CEDAR RAPIDS - There was a noticeable face missing from the Cedar Rapids Rampage bench Saturday night.
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IOWA CITY — Now and until further notice, only Iowa football fans with a penchant for self-punishment should answer verbal slings and arrows.
You can’t respond when Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd pours on the mockery Monday morning, and oh, how he will. You have to silently listen to every national pundit who needles Iowa for extending Kirk Ferentz’s contract into the middle of the next decade.
You need to clam up if anyone from Alabama or Albania suggests you shouldn’t have the nation’s highest-paid strength coach. You need to muffle the clamoring to play non-conference superpowers for a while.
Your 11th-ranked team lost at Kinnick Stadium to North Dakota State Saturday, 23-21. It wasn’t a fluke. You didn’t get beat because of a bad bounce or crazy call, or the harvest moon from the night before.
You lost to a team that played better. You lost to a program that is better, one of the best in college football history. North Dakota State doesn’t mix in valleys with its peaks. It wins and wins and wins and wins. It savors and seizes every chance against the bigger schools.
It was foolish of anyone to suggest five-time defending FCS champion NDSU wouldn’t have a chance here, and most figured the Bison would certainly be competitive.
But to clearly be tougher than the Hawkeyes in the fourth quarter? Jeepers!
“The fourth quarter is when we wear teams down,” NDSU grad Rod Beyer said while celebrating the victory with thousands of his close, personal friends.
“That’s our signature, baby!” added his friend, Troy Fridgen. He and Meyer are from Wheaton, Minn. They came 487 miles to see this game. Many of the rest of the 7,000 or more Bison fans came from even further to the north.
“It’s Bison culture. It’s Bison pride,” NDSU Coach Chris Klieman said after the game. “You can define that a million ways by a million different alumni. We have an unbelievable culture in our program.”
It was on crystal-clear display in Kinnick, forcing its will on Iowa as the game grew older. The Hawkeyes had minus-9 yards in the fourth quarter. Minus-9 yards. Minus-9.
NDSU’s blockers and backs rammed the Hawkeyes’ defense without hesitation. Meanwhile, the Bison’s defense stopped Iowa’s running game colder than January in Fargo.
Three NDSU backs, including quarterback Easton Stick, rushed for more yards than any Hawkeye. Stick is 11-0 as a starter. As a freshman, he led the Bison to three national playoff wins a year ago before Carson Wentz — the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL draft — returned from a broken wrist for the title-game triumph.
“He’s a winner,” Klieman said of Stick. “He learned from the big redhead (Wentz). The stage isn’t too big for that kid.”
NDSU played to win in the fourth quarter while Iowa tried to hang on. You know how that usually ends up.
Scoring to cut their deficit to 21-20 with 3:41 left, Klieman had his team try a 2-point conversion. It failed. But instead of casting gloom over his sideline, it just made his guys more determined.
Going for the lead on that play, said Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, “told me they wanted to win the game.”
Iowa hadn’t rushed for more than two yards on a carry since midway through the third quarter, but began its next possession with two handoffs to LeShun Daniels that totaled a 1-yard loss. C.J. Beathard got sacked on 3rd-and-11, and Iowa had to punt.
With that play-calling, was the Hawkeyes’ goal to put the game in the hands of its tired defense?
“No, our goal was to make two first downs and then bleed the clock,” said Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz.
Of course, but the first-down marker via the ground game seemed as far from Iowa as Kinnick is from the Fargodome.
The Bison got the ball back at their 34. Stick promptly ran a keeper for 29 yards, the play of the game. Cam Pedersen’s 37-yard, last-second knockout of a field goal came four plays later.
Iowa’s offensive linemen couldn’t block NDSU, and Hawkeye fans couldn’t block out the noise from Bison fans and the Bison band after the game.
This loss leaves an ugly mark. This loss isn’t going away for a long time.