UIW falls to North Dakota State in FCS semifinals

Photo courtesy: UIW Athletics

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For the third consecutive week, UIW needed a long touchdown drive to win an FCS playoff game. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the offense did not produce points, and UIW fell to North Dakota State 35-32 in the national semifinals on Friday.

The Bison offense began rolling in the second half following a slow start. NDSU’s punishing ground attack gained 221 yards (9.2 average per attempt) in the second half, while the passing attack failed to complete any of its three pass attempts in the second half.

The UIW offense was nearly unstoppable, gaining 539 total yards. However, the Cardinals had three drives end with a turnover on downs and two drives end in an interception, including an interception of a desperation pass to seal the victory.

A near flawless start. I imagine UIW head coach G.J. Kinne and his staff drawing up a gameplan for NDSU. In that game plan was probably a touchdown on the Cardinals first two drives while the defense forced a safety. If that was the plan, UIW executed it perfectly and held a 16-0 lead 7:27 into the game.

UIW began the game with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, with Darion Chafin scoring on a one-yard pass from Lindsey Scott Jr. Following a three-and-out by the Bison, the Cardinals traveled 85-yards on six plays for a touchdown capped by Jarrell Wiley’s 15-yard touchdown run.

On the ensuing kickoff, NDSU’s kick returner was unsure whether to field the ball along the sideline or allow the ball to roll out of bounds possibly. A third option developed when the returner picked up the ball and stepped out of bounds at the Bison’s two-yard line. One play later, UIW held a 16-0 lead when running back TK Marshall was tackled in the end zone.

UIW allowed NDSU to hang around. Getting off to a good start was imperative on the road against an NDSU team that has only lost one FCS playoff game inside the Fargodome. A good start wasn’t going to beat a team like the Bison. You have to hit the knockout punch when you have a chance.

UIW had that chance and didn’t execute. The offense gained 214 yards on its first six drives, and the defense had held the potent rushing attack of NDSU to one total yard of offense with 11:19 left in the first half. The Bison needed a spark, and the Cardinals provided what they needed with a miscommunication on a shotgun snap that led to UIW’s second turnover on downs in six possessions.

The game changed at that point. NDSU scored 14 points to take a 17-16 lead into halftime. UIW accomplished something no other team has against NDSU this season. The Cardinals scored 32 points, one more than the Bison allowed to FBS Arizona in Week 3 this season.

Reload for 2023. Friday marked the final game for many collegiate careers, including Walter Payton Award favorite Lindsey Scott Jr. Other UIW standouts that have likely played their last collegiate game are wide receivers Taylor Grimes and Darion Chafin, along with running back Marcus Cooper, linebacker Kelechi Anyalebechi, and defensive lineman Olivier Charles-Pierre.

This UIW team will look a lot different next season, with head coach G.J. Kinne and offensive coordinator Mack Leftwich heading to Texas State. Wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Killough takes over the program and will need to begin to put his staff in place with early signing day next week. 

While there will be changes, Killough has learned from Eric Morris and Kinne at UIW and as a member of Mike Jinks's staff at Bowling Green. That’s a great trio to learn the ropes of being a head coach. Promoting Killough provides consistency that may keep some players from entering the transfer portal. The Cardinals will be a force once again next year.

But we will have time to discuss the future at a later time. What this team accomplished will live in the UIW record books forever. This team took the Cardinals fan on a journey they will never forget. Thank you, UIW, for allowing us to be a small part of the ride.

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