When Marshall native Tyler Gimmestad and the North Dakota State Bison take the field on Saturday, they will find themselves with a familiar opponent and in a familiar locale to end the season.
A year after claiming the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision championship with a 17-6 win over Sam Houston State (Texas), the Bison will meet the Bearkats again in the grand finale in Frisco, Texas.
Despite the memory of last season's championship still fresh in the minds of the Bison, the chance to defend their title in person at FC Dallas Stadium has a special feeling for the team, said Gimmestad.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Nelson / North Dakota State athletic media relations
North Dakota State offensive guard Tyler Gimmestad (71) paves the way for Bison running back Sam Ojuri during a game against Robert Morris in their team’s season opener in the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D., on Sept. 1. Gimmestad has earned the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s offensive lineman of the?week award twice this season.
"It was still exciting to be going back to the national championship," he said. "Going two years in a row is pretty tough, so it was a great accomplishment."
Getting back to the national championship game provided its own unique difficulties for each team.
Behind a steadfast defense and an offense that devours time, the Bison, winners of eight straight games, have compiled a 13-1 record and carried the No. 1 ranking throughout the year. Knowing that each opponent was prepared to give them their best shot, the Bison only slipped up once in a 17-14 home loss to the Indiana State Sycamores on Oct. 13.
Sam Houston State, on the other hand, finished the regular season ranked fifth in the FCS and has put together an 11-3 record. But don't let the losses fool you, this team deserves to be in the big game. The Bearkats are ranked 10th in total offense in the FCS and have the second-best scoring offense, while two of their three losses came to FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies were the last team to get the better of the Bearkats with a 47-28 win on Nov. 17 in College Station, Texas,
Led by quarterback Brian Bell's 2,460 passing yards and 24 touchdowns, the Bearkats scored 41.9 points per game in 2012 and out-dueled second-ranked Eastern Washington 45-42 in their semifinal on Dec. 15.
"They're definitely one of the more high-powered offenses in the nation and our defense is one of the best defenses in the nation," Gimmestad said.
"The biggest thing for us as an offense is time of possession. We lead the nation in that. It gives a chance for our defense to get off the field and get rested, which is big. Then when they're on the field they are well rested and ready to tee off."
Thanks to their meticulous offense, where Gimmestad battles in the trenches on the offensive line, the Bison have been able to put up 32.6 points per game. NDSU's rested defense has in turn held opponents to an average of 11.4 points per contest.
Featuring the FCS's only repeat All-American in defensive back Marcus Williams, the NDSU defense ranks third in rush defense and No. 1 in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense.
The year 2012 has not merely been a great year for the Bison, it has also been a standout year for Gimmestad. Though he did not equal the first team All-American nod of fellow lineman Billy Turner, he was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference's offensive lineman of the week twice during the season, while playing his best football during NDSU's eight-game winning streak.
"It was just like everyone else," Gimmestad said of his improving play. "You just continue learning throughout the year, and I felt that later in the year those were my best games. I was peaking right at the end."
What might be looked at as a revenge game for the Bearkats also provides its own benefits for the Bison. Rather than watching Sam Houston State play another team during film sessions, NDSU coaches and players have been able to break down the Bearkats against themselves by utilizing the game tape from last year's final.
"I think its easier for the coaches," Gimmestad said. "They're going to be able to look at that film and make the adjustments that they would have liked to have had last year. That's what we've been doing."
With a 22-day gap between their semifinal win over Georgia Southern and the championship game, the Bison should be well rested. Though they have not suffered any major injuries, Gimmestad said the time off has helped heal the bumps and bruises accrued by he and his teammates over the previous 14 games.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPN2.