On Dec. 6, 2014, a redshirt freshman wide receiver by the name of Jake Wieneke caught a 3-yard touchdown pass to put South Dakota State up 24-20 on North Dakota State with 3:18 to play in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Less than three minutes later, a true freshman wide receiver by the name of RJ Urzendowski caught a 12-yard touchdown pass to put NDSU back on top.
The Bison held on for the 27-24 win and went on to win their fourth straight FCS title thanks to more late-game heroics from Urzendowski in the championship game against Illinois State.
Fast forward two years later, and NDSU is still the king of the FCS. They’ve won five titles and are looking for a sixth. But the Jackrabbits have shown they can go toe-to-toe with NDSU, defeating the Bison 19-17 in the Fargodome on Oct. 15 and splitting the Missouri Valley Football Conference title this season.
Now 8-seeded SDSU has a chance to do it again, this time on a national stage, when it meets top-seeded NDSU in the FCS quarterfinals at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN.
“We were excited,” Urzendowski told HERO Sports about the moment he and his team could get another shot at SDSU. “Obviously we couldn’t overlook our first-round matchup, so we didn’t talk about it really or mention it too much around the team. Once the week turned and we beat San Diego and things worked out this way, we were really excited. The players I think collectively are super excited to have another crack at them. It will be a really, really good game. It’s another Valley team. Shoot, three of the final eight teams are Valley teams, so we know it’s possible to see other Valley teams quickly. That’s typically what ends up happening in the playoffs for us.”
This will be the third time the two teams have met each other in the playoffs since 2012. It almost happened last year, but Montana defeated SDSU 24-17 in the first round. The second round game in 2012 resulted in a 28-3 win for NDSU. The game in 2014 was a different story and is said to be one of the best games the Fargodome has seen.
“I remember it pretty clearly like it was yesterday,” Urzendowski said. “But at the same time, it’s so far in the rearview year. It seems like another world when that happened.”
The trio of senior quarterback Austin Sumner, senior running back Zach Zenner and Wieneke, the MVFC Freshman of the Year, looked to finally have NDSU’s number. The Jackrabbits busted out a new-look Wildcat formation with Zenner and drove the field to take the lead on Wieneke’s catch.
But unfortunately for SDSU, the legend of Carson Wentz was born that day in Fargo.
NDSU went 64 yards in seven plays before Wentz threw a corner route in the tightest of windows to Urzendowski for the win.
“I just remember it was a back-and-forth game, just like every game seems to be with these guys,” Urzendowski said. “It was a close game. We needed a couple-minute drive and Carson led us down the field. We ended up making a couple plays and it ended with that touchdown.”
The 2014 playoffs was a breakout party for Urzendowski. His three catches during the final drive set up Wentz’s rushing touchdown to win the title game.
He had 669 yards receiving and six touchdowns in 2015, slightly better than his 471 yards and three touchdowns this year. But he did get in the end zone on a 11-yard catch against San Diego.
“It’s always nice to get one in the playoffs,” Urzendowski said. “It always means a little bit more. Hopefully we can do it again this week and just kind of keep moving the passing game forward.”
Urzendowski and quarterback Easton Stick, old high school teammates at Creighton Prep in Omaha, hope to get that connection going once again. Not only does Urzendowski seem to save his best moments for the playoffs, the Bison also seem to peak when postseason arrives.
Last season, NDSU’s offense found its groove with Stick under center once the playoffs hit. The defense was also at its best, holding postseason opponents to season-lows on offense.
“I think there’s a lot of factors,” Urzendowski said. “Preparation-wise, it’s easier to be focused. Everyone is focused on the game plan and everybody is locked in because we know it’s win or go home. At the same time, we do a great job of improving throughout the year. We do get a lot better throughout the year and you can see it on tape. Playoffs is that time where that shows. With a bye week, guys get a little healthier. All those factors come together to have us playing good ball in the playoffs.”
If the Bison are playing their best ball in the playoffs with the homefield advantage of the Fargodome on their side, not many teams can beat them. In fact, no one has. NDSU is 17-0 at home in the FCS playoffs. But the team coming in on Saturday has shown they’ve almost done it before, and have done it in the regular season just a couple of months ago.