FARGO, N.D. – Western Illinois held a halftime lead at the FargoDome against second-ranked North Dakota State, but a pair of third quarter Bison touchdowns Saturday afternoon (Oct. 21) were the difference in a 24-12 loss. The loss drops the 10th-ranked Leathernecks to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference while NDSU improved to 7-0 and 4-0.
Down by two scores midway in the fourth quarter, Sean McGuire and Jaelon Acklin connected on a 45-yard strike in double coverage down to the Bison five. However, the nation’s top-ranked defense was able to stop Western on four straight plays, forcing a turnover on downs with 6:36 left.
“That one hurt, because we had to get that one in. We had to score the touchdown there and not settle for three because it still would have been a two-score game,” said head coach Charlie Fisher. “They are a team that knows how to bleed the clock, so we had to go for it there. Obviously our guys competed and we knew we had a great challenge. We played a heck of a football team. I know we have a good football team, and we knew that we were going to come in and compete to fight. They did everything I asked them to do, but we came up a little bit short.”
Western got the ball back after a stop on 3rd-and-2, but on the ensuing drive, the Bison recorded their first takeaway of the game on an interception and would eventually run out the clock.
To start the game, NDSU stopped Western on a three-and-out, then marched down the field for a 3-0 lead on a 37-yard field goal. The Leathernecks responded with a 13-play drive of their own, covering 60 yards. Sam Crosa tied the game with three minutes left in the first quarter following his 32-yard field goal.
On the ensuing drive, Easton Stick was hurried and partially hit on a throw. Quentin Moon picked off the pass and raced 43 yards for the score. NDSU blocked the extra point, making it 9-3 Leathernecks.
The Leatherneck defense came up big again in the second quarter. Michael Bishoff saved a touchdown on a 3rd-and-17 screen pass, setting up 4th-and-inches at the WIU eight. Brett Taylor and Adam Brott combined on the stop to turn the ball over on downs. That play was Taylor’s sixth tackle of the game, and number 400 in his career.
Later in the quarter, Stick hit RJ Urzendowski on third down for a 58-yard scoring strike. The extra point gave NDSU a 10-9 lead with 2:31 left in the half.
Western marched into NDSU territory and in the red zone late in the half. The Bison recorded consecutive sacks to force a 4th-and-long at the 35. Nathan Erickson attempted his first career field goal and nailed a 52-yarder to give the Leathernecks an eventual 12-10 halftime lead.
Facing another 4th-and-inches near the WIU one-yard line, Stick and the Bison converted this time on a touchdown plunge making it a 17-12 game. After Western’s drive stalled, NDSU took over again. Two big runs and a pass play put NDSU inside the 10. Stick eluded a tackle at the goal line and scored to make it 24-12 with just over four minutes left in the third.
Acklin recorded 115 yards on six catches. He now moved into 10th place on the season ‘Top 10’ yardage list at 943 yards, just one shy of ninth place. McGuire tallied 185 yards through the air.
Taylor, the national leader in tackles per game, improved on his 14.5 average after recording a game-high 17 stops (9 solos). Stick finished 11-of-18 passing for 221 yards and a touchdown (two more running) while throwing the two first-half interceptions.
“I told our players that we were going to spill it out, not play with any regrets and move forward,” said Fisher. “We were right there and had a chance, but couldn’t make a few plays. I tip my hat to North Dakota State. They came out in the second half and they made more plays than we did.”
Western returns to Hanson Field next Saturday (Oct. 28), playing host to #13 South Dakota State. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
• Moon recorded his second interception of his career, and first career touchdown. It was the team’s second interception for a touchdown this season.
• Justin Fitzpatrick followed Moon’s pick six with his fourth career interception – all this season – on the ensuing NDSU drive.
• Taylor becomes the fourth Leatherneck all-time to record 400 total tackles.
• Erickson’s 52-yard field goal marked the first time Western recorded a 50-plus yarder since Taylor Rowan connected from 54 yards in the FargoDome during the Leathernecks’ 27-22 victory in 2008.
• Taylor recorded his 24th career 10-plus tackle game.
• This was the fourth straight meeting versus NDSU with the Bison ranked among ‘Top 5.’
• With 1,307 career receiving yards, Acklin now ranks 18th all-time in school history.
• Acklin also recorded his fourth 100-yard receiving game this year, tying for fifth place on the season ‘Top 10’ and just one game shy of the record.
• Crosa improved to 6-of-6 this year on field goals.