In a battle between two teams squaring off in the FCS national semifinals for the second straight year, North Dakota State University found just enough offense at the end to top Georgia Southern again.
And they did it in a way that suggested they were scraping the bottom of the playbook.
Junior quarterback Brock Jensen rushed five times for 65 yards on the Bison's final drive, capping it off with a five-yard touchdown run to put the Bison ahead 23-20 with three minutes to play. Jensen, mobile enough to rush for 415 yards on the season for a team with a dual-threat running back tandem, threw poorly in the game, but exploited an Eagles defense that was loading the middle of the field to prevent Sam Ojuri and John Crockett from taking over the drive.
Before the scoring play, Georgia Southern called back-to-back timeouts after NDSU called one of their own, allowing the drama to build before Jensen faked a handoff and took it off left guard for the score.
The game was in stark contrast to NDSU's 35-7 rout of the Eagles last season. The Bison went on to win the school's first FCS national championship, only having moved to that level in 2003.
Both games were played in the Fargodome, but the Eagles looked the more comfortable team early.
NDSU got the big defensive plays the Eagles couldn't get, forcing QB Jerick McKinnon into a fumble in the second half that led to a 53-yard touchdown run by Ojuri, giving the Bison a 16-13 lead in the third quarter. The Eagles had led 13-9 at halftime, and rushed for 271 yards in the game against the FCS' top-ranked run defense.
It's NDSU's second straight appearance in the national championship game, having defeated Sam Houston State 17-6 last season. They lost 38-31 at Eastern Washington in the FCS quarterfinals in 2010.
They'll face one of those two teams in this year's title game.
Sam Houston State is at Eastern Washington for a game scheduled at 2 p.m. CT Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The FCS National Championship game will be at noon CT Saturday, Jan. 5 at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas.