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No. 1 NDSU tops No. 8 Eastern Washington in OT classic

(STATS) – Potential changes in how the FCS playoff field is selected may decrease the number of rematches this year.

But everybody will probably wish for a rematch between top-ranked North Dakota State and No. 8 Eastern Washington after the five-time reigning FCS champion Bison won a 50-44 overtime classic over the Eagles at the Fargodome on Saturday.

NDSU safety Tre Dempsey intercepted Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud on the second play of overtime to set up Lance Dunn’s 25-yard touchdown run around the left end on the Bison’s first play of their possession.

“That’s a great team that we just played,” NDSU coach Chris Klieman said. “I’m so proud of our guys for staying the course. We knew it was going to be a back-and-forth game. And ultimately we got the stop we needed on defense – what a great play by Tre – and then I think we finally wore ’em down with the power play.”

NDSU (2-0) has won both of its home games in overtime after having never previously gone to the extra time at the Fargodome since the NCAA instituted overtime in 1996. The win also was the Bison’s 44th straight at home against a non-conference opponent.

The Missouri Valley Conference power was seeking a little revenge for the only previous meeting between the two teams – Eastern Washington’s 38-31 OT win in the 2010 FCS playoff quarterfinals. That is the only loss in the Bison’s FCS playoff history, and after EWU went on to win the FCS title that season, they have won the last five championships.

The rematch six years later was worth the wait. Eastern Washington (1-1) played the second half and overtime without injured All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who left with a right shoulder sprain after catching two first-half touchdowns. They gave him 61 TDs for his career, setting the Division I record.

But Gubrud kept pressure on NDSU’s young secondary, turning to wide receivers Stu Stiles and Kendrick Bourne as he threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns.

The visitors from the Big Sky Conference trailed by double digits four times – 21-7, 28-17, 35-24 and 41-31 – and never led until the freshman Tamarick Pierce plowed in from 1 yard out for a 44-41 advantage with 4:32 left.

The Bison responded with a 15-play, 71-yard scoring drive, which Cam Pedersen capped with a 28-yard, game-tying field goal with 42 seconds remaining.

Eastern Washington had a chance to win in regulation, but Jordan Dascalo missed badly on a 49-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.

“Anytime you just play against great competition and against great players, it helps you as you go further in your season,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “That’s especially true with our non-conference schedule heading into our conference schedule, which is always tough. We can take a lot from this, and we will.”

The two teams racked up 1,093 yards of offense (EWU 556; NDSU 537). Gubrud added 49 yards and a touchdown on the ground while Stiles (eight receptions, 169 yards, one touchdown) and Bourne (eight receptions, 133 yards) were his favorite targets. NDSU quarterback Easton Stick, now 10-0 as a starter, passed for a career-high 257 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 60 yards and a score, while Dunn had 14 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

“I was really pleased with Lance and how hard he ran the football,” Klieman said, “how he hit the holes, playing with a lot of confidence, and it showed on that last run.”

All-America linebacker Nick DeLuca, who suffered a right shoulder separation in the season opener against Charleston Southern, returned to the NDSU lineup to post a team-high 14 tackles and 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.

The schedules stay tough for both teams next Saturday. NDSU will try to extend a five-game winning streak against FBS opponents when it plays at Big Ten power Iowa. EWU, which defeated Washington State a week ago, will play its home opener against Northern Iowa, another FCS Top 10 team.

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