In addition to winning eight FCS championships in the last nine seasons, the North Dakota State Bison are 34-1 in the FCS playoffs since 2011. Their offense has been known for its unpredictability. Specifically, their use of trick plays that can come at any point during a game.
We’ve chosen some of the best ones from North Dakota State’s nine-year run. You can see all of them in the video at the top of this article. We’ve also embedded them in this story as YouTube clips (and added some context). Each video below will begin at the corresponding play.
Fake punt vs. Sam Houston State on Jan. 7, 2012
The situation: North Dakota State faces a fourth-and-4 situation on its own 34-yard-line early in the third quarter of the 2012 FCS championship game. The Bison trail, 6-3, and send out the punting unit. Punter Matt Voigtlander (a former running back) takes the direct snap and immediately cuts to the left.
The result: North Dakota State’s gamble paid off. Voigtlander easily picked up the first down on a 27-yard gain to keep the drive alive. The Bison found the end zone less than a minute later to take the lead. They’d hang on for a 17-6 victory to claim the program’s first Division I title.
Jump pass vs. Sam Houston State on Jan. 5, 2013
The situation: The Bison, nursing a 12-point lead, have the ball on Sam Houston State’s 31-yard-line with just over 11 minutes to play in the 2013 FCS championship game. It’s third-and-1, and North Dakota State lines up in the I-formation. Quarterback Brock Jensen hands the ball off to his running back, John Crockett, who stops, repositions and jumps into the air while simultaneously throwing the ball toward tight end Kevin Vaadeland.
The result: Vaadeland made the catch and was tackled at the 5-yard-line. The 26-yard completion was Crockett’s only passing attempt of the day. North Dakota State scored a touchdown a few plays later, effectively putting the game out of reach. The Bison crushed Sam Houston State 39-13 to repeat as national champions.
Receiver reverse vs. Nicholls State on Dec. 7, 2019
The situation: In the second round of the 2019 FCS playoffs, North Dakota State trails Nicholls State 3-0 towards the end of the first quarter. The Bison have a first-and-10 on their own 45-yard-line. Quarterback Trey Lance takes the snap out of the shotgun. He hands the ball off to his tailback, Adam Cofield, who runs laterally for a few seconds before pitching it to wide receiver Phoenix Sproles.
The result: Sproles ran in the opposite direction of Cofield and the offensive line. He reversed the ball to the right side of the field and took off. Lance made a key block on the edge to protect Sproles, who then had plenty of room to run for a 55-yard score. North Dakota State went on to win 37-13.
Fake reverse vs. James Madison on Jan. 11, 2020
The situation: It’s the first play from scrimmage in the second quarter of the 2020 FCS championship game. North Dakota State and James Madison are tied 7-7, and the Bison have a first-and-10 on the Dukes’ 38-yard-line. Trey Lance is set up in the shotgun formation. Moments before the snap, Phoenix Sproles is in motion to the right of Lance. Once the ball is hiked into Lance’s hands, Sproles is there to receive the handoff.
The result: Sproles ran laterally to the left in the same direction as the offensive line. Simultaneously, wide receiver Christian Watson headed towards Sproles from the left side of the field. As they crossed, Sproles faked a pitch to Watson and kept the ball for himself. Both sprinted towards the edge of their respective directions, which forced the defense to guess at which player had the ball. This trickery gave Sproles the space he needed to cut it up field. He was off to the races for a 38-yard touchdown run.
Fake field goal vs. James Madison on Jan. 11, 2020
The situation: In the same game, North Dakota State has the ball and a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter. The Bison are lining up for a 38-yard field-goal attempt. Free safety James Hendricks is the holder.
The result: The ball was snapped to Hendricks, who immediately bolted towards the end zone. Two solid blocks opened up a hole for Hendricks to finish the 20-yard score. North Dakota State would take a 21-10 lead at halftime. James Madison made it interesting in the second half, but the Bison hold on for a 28-20 win. It was their third straight FCS championship.