Carson Wentz threw for a touchdown and ran for two more scores in his first game since mid-October, and North Dakota State won an unprecedented fifth straight FCS championship with a 37-10 victory Saturday over top seed Jacksonville State.
Wentz, a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft, hadn’t played since breaking his right wrist in a loss to South Dakota. He was playing five days after a CT scan showed his wrist was completely healed, and was 16-of-29 passing for 197 yards with two interceptions.
The Bison (13-2) won their 20th consecutive playoff game, including all five times they have made the trip from Fargo to Frisco for the title game at a professional soccer stadium. Fans clad in green and gold made up a majority of the stadium-record crowd of 21,836 — and stormed the field to celebrate once again.
Jacksonville State (13-2) was playing in the title game for the first time. It had won 12 games in a row since an overtime loss Sept. 12 at Auburn, one of the two SEC teams from its home state of Alabama. The other, the Crimson Tide, plays No. 1 Clemson on Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game.
The Gamecocks were held to a season-low 204 total yards, 325 below their average and 181 under their previous season low.
Cam Pedersen had field goals of 29, 31 and 38 yards for North Dakota State after making only one of seven attempts the first three playoff games.
There were seven turnovers in the game, including three consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter that ended any chance of a Jacksonville State rally.
Eli Jenkins, the Gamecocks dual-threat quarterback, fumbled at the end of a run that was recovered by Greg Menard at the JSU 23.
Easton Stick, a redshirt freshman who had won all eight games starting in place of Wentz, then threw an interception on his first play in the game — he was picked off by Rashod Byers near the goal line. But Jacksonville State gave it right back when Jenkins was intercepted by Jordan Champion, setting up a drive that led to a 1-yard TD keeper by Wentz for a 34-10 lead.
Jenkins finished 7-of-20 passing for 57 yards with two interceptions, and ran 15 times for 88 yards and JSU’s only touchdown.
Northwest Missouri State last month won its fifth NCAA Division II championship, matching the record number of titles North Dakota State won at that level before moving up to Division I in 2004. But the Bearcats’ titles have come since 1998, and only once have they won consecutive championships — 1998 and 1999.
Mount Union this season won its NCAA-best 12th title in Division III since 1993, but its longest streak was three in a row. The most consecutive titles at that level were four by Augustana from Illinois (1983-86).
North Dakota State led throughout after Pedersen’s 29-yard kick ended a game-opening 15-play drive. The lead grew to 17-0 early in the second quarter after Wentz threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Bonnet and then ran for an 11-yard score 86 seconds later.
After Bonnet’s catch, Nick DeLuca intercepted a pass by Jenkins at the 28 on the next play. That set up a four-play drive that ended when Wentz faked a handoff, rolled left, shook off a defender and got to the sideline before planting his foot near the 3 and diving into the end zone.