Saturday’s football championship between James Madison and North Dakota State is a donnybrook all sorts of FCS fans have wanted to see.
As the wealth of championship banners in Fargo displays, NDSU is football’s neighborhood bad boy and has been for half this decade. The Bison won five consecutive titles before bowing out in last year’s semifinals against James Madison.
The Dukes went on to win last year’s title — only their second all-time. They’re 14-0 and have barely trailed this season. Weber State did teeter on eliminating James Madison in the quarterfinals, but a field goal as time expired kicked the Dukes into this season’s semis, where they blasted South Dakota State 51-16.
And how’s this for irony? South Dakota State is the only team to beat North Dakota State this season, 33-21. But that was two months ago. The Bison have since outscored opponents 204-47.
Staring down Saturday’s title game, here’s what to look for: Fans of both Montana and Montana State are well aware of how routinely North Dakota State’s linemen, on both sides of the ball, overpower opponents.
But the fact is that the fronts for James Madison are just as physical.
Winning the line of scrimmage goes a long way in this one. Both teams pound the ground. James Madison rushes for more than 200 yards per game, but NDSU is over 280. That difference could likely be Bison quarterback Easton Stick, who is a dangerous runner.
But this title affair may come down to a turnover. Both defenses have made a living making teams pay for their mistakes. The Bison have forced 33 turnovers this season, and James Madison 43.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 10 a.m. on ESPN2 from the outskirts of Dallas in Frisco, Texas.