Published December 27, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There could easily be some kind of mind game going on between the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game opponents next Saturday.
For unbeaten North Dakota State, this has a been a season about winning a third straight FCS national championship, and only winning a third straight FCS national championship.
So when head coach Rob Ambrose of Towson had the chance to remind the Bison on Friday that their season could go bust with an upset by the Tigers, he was truthful. He hadn't even thought much about how the pressure sits squarely on the Bison.
Along with NDSU's Craig Bohl, the two head coaches just want his team to be focused on itself and play its most-inspiring game of the season. NDSU (14-0) not only will try to join the 2005-07 Appalachian State teams as the only to earn a national title three-peat, but it is also trying to become the first unbeaten national champion since Marshall in 1996. The Bison are on a 23-game winning streak.
Towson (13-2) wasn't even its conference champion and was seeded seventh for the 24-team playoffs, which wrap up Jan. 4 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
"Let's face it, in the history of I-AA football, Towson is nobody from nowhere. There's a whole lot of, 'Who are these guys?'" Ambrose said a national conference call. "We ought to walk around like Tin Cup. Yeah, they are the undefeated team, they haven't lost a game in nobody remembers how long. So I suppose the pressure is on them. That's a perspective that you might have to ask them. We're just going to play our game as well as we can play it, as hard as we play it, and keep playing until they tell us we can't play it anymore."
The way Bohl will defuse the great pressure on his Missouri Valley Football Conference team is to change absolutely nothing. His veteran group, which returned 18 starters from last season's championship squad, has taken it on itself to basically laugh in the face of pressure through its focus and disciplined play.
Bohl even thinks the Bison have raised the bar of excellence over the last two playoff games (wins over Coastal Carolina and New Hampshire) since he accepted the head coaching job at the University of Wyoming.
So if Ambrose wanted to play a mind game through a reminder of the historical moment at hand for the Bison, it might not have worked anyway.
"I think the biggest thing is just modeling consistency and making sure our guys recognize there is nothing guaranteed," Bohl said. "The thing we can do is just go out and play the very best we can and prepare the very best we can. And by doing that, there's been a real sense of freedom that you've done everything you can going into the game as coaches and as players getting yourself ready to play.
"You know our guys have been in pressurized situations for several years, and particularly this year, and we have a hungry, confident football team. And they're playing well. I have not ever sensed them being uptight, worried about making mistakes. They recognize they're not going to play perfect, but they're going to strive for perfection."
The run-heavy, physical style of both offenses brings common ground to the two teams. Towson, from CAA Football, even has the most influential player on the field in record-setting junior tailback Terrance West, who has gotten better in the playoffs.
Every NDSU defender is focused on West, so Ambrose doesn't want to stir up the Bison too much. Ambrose almost certainly will have backup quarterback Connor Frazier in the game after starter Peter Athens -- who is more the passing threat -- injured his shoulder in the semifinal-round win at Eastern Washington. Athens hopes to play as well.
NDSU has its share of dings on its roster. The game is so big that All- America senior linebacker Grant Olson is trying to get himself ready for action despite suffering a torn ACL in his left knee late in the regular season.
It's all hands on deck at this point.
"Our guys set a goal at the very beginning to win a third national championship, and we knew it was going to be very difficult," Bohl said. "We had Jerry Moore come and talk to our team. He was the head coach at Appalachian State when they were able to accomplish that. Coach Moore had some very insightful words and he set the stage.
"There is a galvanized, laser-like focus that this group has to go out and play well. And we know we've got a huge task in playing Towson. They're an excellent, well-coached football team. And for us to have an opportunity to win, we're going to have to play our best game. And our guys recognize that."
Said Ambrose, the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award winner who has been followed the last two years by Bohl: "The thing that stands out most about them, and they are physically impressive as individuals. But when 11 guys go out on that field, there is not a selfish bone among them. Not one. They play as a team, they play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
"They're awesome, they truly are. But we're not too bad, either."