FARGO, N.D. — Jalen Sundell got his first start in a North Dakota State Bison uniform on Sunday in the team's spring opener against Youngstown State, and the former Spoofhound standout helped the Bison do what the Bison tend to always do at the Division-I FCS level — win.
The Bison used a strong defense and running game to cruise to a 25-7 win over the Penguins.
“I just got done talking to our team in there and I said, I don't know where our ceiling is,” North Dakota State coach Matt Entz said in his postgame press conference. “I don't really care right now. I know we are going to come back to work on Tuesday, we are going to get this thing cranked back up and I'm looking forward to going on the road, because I do think when we hit the road, it kind of brings us together a little bit and that is exactly what we need.”
The Bison ran the ball 40 times for 243 yards and 6.1 yards per carry with three touchdowns.
Kobe Johnson finished with 16 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown while Jalen Bussey had six carries for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
“I was excited in the fact that we were able to run the football, there are a couple plays that you always wish you could have back,” Entz said in his NBC North Dakota postgame interview as the broadcast was streamed on ESPN+. “Jalen Sundell, Cody Mauch moving to different (positions), Cordell (Volson) moving to left tackle versus right tackle. You have a young man Dom Gonnella running hard. Really pleased. Jalen Bussey picked up where he left off a year ago. Excited about where we are at. I know we are not done improving. I know we are not done coaching them and they are not done being coached.”
The offensive line had plenty of new starters and players in new positions, but with Sundell at center they didn't allow a sack or commit a penalty as a unit. That was key with new quarterback Zeb Noland getting the start replacing likely first-round draft pick Trey Lance.
“Really pleased with how clean of a game it was,” Entz said in the press conference. “Just buzzing through the stats real quick: no turnovers, no sacks and very few penalties.”
Noland, a former Iowa State Cyclone, was 9-for-18 for 74 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
North Dakota State held Youngstown State to just 171 total yards and just 51 yards rushing. Entz said that going against the Bison offense in practice made the defense better.
“The thing that I told our kids going into it was: the best offense we play all season long is our own,” Entz said in the press conference. “If we can get through a fall camp, or a spring camp, and feel like we've accomplished something then we will be ok.”
North Dakota State (2-0, 1-0 MVFC) will look for another Missouri Valley Conference this week when the travel to Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Ill., on Saturday for a Noon kickoff. The game will be broadcast on NBC North Dakota and streamed on ESPN+. All the Bison games this season will be on ESPN+.
“This group has a chance to be special,” Entz told NBC North Dakota. “I think they know they have to get better every week. That has been the thing we've talked about quite a bit in our meetings and whatnot.”