FARGO – James Madison’s Mike Houston might not be the only Football Championship Subdivision coach to make five-time defending champion North Dakota State the focus of the entire season. But he’s probably the most blatant about it.
When Houston took over an already solid program last spring, he immediately set about to “change the culture” and emphasized a physical, aggressive style of play he believed would give his team a shot at ending the Bison reign. The Dukes get that chance Friday night in an FCS semifinal at the Fargodome.
“In essence, we’ve built this team to try and go in and win this game,” Houston said. “Our style of play is something that I hope we’ll be able to go in and challenge them. Certainly they are the standard at the FCS level.”
The Dukes (12-1) of Harrisonburg, Va., are the top scoring team in FCS, averaging just under 50 points per game.
“There is not anything about us that equates to finesse, soft ... you know, anything along those lines,” Houston said. “Our kids, when they take the field, they’re going to hit you right in the face.”
North Dakota State defensive end Brad Ambrosius called the brute force shown by James Madison “special,” but said it’s tough to gauge by looking at video.
“You won’t really know how physical they are until you start playing them,” Ambrosius said. “They claim to be physical, they look like they’re physical, but we won’t know until Friday.”
North Dakota State (12-1) is 18-0 at home in the FCS playoffs and has won 19 straight home playoff games, including a 1992 Division II first round victory against Northeast Missouri State in the final game outdoors at Dacotah Field. The Bison moved into the 18,700-seat Fargodome the next season.
“The Fargodome every year is all over ESPN, North Dakota State is all over ESPN, so finally being able to line up and look those players in the face and to be able to compete with them ... I’m very excited,” James Madison cornerback Taylor Reynolds said. “This is a dream come true.”
Said Bison fullback Chase Morlock, “We welcome them into the dome. Come up here and let’s tee it off. They are not going to be intimidated. It’s going to take a solid effort to go out and get these guys.”