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DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: JACKSONVILLE STATE VS NORTH DAKOTA STATE

January 9, 2016

Chris Klieman Nick DeLuca Zach Vraa Carson Wentz

Frisco, Texas

North Dakota State 37, Jacksonville State 10

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Chris, once again.

COACH KLIEMAN: Thank you. I had a great group of players led by these guys up front here. Obviously, we're really ecstatic about the win today. Our guys were really focused today. You could tell it during pregame. You could tell in morning stuff, the last-minute walk throughs and so forth. Our guys were really a focused group, and I knew they would play extremely well.

We jumped on them quickly, which we thought was a real big key. Time of possession is huge, and I know we really owned that the first half, which allowed us to get a big lead.

So happy for Carson to come in and play the way he did. I know a lot of people maybe questioned if he would be rusty. I didn't question it at all. I know what kind of competitor he is. I know what kind of player he is. Just so happy for him.

The other thing, and I think Nick's the only defensive guy up here, but the one thing that I will say is -- some of these offensive guys, Zach and Carson have gone against our defense enough. I don't think our defense gets enough credit for being athletic and fast. You know, we're from North Dakota. All these explosive offenses that we've played in the playoffs and stuff, our defense can fly. That's as good a defensive effort as I've seen from a four-game stretch in the playoffs.

Hat's off to Coach Entz and the defensive staff, as well as all these defensive players, because I think we have the best defense in all of FCS football this year without question, especially as the season wound down. So we'll open it up for questions.

Q. Nick, how important was it to get after Eli Jenkins early in the games and force those turnovers to get your offense back on the field?
NICK DELUCA: Yeah, it was huge. We had stressed it the whole three weeks we were practicing and prepping for him. We needed to hop on him early and try to get him off schedule and stop the run game. So that was huge and force those turnovers and get our offensive ball back. That's always the game plan.

Q. Nick, what did you see on the play where you intercepted the ball?
NICK DELUCA: Just reading the quarterback's eyes pretty much. Just watching film and seeing what they run routes and seeing his eyes.

Q. Carson, when you saw Andrew Bonnet catch that first touchdown pass, what went through your head?
CARSON WENTZ: Just felt like old times almost. Actually, the same play I've hit him a couple times, and I was just really fired up. I was fired up the whole day to be out there. It was just a lot of fun.

Q. Chris and Nick, in an age of high-powered offenses, the whole four consecutive playoff team that are 300 yards total. How tough is that to do and what led into that?
COACH KLIEMAN: Couple things. It's extremely tough to do. We practice an awful lot and show the guys a lot of looks so they're locked in on their fits and locked in on their assignments.

But the other thing from a defensive perspective, when you're holding the football for 41 minutes and the other team has it for 19, and we average probably between 37 and 40 the entire playoff run, it's not that difficult to play defense when you know you're only going to be out there for three to five plays, get off the field and go drink Gatorade for six, seven, eight nine minutes, because that's what our offense has been able to do all through the playoffs. Time of possession is not an underrated statistic. The more you can wear a defense down, the better it is for your offense, but the better it is for your defense because you're always staying fresh.

NICK DELUCA: Yeah, definitely. Coach Entz was saying last night in our meeting that we saw some of those plays a thousand times over this three-week stretch. So just being prepared and knowing what they're going to run is huge. Just getting those looks.

Q. Carson, were you even better than you thought you could be today, especially that first half, you were pretty good?
CARSON WENTZ: We definitely left some plays out there. But I felt good. I felt good for the last couple weeks now, and I think that kind of showed a little today. The rust, people might have wanted to talk about it. I didn't think I showed that. But we had a lot of receivers making plays on the ball, and that was big for me.

Q. Carson, how much easier did the defense make your job on offense giving you the ball back on a few occasions?
CARSON WENTZ: Oh, my gosh, they were unbelievable. Like coach already mentioned, all playoffs, all season the defense never gets enough credit. They were flying around. They make our life easier. They keep getting us the ball back. Had a couple turnovers for us, helped us tremendously. We made some mistakes. We had some turnovers. I think the interception they returned in the red zone, defense held them three-and-out, and held them to a field goal. They made plays all day and all season, and they're big for us.

Q. Coach, ultimately, obviously, it wasn't as close as maybe we expected. But Cam Pedersen, what can you say about the way he played?
COACH KLIEMAN: Yeah, unbelievable job by Cam. Nobody's ever lost confidence in Cam. I know a lot of people question whether or not we should have kept him out there, but we didn't as coaches. We see the young man every day. We're around him every day. He's a really mature kid for a freshman, and being around Ben LeCompte has really helped him. And I know this will spring board Cam because he was huge for us today. That first field goal was big. He held the thing for seven minutes and he went and drilled it. So happy for Cam. He deserved that.

Q. Zach, you made the decision around this time last year to come back. Is this how you thought it would end, and are you surprised that you finished your career like this?
ZACH VRAA: Going into it everybody hopes that they can make it back again, but it was kind of up in the air at this point if I was going to come back or not. Just looking back at everything that this team accomplished, everything I've been through with all the seniors, everybody that's here, I'm totally glad I made the decision to come back, and it definitely paid off.

Q. Zach, two-part question. Number one, five titles over your six-year career, but five titles. That's got to be unprecedented for other programs at least. Secondly, talk about Carson today and how sharp he was and how he found you today?
ZACH VRAA: He looked great out there. A lot of people were doubting him through the injury the past few weeks. I don't know how many times I got asked is he going to play, is he going to start? In the back of my mind, he's a fighter. We knew he was going to come out and do his job today. But just having that connection and practicing together just really paid off today.

Q. What about the titles?
ZACH VRAA: I mean, it speaks for itself. It's amazing to be part of a team that won five, and to end my career with the fifth one is just so cool.

Q. Carson and then coach, can you just talk a little bit about the job that Easton Stick did this season and getting you guys here?
CARSON WENTZ: Yeah, I think I mentioned it yesterday when we were in here. I owe that kid so much. That kid, once I went down, all the coaches and all the players had all the confidence in the world in him. He prepared all year long as if he was a starter, and he just took it and ran with it. He did a tremendous job. I owe that kid so much.

COACH KLIEMAN: Obviously we talked about it yesterday. We wouldn't be here without Easton Stick. You can tell what kind of person Easton Stick is by the article that came out a week ago about his number one goal was to give Carson a chance to play again, and that tells you all you need to know about Easton Stick. What a great young man.

Q. Carson, you kind of mentioned before, but you looked rather animated before the game. Do you get a sense of your emotions at all today?
CARSON WENTZ: I was just excited. Kind of had the first game jitters for me a little bit. Just with the emotions and the anxiety and the jitters, sleeping last night was kind of a pain in the butt.

But I love this game so much, and I was so thankful to get an opportunity with these guys and to go out the right way. Just the emotions were just -- a lot of fun, a lot of fun was had.

Q. First of all, five straight titles, how do you put that into words? It's unprecedented. Secondly, what do you do differently? What does this program do that you're clearly a notch above every other FCS program, what do you do?
COACH KLIEMAN: It's remarkable, the five titles. I can't put into words. I'm hoping some day I'll be able to, but it's remarkable what these guys have done. What we do differently, I don't know. We talk all the time. We'll meet -- Nick's the only one up here, but we'll meet in January and talk about staying humble and staying hungry.

Will Kramer let you wear any championship stuff in the weight room? No. We don't talk about that stuff. It's just attack the process. For us, we're going to attack the process, which is the off-season, and get guys better and better and win the day next year and keep winning plays. I don't know. It's amazing. It's these guys. It's Coach Kramer and it's our assistant coaches. It's the culture. It's all the guys that are out there on the field and the alums. Those are the guys that we do this for. It's remarkable. I can't put it into words. Hopefully some day I'll be able to. Maybe you can finish that last chapter of your book now.

Q. Coach, as you're talking about that, from year to year, do you have to find different buttons to push even if you're trying to do the same goal?
COACH KLIEMAN: Most likely, yes. Everything's a little different. Last year we had an unbelievable run for nine in a row, lost a football game and came back, and everybody -- we lost Travis and all those other things, and then this year we lost a couple of football games and lost the best quarterback in college football, not FCS, in college football. People thought, we're out. We had a young quarterback play phenomenal football, and we ran the ball well and played great defense. Then we were able to come back and win in the playoffs. It's amazing what we've been able to do.

Q. Coach, there was a segment late in the game where the teams swapped turnovers on three straight plays. Walk us through that segment. How do you account emotionally-wise and planning-wise when something's changing that quickly?
COACH KLIEMAN: Well, we were able to get two of the three, so it ended up being a good trade for us. But, no, we got the fumble, which was really key, because they were moving the football.

They were a much better team in the second half than they were the first half. Give them credit. I thought they played really well in the second half. We jumped on them a little bit in the first half.

Then Coach Polasek drew up a play we've been working on to take a shot with a trick play and it didn't work. Then Jordan Champion, Jordan Champion, that was his first collegiate pick. And you've been around, Champ's dropped an awful lot of picks. And I love Jordan Champion, and he knows it. I've never seen a kid so excited to make a play. That's our defense right there, isn't it, Nick? Jordan Champion making that big-time play.

Q. Carson, what's the next few days for you? Are you heading out right now? Do you have a couple days? What do you do?
CARSON WENTZ: Yeah, myself, and then there's actually a couple other ones heading out right away. I'm heading to California later tonight. But got to enjoy this one first.

Q. Chris, do you get the sense that other programs are trying to copy what you're doing? Is there anybody else out there trying to emulate what you're doing, playing defense, controlling the clock? It's college football, like Jeff said earlier, seems to be going the other way?
COACH KLIEMAN: I know this, you can win a National Championship by playing a fullback. You can win a National Championship by playing under center, and working play action, working boot legs and running the football with success and staying in a huddle and waiting until it goes down to 3, 2, 1 to snap the football and playing great defense.

But, no, there's not a lot of people that are doing this. I don't know if football will change. I doubt it. That's the nature of everything is fast-pace and no-huddle and I get it. But for us, this works for us and we're not going to change.

Q. Carson, you're going to be in the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys staff has been announced as one of the coaching staff for the north team. Have you thought about the possibility of playing with that staff?
CARSON WENTZ: I guess I have not. No, I was extremely focused on this game. I guess I'll start thinking about it now, so thanks for pointing that out (laughing).

COACH KLIEMAN: I will say this, I found out Joe Haeg was invited to the Senior Bowl last night. So Joe Haeg will be joining him. Well deserved. Joe's a dynamite player for us.

Q. Nick and coach, either one of you or both of you, going up against the Jacksonville offense that scores a lot of points and puts up a lot of yards, what do you tell the defense to get them motivated to be able to play at the level they were able to execute and to the strategy?
NICK VRAA: I think we play for each other, and that's something we always push and play for the guy next to you. That's what motivates us on the defensive side of the ball, and then eliminating the explosive play. We've heard for the last three weeks, like I keep saying, all we hear is how explosive their offense is. All the credit to them. They're a great team. That is our motivation to stop them and limit those plays.

COACH KLIEMAN: Assignment sound, being assignment sound football. Limit the calls that you make. Listen on the headset. Coach Entz probably made three, four calls. We didn't have a lot of calls today. And if you practiced those three or four calls against everything you see, you get those pictures in your mind. And the kids to a great job of executing.

Q. Zach, can you talk about over the last three months what it was like to see a close friend like Carson, the highs and lows that he was going through, and then to see the first quarter and see what was happening for him?
ZACH VRAA: Right when the playoff started, I guess throughout the whole injury process he was always running with our strength coach, Coach Kramer. And before practice started, he's out there getting his sweat on and all of us haven't started warming up yet. So he's put in the work during all the practices. Even when he's not out there actually throwing the ball, you can tell he totally cares about this program. Now to see him come out in this game just showed the team and everybody else what we can overcome. Injuries aren't going to hold us back. We push through and we prevail.

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