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IOWA CITY — North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman didn’t even want to look his kicker in the eye.
As sophomore Cam Pedersen lined up for a 37-yard, game-winning field goal, the third-year head coach wanted to leave Pedersen to do his thing.
“I didn’t look at him. I wanted him to be in his moment,” Klieman said. “The kid’s a gamer.”
Same goes for quarterback Easton Stick and running back King Frazier, who had just driven the Bison 46 yards in five plays to set up the winner.
“I got out of the way and let him do his thing,” Stick said through a smile.
His Bison got their sixth straight win against an FBS program, topping Iowa, 23-21, on that 37-yard boot from Pedersen. It was the culmination of a second half in which NDSU ran for 175 yards — 103 in the fourth quarter alone — and held Iowa to 57 total yards and minus-9 yards rushing. It was the culmination of a second half in which the Bison dominated on both lines of scrimmage and gave the Hawkeyes (2-1) their first loss to an FCS team in program history.
It was the culmination of a game in which the No. 1 team in FCS believed they belonged, and showed it.
“We told (the players) all week long we belonged,” Klieman said. “We belonged in this game, we belonged in this spotlight. What we’ve done in the past gave us the opportunity to think that we belong.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledged as much earlier in the week, and did so again in his first words to media after his team’s first loss of the season.
“They came here to win the game,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got an excellent football team, and it came as no surprise to us they’re a tremendous team. Very well-coached, (they) play hard and certainly they did it today.”
There’s a reason Klieman’s players believe him. Klieman went out of his way earlier in the week to express his respect for Ferentz and the Iowa program, but never for a second did he or his players think they were outclassed by the Hawkeyes.
Wins against Kansas, Colorado State, Minnesota, Kansas State and Iowa State each year from 2010-2014 are good enough reasons, but there’s also the matter of those five straight national championships (and counting).
“Those kids have the power of belief because you can’t go 73-5 over the last five years and not believe,” Klieman said. “Every one of those kids have been a part of a championship team. Everyone in that locker room knew this was a big game, but it’s not the biggest game we’ve played in.
“Our kids knew this moment wasn’t going to be too big for them.”
There were a few moments that personified that attitude during Saturday’s game.
Leaving Pedersen alone was one. Another happened on the Bison’s drive that preceded the game-winning one. NDSU scored a touchdown on a Stick pass to Chase Morlock, and immediately lined up to go for a two-point conversion.
There was never a doubt that was coming. NDSU came to Iowa City — with a few thousand fans, all of whom made themselves heard in a big way — for one reason, and there was no fear in that effort.
“We came here to win,” Klieman said of the decision to go for two. “If we didn’t make it, I thought we could stop them. If we could get a stop, I thought coach (Tim Polasek) could dial up enough plays to get us in field goal range.
“(It was decided) way before the drive.”
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