Fargo, ND – With a trip to the FCS national championship game on the line and a chance to make history for both schools, it came down to two critical plays.
They were plays which would ultimately determine North Dakota State's and Georgia Southern's seasons.
With 3:10 left in regulation and Georgia Southern leading by four points, defending national champion North Dakota State faced a 4th-and-3 from the Eagles' 5-yard line.
Coach Craig Bohl turned to who else but junior signal-caller Brock Jensen, who took a quarterback sneak in for a touchdown with 3:05 remaining, giving the Bison a 23-20 lead and eventually, the game-winning points.
North Dakota State (13-1) advanced to its second straight national title game appearance, thanks to Jensen's late-game touchdown and a blocked 50-yard field goal, attempted by Georgia Southern converted place-kicker Drew Ruggles, who is also a member of the Eagles' soccer team.
The Bison make the trip back to Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 5, to face either Sam Houston State or Eastern Washington for the FCS national championship.
Jensen only threw for 76 yards and completed nine passes, but had 58 rushing yards and the game-changing touchdown.
In fact, the Bison were outgained 430 yards to 276, including 271-200 in rushing yards, but once again, the team found ways to win the game.
Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon accounted for 259 yards of offense, including 168 rushing yards and one touchdown and 98 passing yards and one touchdown, but the Eagles (10-4) and third-year coach Jeff Monken fell in the FCS semifinals for the third straight year. It was also the second straight year their season ended in the Fargodome.
Georgia Southern would strike first, proving from the get-go that it wouldn't miss any opportunities for points, especially after totaling just 17 in the team's last two trips to the semifinals.
On a 4th-and-1 at the Bison 1-yard line, J.J. Wilcox, an all-conference safety, rushed for a touchdown on his first carry of the season, capping off a 14-play, 79-yard opening drive. The extra point, however, was blocked.
It was the first offensive touchdown allowed by the Bison in three playoff contests and the first rushing touchdown allowed since Nov. 17.
The Bison responded with their own scoring drive as running back John Crockett's 1-yard touchdown run tied the game at 6-6. The extra point was blocked as well by defensive tackle Brent Russell - his second of the year - just before the end of the first quarter.
Crockett finished with 60 rushing yards and one touchdown.
In the second quarter, McKinnon completed just his 19th pass of the season, but it was a big one as Dominique Swope hauled in the catch - just the third of his career - for 49 yards and a touchdown, and the Eagles led, 13-6.
At halftime, Georgia Southern had 190 yards of offense (113 rushing) compared to NDSU's 136 yards of offense (73 rushing). The Bison added a field goal, but trailed, 13-9.
On Georgia Southern's first drive of the second half, Christian Dudzik forced the game's first turnover as he striped and recovered the ball from McKinnon, giving the Bison the ball at their own 41-yard line.
Two plays later, running back Sam Ojuri scampered 53 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bison a 16-13 lead, their first of the contest.
With all the momentum, North Dakota State forced a 4th-and-19 at the Eagles' 6-yard line on the next possession. All of a sudden, a Jordan Champion roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the ball right back to GSU and briefly took the wind out of the Bison faithful.
The Eagles made the most of the golden opportunity and drove into NDSU territory, where McKinnon scored his first rushing touchdown of the game from 25 yards out, giving his team a 20-16 lead. It was his seventh straight 100- yard rushing game.
Georgia Southern, however, was hurt by errant penalties and couldn't stop North Dakota State on the 4th-and-3 late in the game, even after using two straight timeouts to prepare for the play.
The Eagles finished with 13 penalties for 103 costly yards.
Swope rushed for 77 yards and the All-America Russell finished off his career with a school-record 25th sack.