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October 26, 2013

No. 1 North Dakota State sends Sycamores to seventh loss of season

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State’s football team endured a hellish week. On Saturday, No. 1 North Dakota State sent the Sycamores to the seventh level of misery.

The top-ranked Bison — two-time national champions — were not the ideal opponent for ISU to face after the Sycamores experienced a week of turmoil. The Sycamores asked no quarter and the Bison gave none in a 56-10 victory in front of 5,009 at Memorial Stadium.

The turmoil included the end of Shakir Bell’s career on Tuesday and rumors of dissension in the ISU locker room. Ultimately, every Sycamore who has supposed to suit up did on Saturday and there were no surprise defections, but the the hard week took a piece out of the Sycamores long before the Bison did.

“We had a lot of distractions this week off the field. I’m just happy this week is over with. I’m happy the distractions are over with. Now it’s time to get back to playing football,” ISU wide receiver Demory Lawshe said.

Saturday’s defeat was the worst for ISU (1-7, 0-4) at Memorial Stadium since a 51-point loss to Illinois State in 2008. It’s the third time this season that an opponent has scored 50 or more against the Sycamores.

ISU coach Mike Sanford said he couldn’t say how the week affected the Sycamores mentally or effort-wise, but admitted that the team is going through a rough stretch.

“We’re going through a very difficult time. I see it as when you refine silver. The good silver comes to the top and you have to eliminate the impurities,” Sanford said. “That’s the process we’re going through right now. It’s a tough, difficult process, but that’s the process we’re going through.”

NDSU was potent in every phase of the game, but ISU’s failures in special teams coverage was the most glaring. The Bison had two punts returned for touchdowns as well as a kick return against an ISU special teams coverage unit that is running on fumes due to rampant injuries up and down the roster that cuts down on ISU’s special teams options.

Defensively, NDSU also converted an interception into a touchdown.

The Bison offense had no trouble moving the ball either. Quarterback Brock Jensen found big gaps in ISU’s secondary and completed 13 of 14 passes for 186 yards and four touchdowns.

ISU’s offense — which has struggled with freshman quarterback Robert Tonyan Jr. playing in place of injured Mike Perish — was up against it to begin against the nation’s best defense. The Bison were every bit as good as advertised.

ISU produced 157 yards of offense. ISU’s running backs rushed for 151 gross yards — Buck Logan had 76 yards — but netted just 98 after the six sacks Tonyan took knocked down ISU’s total.

Tonyan struggled mightily as he completed 3 of 17 passes for 64 yards, 44 coming on one Demory Lawshe catch. ISU had zero passing yards at halftime.

“We didn’t sustain any drives. We were 0-for-8 passing. We just didn’t throw-and-catch well enough,” Sanford said. “He operates well, at times, when he’s on the move. He just has to be more accurate. He missed some throws. It’s very simple. He’s better than that. He just didn’t get it done.”

NDSU (8-0, 5-0) scored on its first two offensive series of the game. Jensen was able to find open receivers seemingly at will. Zach Vraa caught touchdown passes on both series — from 11 and 29 yards.

“Our discipline is lacking. We need to prepare better with specific route schemes and the things that they do. We need to be more consistent. We make plays here and there, but to be successful we have to be consistent,” ISU safety Donovan Layne said.

Sandwiched between the pair of Vraa touchdowns was a 35-yard interception return by Colten Heagle. ISU trailed 21-0 and just over eight minutes of game time had passed.

A 40-yard Eric Heidorn field goal got ISU on the board in the second quarter, but Jensen continued to torture ISU’s secondary. He found Ryan Smith for a 20-yard touchdown to make it 28-3 with 11:30 to go in the second quarter.

“We schemed them up really well during the week. I saw the coverages I saw during practice this week,” Jensen said.

ISU had seemingly given itself a boost when LeMonte Booker returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown, the Sycamores’ longest return for a touchdown since 2005. The 28-10 margin at least gave the Sycamores a glimmer of hope.

That glimmer lasted exactly 13 seconds. That’s how long it took Smith to return the ensuing kick 100 yards for the Bison.

From that point, there was no respite from the Sycamores’ woes. Jensen’s fourth touchdown pass went to Trevor Gebhart with 2:21 left. The special teams demons ran rampant against just before halftime as Christian Dudzik returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown.

The end result was a 39-point halftime deficit. NDSU led 49-10 at the break.

Dudzik got into the act again with 9:09 left in the third quarter. His 68-yard return made it 56-10. From that point, NDSU mercifully played its second-team.

ISU famously defeated No. 1 NDSU 17-14 last season, but there’s been little to celebrate since. ISU is 2-7 against FCS competition since a signature victory at the Fargodome that seems a lot longer than a year ago.

“Its been a difficult week. We’ve faced a lot of adversity, not just this week, but all season. We’re just trying to get it together. We have to get it together,” Layne said.

ISU goes back on the road next week as it travels to Missouri State.

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