FARGO, N.D. – Charleston Southern has come a long way in four years under Jamey Chadwell. On Saturday, in front of a raucous Fargodome crowd of 18,881 and an ESPN audience, CSU showed just how far. The Bucs pushed five-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State to overtime before falling, 24-17.
CSU (0-1) tied the game on Mike Holloway's six-yard touchdown run with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win following Troy McGowens' interception on NDSU's (1-0) ensuing possession. McGowens picked off Easton Stick's fourth down pass and returned it to the Bison 40-yard line with 18 seconds remaining. After a Kyle Copeland seven-yard run two plays later, Jacob Smoak lined up for a 51-yard field goal to snap NDSU's 42-game home non-conference winning streak. The kick sailed wide left, forcing overtime.
King Frazier rumbled into the end zone for a 25-yard score on the first play of the extra session and CSU could not answer. A Holloway run and three Copeland incompletions were all the Bucs could muster against the Bison's stout defense, allowing NDSU to escape with victory.
CSU entered the matchup eager to see where it stacked up against the FCS' premier program and emerged with further knowledge they belong among the nation's elite. Chadwell remarked on another passion-filled effort that has become the Bucs' trademark.
"It was amazing about our team, just the fight that they showed," Chadwell said. "This was an unbelievable environment that we were in. It was hard to compete with the noise. There were a couple of times where it looked like we were about to be out but our guys just kept striking. They're obviously a heck of a football team but I think we are too. There's a lot we can take from this game and build and work to but we wanted to come out with a win. Proud of our guys – they showed a lot of fight and heart."
CSU's defense kept it in the game in the first half, holding NDSU's powerful offense to 138 yards while notching three sacks and forcing a turnover. DJ Curl stripped Dimitri Williams and Zane Cruz pounced on the loose ball to lead to Smoak's 46-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead in the second quarter.
NDSU tied the score with a 52-yard Cam Pederson field goal on the final play of the half. CSU surged back ahead on the first drive of the third quarter thanks to a scintillating 47-yard touchdown run by Holloway. He took an option pitch down the left sideline and reversed field at the 25, outrunning everyone to give the Bucs a 10-3 edge.
NDSU responded with 14 unanswered points, going ahead 17-10 at the 10:34 mark of the fourth on Stick's 47-yard connection with RJ Urzendowski.
A 54-yard Truett Burns punt swung the field in CSU's favor and helped lead to the tying score. The Bucs' defense forced a three-and-out following the punt, giving CSU the ball back at the NDSU 42 with 5:43 left. Copeland found Jared Scotland for 13 yards to start the drive and then hit Kameron Brown for 16 yards on a fourth-and-ten play to push CSU closer. Holloway crossed the goal line up the middle from six yards out two plays later and Tyler Tekac followed with an extra point to make it 17-17.
Holloway paced CSU with 126 yards and two scores on ten carries, going over the 100-yard mark for the fourth time in his career. Brown reeled in three catches for 58 yards, all in the second half.
The Bucs defense turned in a spirited, gutsy effort, fighting through injuries in the second half. Curl and fellow captain Corbin Jackson tallied nine tackles each. Shadarius Hopkins and Solomon Brown accounted for eight, with Brown combining with Anthony Ellis on a second quarter sack.
Stick finished 17-of-27 passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns for NDSU. MJ Stumpf led the Bison defense with eight tackles and a tackle for loss. Jalen Allison recorded an interception.
The contest was the first overtime game in Fargodome history. Everyone inside and watching on television emerged aware CSU was worthy of its preseason billing.
"I think the way our guys have played and proven themselves over the last three years, they've earned that respect," Chadwell said. "We knew that and hopefully some more people are learning that. Make no mistake, we're disappointed tonight. We are disappointed. We're not happy coming up here and taking the number one team to overtime. We expected to win the game and we felt like we were good enough to win the game."
"I hope, one, that we represented the Big South well because we feel like we play really good football and we're national contenders," Chadwell said. "Two, we're proud to represent Charleston Southern and what it stands for. We know what we're about and know what we have in our locker room. To have the stage that these guys had that the Lord put them on, it was very rewarding to watch them play."
CSU returns home to host Kentucky State next Saturday. Kickoff at Buccaneer Field is set for 11:45 a.m.