FARGO - A case of the flu kept North Dakota State University quarterback Brock Jensen from eating for 24 hours before Saturday's Football Championship Series semifinal against Georgia Southern.
But illness and injury couldn't stop the Bison from devouring the Eagles 35-7 before 18,108 fans at the Fargodome, earning their first-ever trip to the FCS championship game.
The Bison, seeded second, will take on top-seeded and unbeaten Sam Houston State in Frisco, Texas on Jan. 7.
"We've been talking about going to Frisco," said wide receiver Warren Holloway, a senior from Houston. "I get to play in front of my family."
NDSU's offense pounded out 314 yards on the ground, 246 in the second half. Everybody got in on the act. Sam Ojuri, who topped the 1,000-yard mark on the season, ran for 100 yards and a touchdown. D.J. McNorton accounted for 94 yards and a score. Jensen - who also threw for 137 yards - rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown. Even Holloway, who caught a scoring pass from Jensen, ran for 17 yards and a touchdown.
NDSU's defense may have been even better than the offense. The Eagles (11-3) entered the game averaging 37.3 points and 334.1 yards rushing per game. But the Bison snuffed out Georgia Southern's triple option attack, holding them to a season-low seven points and 186 yards on the ground.
"They whipped us," Eagles coach Jeff Monken said. "They're physical, and they're tough. Those teams are hard to beat."
The Bison also forced three turnovers, all leading to touchdowns.
Colton Heagle, who had been out three weeks with a thumb injury, led the NDSU swarm with 15 tackles.
"I was jacked before the game," Heagle said. "I didn't really sleep very well all week."
The Bison defense made the first key play with 5:35 to play in the first quarter. Eagles quarterback Jaybo Shaw fumbled, and NDSU linebacker Chad Wilson recovered on the Georgia Southern 17-yard line.
The Bison cashed in a couple of plays later when Jensen found Holloway in the back right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
In the first half, much of the good work by the Bison defense was undone on special teams.
After a stop late in the first quarter, the Bison were called for roughing the kicker. NDSU survived that mistake without any harm done. But early in the second quarter the Bison appeared to have forced another punt, only to be caught off guard by an Eagles fake. On a fourth-and-5 from the Georgia Southern 33, Johnathan Bryant took a pitch from punter Charlie Edwards and rambled 13 yards for a Georgia Southern first down.
That allowed the Eagles to continue a methodical drive culminating in a 23-yard run up the middle by Dominique Swope. Georgia Southern used 13 plays to cover 83 yards and chew up 6:50 on the drive, which tied the game 7-7 with 3:58 left in the half.
The Bison had a quick answer. On a short pass from Jensen to Holloway, Lavelle Westbrooks gambled for an interception, allowing Holloway to turn it into a 29-yard gain. On the next play, Holloway took a reverse - and with Jensen throwing a key block near the goal line - scored from 17 yards out. That gave the Bison a 14-7 lead with 1:38 left in the half.
The Eagles had a chance to put more points on the board before intermission, but this time their bag of tricks came up empty. Rather than attempt a 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds, Georgia Southern opted for another fake. Edwards, the holder, scurried around before seeing John Douglas open in the back of the end zone. Edwards heaved an off-balance pass, but Christian Dudzik swatted it away, saving a potential game-tying touchdown.
The Eagles were moving the ball on the opening possession of the second half when the Bison defense came up with another huge play.
On third-and-6 from the NDSU 34, Wilcox caught a pass from Shaw, broke one tackle and looked to have a chance to get to the end zone. Instead John Pike not only got there in time to make the tackle, he stripped Wilcox on the way down. The ball bounced towards Georgia Southern receiver Kentrellis Showers, who got his right hand on it but couldn't control it. Instead Bison linebacker Travis Beck picked it up, giving NDSU the ball on its own 4-yard line.
Jensen then led the Bison on a nine-play, 96 yard touchdown march. After breaking off runs of 14 and 13 yards, Jensen carried down the left sideline for a 55-yard scoring run, lunging across the goal line. It was Jensen's eighth rushing touchdown of the season. Ryan Jastram missed the extra point, but the Bison still led 20-7 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
NDSU's defense broke Georgia Southern's spirit with a goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the Bison 3-yard line, the Eagles tried to run the ball with Swope. But Brandon Jemison blew up the play, forcing a 5-yard loss to end the drive.
The Bison then put the game away with a 92-yard march. Ojuri, who ripped off one run of 39 yards, eventually capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run. Jensen hit McNorton for the two-point conversion, making it 28-7 with 7:45 to go.
McNorton put the finishing touches on the win with a 4-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds remaining.
"We felt confident in our game plan," defensive end Cole Jerik said. "We got used to their speed right away. Now we are one game away from winning a national championship."
NDSU, which won eight national championships at the Division II level, last played for a title in 1990.
"It was a long hard road to get here," Bison coach Craig Bohl said. "We are really excited about this win. We beat a very good football team. I couldn't be prouder of our football team, our coaches and the institution. It is a big, big day for us."
GSU 0 7 0 0 - 7
NDSU 7 7 6 15 - 35
NDSU-Warren Holloway 19 pass from Brock Jensen (Ryan Jastram kick), 4:45.
GSU-Dominique Swope 23 run (Adrian Mora kick), 3:58.
NDSU-Holloway 17 run (Jastram kick), 1:38.
NDSU-Jensen 55 run (kick failed), 5:53.
NDSU-Sam Ojuri 4 run (D.J. McNorton pass from Jensen), 7:45.
NDSU-McNorton 4 run (Jastram kick), :39.
First downs 18 17
Rushes-yards 48-186 37-314
Passing 147 137
Comp-Att-Int 12-20-0 10-15-0
Return Yards 0 0
Punts-Avg. 2-38.5 4-32.3
Fumbles-Lost 3-3 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-10 7-50
Time of Possession 30:49 29:11
RUSHING-GSU, Swope 23-96, Jaybo Shaw 15-41, Darreion Robinson 5-35, J.J. Wilcox 3-10, Nico Hickey 1-3, Johnathan Bryant 1-1. NDSU, Ojuri 16-100, Jensen 6-94, McNorton 13-94, Holloway 1-17, Cooper Wahlo 1-9.
PASSING-GSU, Shaw 11-18-0-134, Charlie Edwards 1-2-0-13. NDSU, Jensen 10-15-0-137.
RECEIVING-GSU, Kentrellis Showers 5-56, Wilcox 2-35, Bryant 2-28, Zach Walker 2-25, Hickey 1-3. NDSU, Holloway 5-68, Ryan Smith 2-31, Matt Veldman 1-25, McNorton 1-9, Wahlo 1-4.