When the season began, Tyler Gimmestad and the North Dakota State football team thought they had a chance to improve on their 2010 finish where they lost to eventual champion Eastern Washington in overtime of the Division I?Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals.
On Saturday, Jan. 7, they can end their season as the FCS champions with a win over Sam Houston State.
"After last year's lost in the quarterfinals, we didn't lose many players," said Gimmestad, a Marshall native. "We knew right away we were going to have a good shot at it.
North Dakota State offensive lineman Tyler Gimmestad (71) gets ready to block for quarterback Brock Jensen (16)?during a game against Northern Iowa at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D., on Oct. 29.
"As the season progressed, after each game it got clearer that we could actually do this. Through the playoffs we beat teams pretty well, so we thought we had a shot."
Gimmestad made the move from defensive line to offensive line this season and it's paid off. The Bison, who go into the championship game with a 13-1 record, hold the 20th spot nationally for passing efficiency and are tied for fourth in red zone offense.
The offensive line, known as the "Rams" have opened holes for a pair of running backs that have combined for over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
"It's been exciting getting a chance to play," Gimmestad said. "Switching positions doesn't matter. It got me on the field faster.
"It's been exciting. Everything has been clicking. Coaches have been doing a good job putting us in the right position to make plays."
NDSU will face a stout defense in the Bearkats, who rank in the top five in rushing, passing, scoring and total defense.
"They are a fast defense. Probably one of the fastest defenses we've seen," Gimmestad said. "They are fundamentally sound. They all play well together, always in the right spots."
The Bison are coming into the matchup on a four-game winning streak, including a 35-7 win over second-ranked Georgia Southern. NDSU's lone loss of the season came to Youngstown State, but Gimmestad - who started all 14 games - thinks it may have helped the Bison in the long run.
"It got us back to reality that we could be beat," Gimmestad said. "Youngstown is a great team. It brought us back down and got us to really focus with playoffs around the corner."
After rolling through the playoffs, the teams have three weeks to prepare for the championship game. NDSU head coach Craig Bohl has bowl experience, which has helped the players prepare.
"Coach Bohl went to a couple of bowl games when he was at Nebraska, so he has a good approach to this. He knows what it takes," Gimmestad said. "We get some days off, we are not going to be at the (Fargodome) for nine hours a day, so we'll have time to recover. We'll have plenty of time to study film and that stuff."
The championship experience is one that Gimmestad is excited to share with his family. Each player is allowed four tickets, which quickly went to Gimmestad's mom, dad and sister.
The extended family hasn't been so lucky.
"My parents tried to get 20 more for my family, but they weren't able to get those," Gimmestad said. "There are standing-room only tickets coming out in January, so my sister is going to try and get on that and get as many as possible."
The game will take place at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, which is a distance from Marshall and Fargo, N.D., but for Gimmestad, the local support will follow him there.
"It's been a blessing. I've had a lot of support from Marshall," Gimmestad said. "A lot of people have been talking to me. It's been great."
The two teams are scheduled to kick off at 12:05 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 and shown online on WatchESPN.com.