North Dakota State senior defensive backs Jaylaan Wimbush and Jalen Allison have a combined six years of starting experience. But neither has seen significant playing time in an FCS national title game.
That may sound odd, considering the Bison are shooting for their seventh championship in eight years when they face Eastern Washington on Saturday. But due to multiple factors, this weekend is the first time Wimbush and Allison are a major part of the defensive game plan.
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Both cornerbacks played in the 2015 game against Jacksonville State, mostly on special teams with Allison getting in on third-down passing situations. Wimbush and Allison then took over as starting sophomore corners in 2016, a season where the Bison came up one game short of Frisco, Texas.
Last year, they started the first 14 games, but knee injuries in the semifinals kept Wimbush and Allison off the field in the championship game versus James Madison.
Allison, who had a torn MCL, tried to practice in the three weeks leading up to the game but knew he wasn't at full speed. Wimbush was battling a PCL injury and tried to give it a go, but it took less than 10 snaps for him to realize he couldn't play at a high level.
Now, not only do they realize Saturday is their last game as Bison, but also the fact that it's something they missed out on in 2017.
“I have an itching desire to get out there and compete at the highest level in one of the biggest games in the nation," Wimbush told HERO Sports. "Just not having that opportunity last year and Jalen missing out on that opportunity, it gives both of us an edge.”
Allison has remained NDSU's shutdown corner this year but did have an "oh no, not again" moment toward the end of the regular season. He sprained his MCL in his other knee, but this time it wasn't as serious and he only missed one game.
Bison cornerback Jalen Allison. (NDSU Athletics)[/credit]
“It definitely adds a bit more to this game," Allison told HERO Sports about missing last year's championship. "This is my first time getting significant time playing as a starter in the championship game.”
The 6-foot Nebraska native has 10 pass breakups this season and two interceptions and is looking forward to playing an EWU team that takes its shots downfield.
“It’s why you come here, you want to be challenged and go against the best," Allison said. "When we face a team that likes to throw it, that’s money for us."
Wimbush, meanwhile, has taken on a new role this year. He moved to free safety, where he splits time with James Hendricks, and slides down to nickel corner on passing situations. It's allowed him to stick his nose into the run game more, something he admits he's having more fun doing.
“When I played corner, I still got in on a few tackles, but just being closer to the ball is one thing I like to do," Wimbush said. "Playing safety, it gives me the eagle eye. I love everything about what I'm doing on defense and how I fit into the schemes we have."
Wimbush and Allison total 71 starts during their Bison careers. But Saturday will be a first-time experience for the veteran players.
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