North Dakota State will open the playoffs at home for the sixth straight year Saturday afternoon and for just the second time will play a team they didn’t see during the regular season. This is also just the second time where the Bison are considered a heavy favorite in this round, which is remarkable, considering NDSU has usually been a one or two seed.
- 2011 – vs James Madison – I have long maintained that outside of the title game, this was NDSU’s toughest playoff opponent that year. JMU scored on a long TD pass with 7:30 to go in the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 19-14 Bison. The backbreaker was delivered on the very next play as DJ McNorton broke off a 60 yard touchdown run to give the Bison a 26-14 win and send them on their way to the quarterfinals.
- 2012 – vs South Dakota State – When the bracket was revealed in 2012, the groans were loud from Fargo. The Bison played SDSU on the next to last week of the regular season, a tightly contested game, where the Bison grinded out a 20-17 win thanks to a late personal foul penalty on the Jacks. That game also was fueled by what some considered a cheap shot on NDSU defensive tackle Leevon Perry that resulted in a season ending knee injury. With that background the tension was high when the Jacks returned on December 1st, 2012. NDSU dominated this matchup though, Brock Jensen threw two touchdown passes to Garrett Bruhn, and the Bison held Zach Zenner to just 46 yards in a 28-3 win.
- 2013 – vs Furman – This game gets lost in history, since it was right after we found out Craig Bohl was leaving for Wyoming. The top team in FCS history struggled in the first half with the Paladins, who were more amazed with how cold the weather was the day before. It was just a 10-7 game at halftime, but the Bison woke up in the 2nd half. Jensen combined for three touchdowns and NDSU started its playoff dominance that season with a 38-7 win.
- 2014 – vs South Dakota State – Once again when the bracket came out, the groans came and were louder this time that SDSU was in the same pod with NDSU. This Jacks team was loaded with seniors, namely Austin Sumner and Zach Zenner, who had never beaten the Bison. They also introduced a new look on offense, with Zenner getting the ball directly snapped to him, which for the first time worked against NDSU. Zenner racked up 133 yards and two touchdowns, and after Sumner hit some unknown receiver named Jake Wieneke, and the Jacks took a 24-20 lead with 3 minutes to go. But that’s when the legend of Carson Wentz was born, leading NDSU on a game winning drive, capped off by a fabulous touchdown pass to RJ Urzendowski with 54 seconds left to give the Bison a 27-24 win and again end the season for the Jacks.
- 2015 – vs Montana – The rematch bug again returned to Fargo, and it wasn’t going to matter who won the first round game as the Jacks lost in Missoula. The Griz came to the Dome going for a second win over the Bison after starting the season with a last second win. The game was decided three minutes into the first quarter when Easton Stick took off up the middle and ran uncontested for a 49 yard touchdown and the Griz never recovered. Brady Gustafson, who was terrific in the season opener, threw 4 interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns as the Bison got revenge with a 37-6 win.
Saturday will mark a nice change of pace for Bison fans with a new opponent in the dome, hopefully a trend that continues.