This is a transcript of the Friday afternoon BISON news conference in Frisco, Texas.
THE MODERATOR: Craig Bohl, the head coach of the North Dakota State. Craig is the Coach of the Year in the region, plus in the Missouri Valley Conference. Our players are D.J. McNorton, senior from Channel View, Preston Evans, senior linebacker. Paul Cornick, a senior All‑America offensive tackle, and Coulter Boyer All‑Valley defensive end.
COACH BOHL: We're certainly excited about being here. I think the staging of the NCAA Team Frisco, the Southland Conference, and then the facility here at FCS Dallas is truly a great venue.
And I think all those entities came together and came up with a great game plan to highlight what we think as FCS as a great emerging product, and we're excited about that.
Want to congratulate Sam Houston State without question as we've broken down all their games we're duly impressed. Quality football team that's well‑coached. And we're excited about the challenge. We're also excited about our football team, too.
I think our football team came into the year with high expectations and making it to the quarterfinals last year and lost to the eventual national champions, Eastern Washington. So we got our first taste of playoffs. It was a great experience but our players and coaches certainly wanted to go farther.
We've got a full, healthy football team, as we're coming into this ballgame, and we know we're going to be challenged, but we feel great about the opportunity. We feel really good about our football team.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Preston, this question's for you and the rest of you guys can answer it as well. Talk about the modest approach you and your team have taken toward your goals this season?
PRESTON EVANS: Modesty is a big thing for our team. We kind of played the underdog role, I think, I feel, throughout the season. Big games like the Minnesota game and the UNI game, just getting over that hump and whatnot.
But the big thing, a part of our team, we spread it out with not individual efforts, it's been a big team effort, offensively and defensively, and special teams throughout the year.
So plays a big role in our team and we dish out everything throughout the team, though.
Q. Coulter, in the playoffs you faced Georgia Southern with their triple option. Lehigh, I believe an offense that passes the ball a lot. How is facing those kind of teams maybe helped you all prepare to try to defend Sam Houston's spread option?
COULTER BOYER: Georgia Southern, like you said, mainly option and Lehigh was mostly a passing team. Sam Houston is very talented in both of those aspects.
Hopefully by getting prepared for both these teams we got a leg up and didn't have to start from scratch with Sam Houston this week. But they're a very talented football team and we'll have to go out and execute our game plan as best we can.
Q. What do you do on the eve of a championship game? Do you try to forget about it? Can you sleep? What goes through your mind the night before and you're kind of anticipating the next day?
D.J. McNORTON: Me personally, it's been a wonderful experience to kind of just reflect alongside these guys here and some of the other players, we've been through a lot of ups and downs, and that's one thing that we really look back on, and it felt like we really ‑‑ things have paid off, and we have one more task at hand. And we're trying to accomplish that. But everything else has been very exciting, the whole opportunity we've had here.
But we're just trying to stay focused as a team and understand that we still are trying to reach our overriding goal, which is winning the national championship what we all came here for.
PRESTON EVANS: Same here. D.J. talked about reflecting, a lot of reflection has gone into this process. It's great being down here with the whole team. We've got the whole team down here, throughout the freshmen and whatnot.
But everything that we've been through the years I've been here, 6 and 5 first year for me, and then a 3 and 8 season, to where it is now, and all that hard work and dedication that the coaches and the players have put in, it's all coming together now. And it's the pinnacle right now. We've reached the peak and it's not over yet. So it's really focusing ‑‑ it's been that slow build throughout the week, that slow build of anticipation and anxiousness and getting ready to play this game.
PAUL CORNICK: As I said, I'll have a better answer for you tomorrow, after tonight. But once you get to this point, I'll just talk about the night before. Like I already feel it starting to build and build and you get that feeling, under 24 hours till game time. But we've prepared hard and we worked hard for the last three weeks. So I think we're confident. And we're ready to go.
COULTER BOYER: Night before a game, especially a game like this, just going to try to relax. Pretty exciting. I mean, the game doesn't start until tomorrow at noon. So to get overly excited right now probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So probably try to relax and every few minutes maybe go back to my notes, try to picture something in high head, hopefully it plays out like I want it to.
But tonight I'm just going to try to get some sleep.
COACH BOHL: Well, you know what, just looking at this great opportunity, I think it's important for our football team to recognize that we've got a great opportunity. It's going to come down to playing a football game.
And when you get in championship games, it's really important to execute, stay focused and play our style of football and recognize that while it's a championship game, it really comes down to doing the things that have brought us here. And so these guys have done a remarkable job in the preparation the last three weeks, we've taken a pretty long‑term approach. They've stayed very focused with their lifting and their practice sessions, and for me as a head football coach, to lay my head down on a pillow tonight knowing that our guys are well prepared when we tee it up, it's going to be a great experience and go out and we'll find out who the best team is.
Q. Coach, you told me back in Fargo that you wanted to have the team rounding into form, have a good eye on to Saturday. Do you feel you did that? You planned it out pretty well that you guys are going to be sharp come noon tomorrow?
COACH BOHL: I feel really good about our plan. It's a great challenge we have. The different elements of Sam Houston present a great challenge. But our guys have practiced well and coaches have worked extremely hard, and so I know from a preparation standpoint we feel really good about our preparation. And it will be fun to see that preparation and plan come into play tomorrow at noon.
Q. Preston and Paul, hearing a lot of ex‑players who weren't eligible for the playoffs. I think you probably played a few of those guys. Heard a lot of them are making an effort to come back to this game. Just give me your thoughts on that.
PRESTON EVANS: It's big for those guys to come back, and they all have led us to this opportunity and this place. It's traditions and whatnot, all the guys before, their blood and their sweat and tears that have gone into this is really big, and it's really nice to see that they're coming back and experiencing this with us. Because it's not just for us, it's for those guys, those past Bisons that have come before us.
PAUL CORNICK: Like Preston said, you learn right away when you get to North Dakota State that the tradition is large and you're playing for anybody whoever put the uniform on. Everything you do, everything that we accomplish can all be looked back and seen the efforts from everybody before us. And we're all family. Once a Bison always a Bison. So we're doing it for them, too.
Q. Preston, after having three weeks to really dissect the video and have the game plan implemented, how do you feel about being able to slow down and stop Sam Houston's running back Tim Flanders, and Wildcat quarterback Richard Sincere?
PRESTON EVANS: I'm feeling pretty good about it. Our coaches are tremendous. They did a tremendous job there. They spent a ton of time in meeting rooms together between the coaches and whatnot studying the film and getting game plans together and whatnot.
And then translating it to us as players. So I feel really good. I'm sure Coulter feels really good about the game plan going into it. They spent a lot of time on it and we have full trust in what they have planned for us and we're just going to go out there and execute.
Q. Coach, first of all, you mentioned the different elements of Sam Houston that you guys have obviously studied in the past few weeks. As a team, do you think you'll have to do anything differently to sort of defend the speed of Sam Houston, and have you guys at all looked at it as sort of ‑‑ not to say you don't have speed ‑‑ but as sort of a speed versus power matchup, have you guys thought about it like that?
COACH BOHL: Well, certainly you want to answer to who brung ya. We're a strong, physical team. And our conference that we play in is kind of noted that way. So we play to that as well.
Speed is a critical component in any college football team. We're well aware of Sam Houston State's speed. You see time and time again big plays. We've done our very best with our scout team on offense and defense to replicate that speed. Now, without question it's going to be a challenge to do that.
But I want to thank our players' efforts, and we feel confident about the plan to do things to neutralize that speed. As far as the speed and explosion on both sides of the football, not only offense, but defense, you're looking at a really, really fast football team. And the best indicator I know is our preparation, our focus and how practices have gone. But I've coached long enough to know that you get out in the middle of the first quarter then you're really going to see how you match up.
Q. Coach, can you talk about what the win tomorrow would mean for your program?
COACH BOHL: Well, you know, as Preston has mentioned, our program has enjoyed a proud tradition. We've won eight national championships in the past. And our administration made the move into Division I several years ago, and a lot of people were nay sayers, thought that North Dakota State did not have the ability to compete at a higher level.
So for us it's a great opportunity for us to be here. And we certainly are looking for seizing the opportunity to win a championship. I think it will reestablish and bring Bison football back to national prominence but more so than that on a larger stage. So we're certainly excited about that and without question it's a great opportunity for us and our guys have worked really hard to seize that moment.
Q. Coach, talked a lot this week and I'm sure in the past couple of weeks about the defenses, playmakers on offense, haven't heard much on special teams. How big is that going to be in the game tomorrow, and is there one area that you guys are looking to exploit more?
COACH BOHL: Anytime ‑‑ I think we were probably, in oversight, certainly haven't been as our behalf as a coaching staff. I think when you look at big games, scoring, I know a lot of people want to talk about scoring. Scoring has everything to do with field position. And there's nothing that has a bigger impact on field position than special teams.
And so all components, whether it be returning punts, trying to block punts, preventing that, kickoffs, field goals and extra points are really critical. Where we've taken this three‑week approach and intertwined special teams emphasis in all three components, it will be a challenge. It's a wide open portion of the game.
We feel like Sam Houston has got great weapons but we feel we've got great weapons also.
Q. Paul, I wanted to ask you about the offensive line. You guys wore down Georgia Southern in the last game. Looking at Sam Houston State's defense line, do you feel like you can do that again tomorrow?
PAUL CORNICK: Well, we hope that we can do that to anybody. But Sam Houston they've got a lot of talent on their defensive line. They're definitely a different front that we've seen.
It's not as much penetration, as far as they use their speed and quickness against an offense. So hopefully we can just stick with our plan that we've had all year, pound away, pound away, and hopefully when it comes to the fourth quarter, all the offseason work we've done will pay off and we'll be able to have our way.
Q. D.J., this question's for you. You told me yesterday that when you step on the field, it's just going to be another football game for you. How important is it for your entire offense to remember that and not make costly mistakes early in this game?
D.J. McNORTON: Like Coach Bohl mentioned earlier, I think it's essential for us to come back to that and speaking on the fact that we need to come back to what we've been doing all season, and having each other's backs and having the chemistry that we've had as a team and with the coaches. I think it's really big to kind of not lose sight of that.
And the offense, you know, just go out there and do what we've been doing and the defense has been playing spectacular all year, and just feeding off of each other.
Special teams, like coach said also, will have a big factor in the game. So we just gotta go out there and do what we've been doing all season. And just Bison pride. Just playing out there with the pride that we've all gained from being up here and it's just another game minus all the events and the excitement, you've just got to come back and play a football game at the end of the day.
Q. Coach and players, Sam Houston has put a lot of teams away in the third quarter this season. In this game tomorrow, how important are your halftime adjustments going to be?
COACH BOHL: It's a very insightful question because without question Coach Fritz and that staff, without question they have a seasoned staff, and it isn't by chance that they've come out and exploded in the third quarter.
We also think that during our season, the body of work that we've done, we've been a very good second half football team. Football teams change during the course of the game. And I've always believed that the most important series of the whole football game is the first series of the second half. The team that maintains and establishes momentum or changes momentum. It will be critical for us tomorrow to meet their challenge.
Q. Players, and Coach Bohl I'll have you comment on the seniors. Tomorrow will be the last time you ever take your NDSU uniform off. Think about that for a second and what are the emotions as you prepare to wear the green and gold for the last time?
D.J. McNORTON: Man, just the fact that I've loved every second of being here, being a part of this team, tackling all the tests that we had with the senior class I have and the guys next to me, Coach Bohl, the whole coaching staff.
It's just been a great experience. And for us to be in this position to play for a national championship, you know, and what we all came here for, that's all we could ask for. It's like a dream come true.
So for us to be in the position we are is an honor, and we're just trying to finish it off strong.
PRESTON EVANS: D.J. said a lot of the points. NDSU has been an opportunity for me to continue my football career and allowing me to mature as a young man. It's been great. Coach Bohl has taken me under his wing, and just allowed me to mature. There's a lot of ups and downs in my career here, but I fought through those things, fought through with these guys through a lot of different things in my career here.
But I really haven't thought about the emotions of that yet because we haven't finished what we've set out to do. But there's a slogan in our locker room that says those who stay will be champions. I really believe that those who stay in our program will be champions. I think I'm one of four left in my class that I came in with out of like 22 guys.
So it's been some tough times and whatnot, but it's going to be a great feeling for going out there the last time and playing with these guys and ending it on a high note, hopefully.
PAUL CORNICK: Yeah, it's just been a blessing with the guys we've had in this program. You couldn't ask for better people to spend five years with and the people that have come in along the way. We love and trust each other, and that's what's gotten us this far.
About taking the uniform off for the last time, try not to think about that, considering we've got a task at hand. And we would just like to leave something before we go I guess is all I've got to say.
COULTER BOYER: I don't know how I'm going to feel when I take it off for the last time. I agree with all these guys, I love my teammates to death. And I know they feel the same about me. And we've gone through the ups and the downs, and emotional roller coaster ride. I don't really know how I'm going to feel. I'm going to be sad, I'm sure. But what else is there, national championship in my senior year, been here five years. Lost one game this year so far. It's exciting.
COACH BOHL: If that question was for me, so hopefully I'll continue to coach. One thing that is unique, though, in college football, football is so unique compared to any other sport. You play basketball and you can go down to the Y and keep on playing basketball. If you're a golfer, baseball, and things like that. Football, and some of these fellows will have an opportunity to continue their career in the NFL.
But as you know, and I think it was a great question, that the last time you take off the pads, that's it. And so those pads come off. And there's probably going to be tears, tears of joy or tears of sadness or tears of saying: Hey, this is our last go‑around. What these players don't quite understand ‑‑ I'm sure Coach Fritz would echo this ‑‑ how important they are in our lives. That's why we've chosen to be a coach and have influence and have bonds like this.
So something special, a college locker room after a game is always something special.
Q. D.J., seeing the way your defense has played in the playoffs and especially during practice this last three weeks, does that help you at all as far as getting an idea of how Sam Houston is going to play and try to stop you from running the ball?
D.J. McNORTON: I mean, up front I know they're going to come out there to win the game. Just like we worked really hard to get to this position, they've done the same thing. So I'm sure their coaching staff is getting them in the best situation as possible, too, and they're going to try to go out there and make plays.
At the end of the day, it's up to us to go out there and execute and trust in our coaches and the position that they're putting us in. And just believing in each other. We know they're going to play hard. We just gotta go out there. And on our end we have to limit mistakes, protect the ball and do what we've been doing all year.
Q. After that loss to Youngstown State you said this could be a good thing. What has motivated you and what's pushed you throughout the loss, and the rest of you can answer if you have anything.
PRESTON EVANS: I think throughout the season it kind of grounded us, brought us back down to earth. I guess that's the cliche of what was going on or whatnot and we can say that now. But, yeah, really grounded us, refocused our team and rededicated ourselves to what was the goal.
The goal was in sight, to be conference champions, and just to finish the season out strong and getting to a national championship. So I think just really rededicated us, refocused us on our path and got us to this point right here.
Q. Preston, can you talk about the excitement or challenge of your top scoring defense going up against Sam Houston's top scoring offense?
PRESTON EVANS: Yes, it's an exciting task. We love the challenge of playing against great offenses and whatnot. But also we get the look all year of playing against our offense in practice. There's great running backs in Sam and D.J. McNorton. Just playing against those guys, practicing against all year long helps us against great running backs. We've seen great running backs in the valley all year long and great passing in Lehigh and running passes by Georgia Southern. A lot of things we've done we'll see out here. They have a lot of speed. But I think we're pretty well prepared.
Q. Preston and Paul, I talked to both of you guys after the Eastern Washington game, saying you know what we go back to winter workouts in two weeks to get ready for this season. Have you thought about that at all how you thought then and now you're one win away from winning the championship. And also for Coach Bohl?
PRESTON EVANS: I haven't really thought about last year and that team. Kind of festered a little in the off season there. Just thinking about it and just thinking about where we needed to go and how hard we needed to work and what we had put the time in that we had put into that season to go that extra mile and do those extra things. What really challenged us in that game kind of just at the beginning of the season. And this is a whole new thing. And somewhere we've never been.
So we've put in the time and effort that we think we need to win this game.
PAUL CORNICK: Yeah, I'd say that that game just, it gave us a hunger for the offseason, and it really drove us and we knew we needed to work harder than we ever had. Everybody bought in after that. We got a taste of the postseason, the experience of the games. There was nothing like it. And we knew what we wanted to do and we knew what we had to do. And up until this season that was our motivation. Once we got going we just took off from there.
COACH BOHL: I think last year was our first experience in the playoffs, and the taste of it, and it gave us a sense of confidence knowing that we were able to go in and compete with a team that eventually won the national championship but also gave us a hunger as the players had mentioned that it's hard to get here. It's really hard to get here. And it's hard to advance.
And to win a championship, it's even harder. So we've appreciated the efforts and the diligence of all people that have been involved, our players, the training staff, the strength and conditioning staff and the coaches.
And now our time is here. And it's going to be fun to go out there and attempt to seize the opportunity.
Q. D.J., could you just talk about getting to play your last senior game here in Texas, especially since you went to high school here, or in Galveston?
D.J. McNORTON: Like I said, the whole experience has just been the time of my life, especially being here back in Texas, to get family and friends to the game. That's really big for me.
There's a few out there, but not as many as a lot of people from up there. So it's really good. It's really exciting to see those family members and friends and going out in my last game in Texas among my family members, I think that's real big and something that I'm really appreciative for.
Q. Have you thought at all about the last time North Dakota state and Sam Houston played and it came down to the wire down there in Huntsville and now you have another shot at them?
PAUL CORNICK: It's definitely brought to our attention how that game went: Lots of points in that game. I mean, yeah, I thought about it some. Hopefully the outcome's a little different. And hopefully our defense can play a little bit better. But other than that I think it hasn't really been anything on my mind. I use it for motivation, I guess. But other than that, that's about it.
Q. Coulter, talk about the mindset on the defensive line about it doesn't matter who makes the play or who doesn't or does make the stop but you play together as a whole unit?
COULTER BOYER: I think you can say it about the whole team, doesn't matter who makes a play or makes a touchdown or whatnot. But as far as the "D" line goes it's amazing to see such amazing play as long as we get the job done and do what Coach Hazelton and Coach Cooper tell us to do. It's all that matters. It's a great feeling that we all trust each other like that and there's no tempers or anything like that flaring out there. And, I mean, it just feels good, I guess.
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