FRISCO, Texas — Three-time reigning national champion North Dakota State and Illinois State shared a conference title without having to play each other this season.
Until now, with a much bigger trophy at stake for the Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champions in the FCS championship game Saturday.
“It’s really cool to get to play the conference championship at the same time as the national championship,” North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz said.
“Who’s the better team? It’s going to be settled,” Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich said. “Might as well, whoever wins, take both (trophies).”
North Dakota State (14-1) again made it from Fargo to Frisco and is going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Redbirds (13-1) are making their first FCS championship game appearance.
With the eight-game league schedule in the 10-team MVFC, each team misses one conference foe. North Dakota State and Illinois State didn’t meet in the regular season for the first time in eight years.
“Yeah, it’s kind of cool that it ended up like that ... finally facing each other in the national championship,” said safety Christian Dudzik, set for his 61st NDSU start. “It’s like a storyline, or scripted.”
This is the first time two teams from the same conference face off in the FCS championship game.
The only loss for both teams was to Northern Iowa, which Illinois State beat in a rematch in the Redbirds’ playoff opener a month ago.
Now they get another conference foe.
“Early in the season kind of eyeballed this, thought that would be something if that happened, and you’re just kind of fantasizing really,” Illinois State coach Brock Spack said. “When we started getting on a roll, I said this could happen.”
Indiana transfer Tre Roberson, who arrived at Illinois State last summer, has completed 67 percent of his passes for 289 yards passing a game with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs. The All-MVFC quarterback has averaged 353 total yards this season. Fellow junior Coprich, the league’s offensive player of the year, has the first 2,000-yard rushing season (2,168) in school history.
Illinois State played its semifinal at top-seeded New Hampshire, where the Redbirds scored 15 points in the fourth quarter for a 21-18 victory.
RECORD BISON: Wentz has already set NDSU single-season records with 2,874 yards passing and 3,429 total yards after replacing graduated Brock Jensen, whose 48 wins were the most ever for an FCS quarterback. Running back John Crockett’s 1,920 yards rushing and 2,303 all-purpose yards are also single-season school marks. Adam Keller’s 134 points is tied for the FCS single-season record for points by a kicker, and four off the Bison scoring record.
THIS TIME IN CHARGE: Former defensive coordinator Chris Klieman took over as North Dakota State’s head coach after last year’s FCS title game when Craig Bohl left to become Wyoming’s coach.