doesn't matter.

NDSU allowed 362 yards of offense, including 262 on the ground, but the Bison stopped the Terriers when it counted most late in the second half to hold on for a 14-7 victory in a national quarterfinal before 18,267 at the Fargodome Saturday.

The No. 1-seeded Bison (12-1) didn't allow an offensive touchdown, forced two turnovers and blocked a field goal in the win. Linebacker Grant Olson had a truly historic performance, setting a new school record with 29 tackles - topping a previous NDSU record of 26 set in 1989.

Running back Sam Ojuri and receiver Zach Vraa each scored a touchdown in the first half and the NDSU defense stopped Wofford twice in the fourth quarter, spearheading the victory.

Coach Craig Bohl's squad will host fifth-seeded Georgia Southern (10-3) next weekend in the semifinals. It will be a rematch of a semifinal last season when the Bison won, 35-7, in Fargo.

Wofford (9-4) missed two golden opportunities in the second half which ultimately cost the team the game.

The first, which started late in the third quarter and went into the start of the fourth, occurred after NDSU running back John Crockett fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Wofford's Stephon Shelton.

The Terriers drove down into NDSU territory, converting a 4th-and-8 and a 4th- and-4 along the way. However, coach Mike Ayers decided to settle for a field goal and place-kicker Kasey Redfern's 26-yard attempt was partially blocked by Anthony LaVoy with 11:44 remaining, keeping the Bison lead at 14-7.

Wofford's defense played exceptional as well, limiting the Bison to 262 yards of offense and only 95 passing yards. The unit came up big again, forcing a North Dakota State punt following the missed field goal.

Wofford got the ball back at their 30-yard line and methodically drove down the field, getting all the way down inside the Bison 10-yard line. Facing a 4th-and-3 at the NDSU 7, Donovan Johnson was stuffed - fittingly by Olson - and NDSU survived the scare.

Wofford fullback and Walter Payton Award finalist Eric Breitenstein, playing in his final collegiate game, rushed for a game-high 135 yards on 24 carries. Brian Kass and Donovan Johnson added 63 and 42 rushing yards, respectively.

Wofford had 110 yards of offense at halftime, compared to 167 yards for the Bison.

The Terriers did not attempt a pass in the first half. In fact, the team's only points of the game came off a Blake Wylie 35-yard interception return for a touchdown, evening the score at 7 in the second quarter.

NDSU signal-caller Brock Jensen completed 13-of-18 passes for 95 yards and one touchdown. He added 60 rushing yards on 12 carries, although his interception resulted in Wofford's only points of the contest. Ojuri rushed for 72 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter.

Both of NDSU's scoring drives in the first half lasted 10 plays. The team's final drive went for 97 yards, ending with a Vraa 16-yard touchdown reception with 1:02 left, giving the Bison their 14-7 lead.

Cole Jirek and Andre Martin Jr. recovered fumbles in the win.

The Bison have yet to lose an FCS playoff game at home and have not allowed an offensive touchdown through their first two playoff games this season.