FRISCO, Texas — The state of Alabama still has one more chance for a Division I national championship this season.
Jacksonville State’s bid for its first FCS title ended Saturday when the top-seeded Gamecocks were held to a season-low 204 total yards in a 37-10 loss to North Dakota State, which won an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship.
“It was not our best day, of course,” said John Grass, who wrapped up his second season coaching his alma mater. “We were just kind of out of sync, out of rhythm offensively in the first half for whatever reason.”
The Gamecocks (13-2) had won 12 games in a row since an overtime loss Sept. 12 at Auburn, one of the two SEC teams from their home state. The other, No. 2 Alabama, plays No. 1 Clemson on Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Carson Wentz, a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft, hadn’t played for the Bison (13-2) since breaking his right wrist in a loss to South Dakota on Oct. 17. But five days after a CT scan showed his wrist was completely healed, Wentz ran for two touchdowns and was 16-of-29 passing for 197 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
“I’ll still say I was glad he got to play the game, his last college game. He’s definitely a top-five quarterback going into the draft,” Grass said. “He played phenomenal. ... He was right in sync and played well. He’s every bit as good as advertised.”
Eli Jenkins, JSU’s dual-threat quarterback, finished 7-of-20 passing for 57 yards with two interceptions. He ran 15 times for 88 yards and JSU’s only touchdown.
There were seven turnovers in the game, including three consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter that ended any chance of a Jacksonville State rally. Jenkins had two of them.
Jenkins first fumbled at the end of a run at the JSU 23.
Easton Stick, a redshirt freshman who had won all eight games starting in place of Wentz, then threw an interception on his first play in the game — his pass was picked off by Rashod Byers near the goal line. But Jacksonville State gave it right back when Jenkins’ pass was intercepted by Jordan Champion, leading to a 1-yard TD keeper by Wentz for a 34-10 lead.
“We just got behind. Turnovers were crucial. ... Just playing from behind,” Jenkins said. “They made great plays. Some plays I was amazed.”
North Dakota State won its 20th consecutive playoff game, including all five times making the trip from Fargo to Frisco for the title game at a professional soccer stadium. Fans clad in green and gold made up a majority of the stadium-record crowd of 21,836 — and stormed the field to celebrate once again.
The 204 yards by the Gamecocks were 325 below their average that was second-best among FCS teams going into the game. It was 181 under the previous season worst.
Cam Pedersen had field goals of 29, 31 and 38 yards for North Dakota State after making only one of seven attempts the first three playoff games.
The Bison led throughout after Pedersen’s 29-yard kick ended a game-opening 15-play drive. The lead grew to 17-0 early in the second quarter after Wentz threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Bonnet and then ran for an 11-yard score 86 seconds later.
After Bonnet’s catch, Jenkins threw an interception on the next play. That set up a four-play drive that ended when Wentz faked a handoff, rolled left, shook off a defender and got to the sideline before planting his foot near the 3 and diving into the end zone.
“I felt good. I felt good for the last couple weeks now. That kind of showed a little today,” said Wentz, a two-time champion after Brock Jensen won three in a row for the Bison. “The rust people might have wanted to talk about it, that didn’t show.”