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On any given day, one team can beat another. Games aren’t played on paper: they’re played on the unpredictable playing field where anything can happen — and that’s why people watch.
So the fact that North Dakota State beat the Rams 22-7 Saturday night should not come as a shock, especially if you saw the way the Rams practiced leading up to the game.
“We didn’t have a very good week of practice this week, and that was evident early on,” center Weston Richburg said after the game. “They just flat out beat us today. They played better, they were the better team today.”
In virtually every aspect of the game — passing yards, rushing yards, turnovers, even kick return yards — North Dakota State was better than CSU.
Numerous opportunities arose for the Rams throughout the game to get back in control after North Dakota State took a 19-7 lead at halftime, but every time, CSU failed to take advantage.
The Rams had all the momentum in the game after scoring first on a blisteringly-fast three play, 80-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the game.
The rest of the game would be riddled with mistakes for CSU, as the first scoring drive of the game turned out to be its last.
Following the Rams’ touchdown drive, North Dakota State answered with one of their own and after a CSU punt, drove the ball all the way down to the Rams’ one yard line and faced a fourth-and-goal from there.
North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down and got stopped on the goal line by CSU’s Cory James and Shaquil Barrett.
On the very next play, however, CSU’s Tommey Morris got tackled in the end zone for a safety, giving all the momentum right back to the Bison.
“It hurt us a little bit,” Barrett said. “But we’ve just always gotta be able to bounce back and be able to play the next play.”
The Rams didn’t rebound from the safety, as North Dakota State marched all the way down the length of the field en route to a 12-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. The Bison started to bully CSU and had the Rams back on their heels.
“You know people tell us we aren’t talented enough and we aren’t big enough,” North Dakota State defensive end Cole Jirik said. “But that doesn’t matter when you play like you’re supposed to.”
North Dakota State took advantage of the mistakes CSU made, particularly the inability of the Rams to execute and convert on third downs, as the Rams went 1-for-10 on third downs compared with North Dakota State’s 12-for-21 mark.
“This did not happen by chance,” North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. “It was a methodical plan that those guys put together all week long and came out and performed really well. That occurred because the guys had a great week of practice and they beat a good football team.”
So as North Dakota State revels in its third victory in three years over an FBS school, the Rams now return to the film room to get back to work in preparation for Saturday’s game against San Jose State.
“I’m looking forward to getting to work tomorrow,” McElwain said on Saturday. “I haven’t lost many games the last couple years, but you know what, this is a challenge, this is why you go into it. You’ve got a chance to affect young men’s lives and I’m looking forward to getting back at it.”
Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at email@example.com.