Brock Jensen scored on a 5-yard quarterback draw on fourth down with three minutes left to rally North Dakota State to a 23-20 victory over Georgia Southern on Friday night in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals.
The defending champion Bison (13-1) advanced to the championship game Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, against the winner of Saturday's semifinal between Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington.
"I am (a) little bit out of words," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. "That's probably one of the most draining games I've ever been a part of."
Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken, whose team lost to NDSU in last year's semifinals, had to be consoled by four Eagles players after they finished interviews in the postgame news conference. Monken sobbed and then left the room for a few minutes before taking questions.
"I apologize for losing my composure there," Monken said. "It hurts, it hurts bad."
Jensen's run came on a fourth-and-3 play and followed three timeouts, the first by NDSU and the last two by Georgia Southern. Jensen said the play was called during the first timeout. Bohl said offensive coordinator Brent Vigen decided to stick with the play after much chatter among coaches on the field and coaches in the press box.
"There was a lot of debating going on. It was a chess match," Bohl said.
"Those are the type of situations you live for as a competitor of the game," Jensen said. "We called it, there was a hole there for me and I just tried to hit it as hard as I could."
Jensen's run capped a 59-yard drive that was aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Eagles. The drive started at the Bison 41 after a 15-yard penalty on Georgia Southern for a late hit.
"I talk to our guys about a lot of things. All of them have to do the fundamentals, and that's a fundamental thing," Monken said of the penalties.
The Bison survived a furious rally when Carlton Littlejohn blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt with 34 seconds left by Drew Ruggles, who recently was recruited off the Georgia Southern soccer team.
Quarterback Jerick McKinnon rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown for Georgia Southern (10-4). He scored on a 25-yard run late in the third quarter to give the Eagles a 20-16 lead after the Bison's Jordan Champion roughed the punter in the Eagles' end zone.
"Without question, in my mind, I knew it was going to be a pivotal play," Bohl said of the penalty. "Once you get through the frustration, you say, hey, here's a young man trying to make a play."
McKinnon's touchdown followed a 53-yard touchdown run by NDSU's Sam Ojuri, who scored two plays after Christian Dudzik forced McKinnon to fumble and Grant Olson recovered at the Bison 41.
"You can't turn the ball over against a good team. It cost us," Monken said.
Ojuri rushed for 71 yards for North Dakota State. Jensen added 58 yards and John Crockett 55 yards rushing for the Bison.
Georgia Southern outgained NDSU 430-277 in total yardage. Dominique Swope added 78 yards rushing for the Eagles.
"Coming into the game, we knew it would be a physical game," McKinnon said. "North Dakota State did a great job of capitalizing ... making the big plays when they needed to."