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Kolpack: Raiders 'Colgated' by NDSU defense in FCS quarterfinals

James Hendricks of North Dakota State signals for possession after picking off a Colgate pass during their NCAA FCS quarterfinal playoff football game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Fargo. The pass was ruled incomplete. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 4
Caleb Butler of North Dakota State sacks quarterback Grant Breneman of Colgate during their NCAA FCS quarterfinal playoff football game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 4
Robbie Grimsley of North Dakota State tackles James Holland Jr. of Colgate during their NCAA FCS quarterfinal playoff football game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 4
Derrek Tuszka of North Dakota State sacks Colgate quarterback Grant Breneman as teammate Greg Menard closes in during their NCAA FCS quarterfinal playoff football game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 4

FARGO — Colgate came to the Division I FCS quarterfinal party late Saturday morning with five shutouts this season. An impressive feat, to say the least.

Make it six now.

It wasn’t the goose egg the visitors from Hamilton, N.Y., were looking for, however. It was their offense that didn’t score in the quarterfinals at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

It was North Dakota State that “Colgated” the Raiders with a 35-0 win before 16,404 fans. It was the Bison defense that showed it was the best in the subdivision, granted the teams came from different leagues that possess different competition levels.

“They’re probably the best team in the country right now, better than anybody we’ve played,” said Colgate quarterback Grant Breneman.

Colgate came in giving up 7.0 points per game, including a run of five shutouts in six games. It would have been six straight except for a field goal by Bucknell. There were several NDSU drives where we could see why: Linebacker T.J. Holl was always around the ball and finished with 16 tackles.

Problem for The ’Gate was NDSU defenders as a whole were always around the ball. The Bison came in second in the FCS in scoring defense giving up 12.0 points per game. Although maybe not directly, those statistics were part of NDSU’s mental motivation over the course of the week.

For starters, head coach Chris Klieman let his guys know.

“He was telling us that they had the best defense, I think just trying to get us ready,” said Bison defensive end Derrek Tuszka. “But I think everybody in the room knew who it was.”

Colgate had trouble with the Bison defensive ends all day. Senior Greg Menard was a threat to Breneman on most pass plays. Senior Caleb Butler may have provided the celebratory highlight when it appeared he mimicked brushing his teeth after a tackle.

Colgate. Toothpaste. Get it?

“We got off the ball and made plays happen,” Tuszka said. “Yeah, we didn’t pay too much attention to their defense knowing that our offense wouldn’t have any problem with that. We were worried about their offense and controlling what we could control.”

The Bison picked off Breneman once. They should have had a couple more. It’s a different speed playing against a top-ranked Missouri Valley Football Conference team than it is against the Patriot League.

That’s ultimately what it came down to. It was an impressive run for the Raiders to go 3-0 against the Colonial Athletic Association this season, including beating James Madison 23-20 in last week’s second round.

But getting past NDSU and the maturity of a program that has 24 seniors and the tradition of playing in its eighth straight quarterfinal game at home is a mountain to climb. The ’Gate gave it a shot.

They were down just 14-0 at halftime and appeared to have adjusted to the Bison offense after NDSU gashed the Raiders on its first drive. The Bison went 96 yards in just four plays and it was quickly 7-0.

Thoughts of last week’s 52-10 bashing of Montana State came to mind.

But the Bison punted on each of their next three possessions. If there was one play of the game for NDSU, I’ll give you this: Up just 7-0 late in the second quarter, and facing third-and-10, quarterback Easton Stick hit receiver Phoenix Sproles and the freshman hauled it in traffic for 16 yards and a first down.

It was the biggest play, by far, of the year for Sproles. NDSU scored on the drive and at 14-0, the Bison were starting to crack the Colgate defense. NDSU put it away, scoring the first two times it had the ball in the third quarter.

That ended it.

“It was a personal message, everybody was talking about how good their defense is,” said running back Bruce Anderson. “The focus was away from our offense, which is fine, but we just kind of felt a little disrespected and we let that fuel our fire throughout the week. We were just able to get it on.”

The 35 points were the most The ’Gate gave up this season.

“We felt really good about the plan,” Stick said. “Obviously, it’s a really good defense and they’ve won a lot of games — that’s hard to do. We knew it would be a tough test coming in but at the same time we have really good players on offense.”

The Raiders pointed to Stick as good player 1A. Colgate head coach Dan Hunt said he saw it on film. It was a different matter seeing it in person, most notably the velocity Stick had on his throws.

For the record, NDSU is giving up 11.1 points per game now. The ’Gate finished at 9.3 points per game. Statistically, the Raiders are still better. On the national FCS scope, reality tells us something different.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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