FARGO, N.D. – Steven Thames (Fort Washington, Md.) recorded his second pick-six of the season, but the top-seeded North Dakota State University football team scored 52 consecutive points to defeat No. 15 University of New Hampshire, 52-14, in Friday night's FCS semifinal game at Fargodome.
UNH, which entered the game with a six-game win streak, ends the season at 10-5 following the program's first appearance in the FCS semifinals. NDSU, the two-time defending national champion, extended its win streak to 23 to improve to 14-0 this season and advance to the Jan. 4 national championship game in Frisco, Texas.
UNH quarterback Sean Goldrich (West Haven, Conn.) completed 13 of 26 passes for 117 yards. He also had a team-high 21 carries for 20 yards. R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) led the 'Cats in receptions (five) and receiving yards (33). Dalton Crossan (Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.) led the Wildcats' ground game with 26 yards on three carries.
Harris became the second UNH receiver with multiple seasons of 1,000 receiving yards as his 33 yards increased his total to 1,004. Goldrich eclipsed 2,000 passing yards this season and finished with 2,076.
NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen was 11-for-21 for 146 yards and three TDs and rushed four times for 30 yards and a touchdown. John Crockett finished with 13 carries for 195 yards while Sam Ojuri compiled 75 yards on his 13 rushes, which included a 9-yard TD run. Zach Vraa was Jenen's top target with five catches for 76 yards and that included a 50-yard scoring play.
Manny Asam (Bloomfield, N.J.) and Akil Anderson (Morristown, N.J.) led UNH's defense with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
The Wildcats took an early 7-0 lead at 13:37 of the first quarter on Thames' 38-yard interception return down the left sideline. It marked the third consecutive game with an interception and fourth of the season for Thames, who also had a pick-six Oct. 12 vs. the University of Rhode Island.
On the Bison's next possession, Rashid Armand (Brooklyn, N.Y.) stripped Ojuri of the ball and Casey DeAndrade (East Bridgewater, Mass.) recovered the fumble to give the 'Cats possession on the NDSU 29 -- the home team committed two turnovers in just five plays from scrimmage.
UNH attempted to convert a 4th-and-5 from the 24, but Goldrich was flushed from the pocket and stopped for a two-yard gain to give the ball back to NDSU. UNH's defense once again stopped the Bison as DeAndrade's pass breakup forced a punt.
New Hampshire advanced the ball 26 yards to the UNH 45, but then did not convert a 3rd-and-11. NDSU then needed just three plays, including a John Crockett 26-yard run and 50-yard TD pass from Jensen to Vraa, to tie the score, 7-7, at 5:21 of the first quarter.
The 'Cats were held to a 3-and-out, and the Bison took a lead they would not relinquish, 10-7, when Adam Keller's 32-yard field goal capped a 12-play, 51-yard drive at 14:06 of the second quarter.
A 45-yard punt by Brad Prasky (Groton, Mass.) pinned NDSU at its 13-yard line, but Crockett's 24-yard gallop advanced the ball to the 44 and a 40-yard ground gain by Crockett moved the ball to the UNH 7. Two plays later – and immediately following a Bison timeout – Jensen's play action and rollout to the right set up a throw back to Derrick Lang at the front-left pylon to extend the lead to 17-7 at 7:40.
On New Hampshire's next possession, the 'Cats faced 3rd-and-5 from its 24. With Goldrich in the shotgun formation and the play clock about to expire, the snap was mishandled, NDSU's Leevon Perry picked up the loose ball at the six-yard line and ran into the end zone to extend the advantage to 24-7 at 6:14.
UNH's offense went 3-and-out for the third time in the first half and Jensen orchestrated a six-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard TD pass over the middle to Kevin Vaadeland to make the score 31-7 with 2:04 remaining in the first half.
The Bison recorded the edge in yards (319-61) and first downs (14-5) in the first half against a UNH defense that entered the game ranked No. 14 in the nation in scoring defense (20.9 points per game). The 24-point halftime deficit marked the largest of the season for the Wildcats.
New Hampshire received the opening kickoff of the third quarter and had its drive extended by a roughing the kicker penalty by NDSU. Two plays later, however, Goldrich's long pass downfield intended for Harris was intercepted by Christian Dudzik at the Bison 22. On the next play, Crockett ran down the right sideline for a 71-yard gain and Jensen's one-yard keeper on 2nd-and-goal gave NDSU a 38-7 lead at 11:25.
Goldrich was intercepted on UNH's next possession when his pass was deflected in the air and Bryan Shepherd returned the ball 36 yards to give NDSU 1st-and-goal and on the next play, Ojuri's 9-yard TD run pushed the margin to 45-7 at 9:32.
Chase Morlock's one-yard TD run capped a 15-play, 61-yard drive that consumed 9:10 and gave the Bison a 52-7 lead with 5:34 remaining in the game.
Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) ran the ball up the middle for a one-yard touchdown run to close the scoring with 29 seconds to play. The 12 play drive covered 61 yards and took 5:01 off the clock.