The Dukes beat the Bison in 2016 in the semifinals en route to winning their first title since 2004.
"Many times you see a dropoff over time, but [NDSU coach Chris Klieman] has done a great job keeping that program at that championship level, and that takes a lot", JMU coach Mike Houston said.
"Code Green, they're an wonderful bunch of dudes and we know that we can always rely on them, the best defense in the country", Shepherd said. They're 14-0 and have barely trailed this season. Instead it was a friendly game of touch football between the equipment and video staff as the Bison continue to play their hand close to the vest.
The only thing the Dukes got out of it was their only touchdown of the game, a one-yard touchdown run when they only had to go 33 yards to get it. He led the Bison in rushing with 194 yards against Sam Houston State in the FCS Semifinals. NDSU finished with 264 yards.
Under center for the Bison will be Easton Stick (39 total touchdowns, 62.4 completion percentage). They needed some points badly before kicking away to NDSU to start the third quarter, and Stapelton's snaring of this one - momentarily pinning it to the helmet of the Bison's Josh Hayes - got them across midfield to at least set up a field goal. He then stepped aside when Wentz - basically Stick's mentor - returned to start the championship game and won the MOP award.
NDSU offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said JMU was the quickest team at all 11 positions his offense has faced all year. "Not many teams hit a home run on those guys".
The championship is scheduled for Saturday, January 6, at Noon ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Several players from each team leaped for the ball, but the Dukes' receivers came up empty. They communicate really well together. "You play it to get into these games, and have these moments with your teammates, and it's going to be a great game". "They don't think we are good enough to be here". JMU's defense matched NDSU with a three-and-out of their own, including a six-yard sack by redshirt junior defensive lineman Darrious Carter. DeLuca is second on the team in tackles (70) in his senior season while the freshman Cox leads the way with 72 despite only becoming a starter midseason.
Both of those games were microcosms of what each of these championship squads are all about: Establishing the run and dominating on defense. Both defenses have made a living making teams pay for their mistakes. You could feel the air leaving the stadium as the Dukes brought the punting unit out with just over three minutes to play.
JMU senior defensive end Andrew Ankrah says, "If you give him time in the pocket to throw dropback passes, he'll make you play". That loss still lingers among many Bison players.
"Anytime you see a 300-pound guy running with the ball, you want to get out of his way", said linebacker Nick DeLuca.
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