No. 11 Redbirds Drop Regular Season Finale, 38-20, to No.1 Bison
Lechein Neblett had six catches for 81 yards against NDSU Saturday.
Lechein Neblett had six catches for 81 yards against NDSU Saturday.

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Nov. 17, 2012

NORMAL, Ill. - No. 11 Illinois State (8-3, 5-3 MVFC) tallied 318 yards of total offense, but came up short as the Redbirds fell to defending FCS national champion and top-ranked North Dakota State (10-1, 7-1 MVFC), 38-20, in the regular season finale at Hancock Stadium Saturday.

Illinois State will find out its season will continue in the FCS playoff, when the bracket is announced during the FCS Playoff Selection Show, Sunday, at 12:30 p.m., on ESPNU.

After playing penalty-free and turnover-free football in the opening half, ISU fumbled twice and committed two key third-down penalties as NDSU rallied for 21 fourth quarter points. Senior quarterback Matt Brown completed 22-of-35 passes for 212 yards with one passing touchdown and ran for 37 yards with one rush touchdown in his final regular-season game at Hancock Stadium. Tyrone Walker and Lechein Walker each had six receptions for just over 80 yards.

North Dakota State's Brock Jensen completed 6-of-16 passes for 96 yards with no touchdowns, but rushed for 39 yards with two scores. Running backs Sam Ojuri and John Crockett each eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, with one touchdown apiece in the victory for the Bison.

North Dakota State opened the game with the football and saw its seven-play opening-drive end after a Colton Underwood sack. After the Redbirds took over, Brown connected on 5-of-6 passes and rushed for 15 more, as the Redbirds covered 60 yards on 11 plays to put the first points of the day on the scoreboard after Brown's five-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Neukirch to make it 7-0 Illinois State. After forcing a three-and-out, Brown went to the air again and connected with Neblett for 34 yards and then Walker for 22 yards, setting up a 33-yard field goal from Aussieker to give ISU a 10-0 lead.

North Dakota State All-American Marcus Williams put the Bison on the board, after he returned Nick Aussieker's ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score. It was the first time Illinois State allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since Steven Rush of Missouri State did it in 2004. The Bison would then take the lead on a 5-play, 83-yard drive, which was sealed on a touchdown run from Crockett to give NDSU a 14-10 lead with 10:19 to go in the first half.

Brown and the ISU offense then orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive to reclaim the lead. Brown connected on long passes to Neblett (10 yards), Walker (26 yards) and Donovan Harden (15 yards) before scrambling for a three-yard touchdown run to send ISU into halftime with a 17-14 lead. The Redbirds stretched the lead to six points early in the second half, on Aussieker's career-long 47-yard field goal.

North Dakota State responded immediately, covering 48 yards on nine plays with Adam Keller's 29-yard field goal, cutting the ISU lead to 20-17. After forcing a quick punt, the Bison took advantage of an offsides penalty and a pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up their game-changing score. On the 13th play from scrimmage, Jensen's one-yard keeper put NDSU in front, 24-20, with 14:03 to go.

On Illinois State's next possession, Brown was hit hard from behind and fumbled at midfield. Three plays later, Jensen ran into the end zone for a score, making the score 31-20 in favor of NDSU with 9:52 to go. The Bison added a one-yard touchdown run from Ojuri to cap the scoring at 38-20 with 3:19 to play and win the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship outright.

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