January 6, 2018
North Dakota State University - 17, James Madison University - 13
THE MODERATOR: While we're waiting for Nick, let's go ahead. Chris, congratulations. Another day at the plant.
CHRIS KLIEMAN: That was a great football game between two great teams, and more importantly, great programs. A lot of institutions can have a great team here and there, but those are two great programs. And what a difference between having a great team and having a great program.
Congratulations to Coach Houston and their football team. Battled all the way. Great team, explosive offensively, phenomenal defense. There were some athletes on display out there, both sides of the ball. They made a great call on the fake punt to get them another possession, and we found a way to play red zone defense, which is a staple for us.
I say this all the time, field goals aren't going to beat you, especially in the style of play that college football has become.
We were able to limit some of the possessions to either field goals, gave up one touchdown, but to limit that offense to 13 points is pretty remarkable.
And then the other thing we talked about was getting an explosive play in. My man Darrius Shepherd got a touchdown, how about that? Great time to get the first.
What a great throw by Easton, great protection, and we needed to hit the home run. Not many teams hit a home run on those guys. We hit the home run, and that was critical for us to get that thing to 14-3.
I knew at 17-6 it was still going to be a heck of a battle. I said to the guys we have to have the best 30 minutes of our life. And the other thing we talk about all the time is leaving a legacy. How are you going to be remembered? And the 2017 Bison are going to be remembered by a group of guys who had great resolve, smacked adversity right in the face when Murphy hit us, and lo and behold, became National Champions for the sixth time in seven years.
Pretty special feeling, and I'm pinching myself because I'm so blessed to be the head coach with a great administration in Matt Larsen and unbelievable kids. Great character. Character wins games, guys, and our guys have unbelievable character, and they've displayed that all year long. So we're excited.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to open it up for questions to the student-athletes.
Q. Lance, can you describe your health leading up to the title game, when you started to get back in the fold and when you thought you could go.
LANCE DUNN: I'm going to be honest. I didn't know if I was going to be back right after the injury. I had faith in the guys, and I knew we were going to keep pushing to the championship game, and they gave me opportunities to play. I just took advantage of that. It's just a blessing to be here and to be the National Champion again.
Q. This is for Nick. Just talk about the defense responding on some -- first on the turnover and some of the punt returns, holding them to three points. Why do you think you guys were able to do so in some of those situations?
NICK DELUCA: Just remain focused and calm. Whenever you let up an explosive play, obviously the next thing is how you're going to respond to it. I thought our defense did a great job of responding to adversity all season long and really especially today. We knew we were going to go up against a great offense. Just being able to stay focused and remain calm was a big focus for us.
Q. This is for Marquise. Marquise, after that fake punt, you guys had to come back out on defense. Just take us through the emotions. And once you knew Bryan Schor's last pass was incomplete, what was going through your mind?
MARQUISE BRIDGES: Most important thing to us is don't flinch. We're going to go out there and do the same thing we've done all game. Just compete. That's all we had to do. When that ball hit the ground, it felt great.
Q. Marquise, did you feel a little more on your shoulders knowing that maybe the Jalens weren't going to go today?
MARQUISE BRIDGES: No, I was trying to prepare the exact same way I was preparing all year. Same thing, working all year to get to this opportunity I got. I'm just blessed to be here. Everything we did is for the seniors, and I'm just glad we went out on a win.
Q. Marquise or Nick, was there a bit of a moment of a freak-out when the fake punt happened?
NICK DELUCA: Like we said, we know there's going to be adversity. Just how you respond is a big thing. Obviously, we knew we had to get back out there and make a stop. Just fortunate enough to do that.
MARQUISE BRIDGES: Like he said. Like I said, we didn't flinch, man. Just doing what we did all game. We know we're going to hit adversity. All we've got to do is attack it.
Q. Easton, would you talk about their defensive front. It looked like the speed of their pass rush had you scrambling around a little bit today. Compare this group to other defensive fronts you've played against this year.
EASTON STICK: That's a really good group. They were able to do some things today. Offensive line continued to battle. That's a resilient group. Gave me some time, and I was able to hit a couple of big ones, and that was crucial. But credit to those guys. That's a good team.
Q. This is for Nick and Easton. Six championships in seven years, just talk about that accomplishment.
NICK DELUCA: Yeah, it's a legacy. That's everything that we worked for, and all those workouts, all that extra stuff we do in the off-season, it's for this moment and this stage. Like the guys that came before us, set the foundation and the tradition for us. So just happy to get back here.
EASTON STICK: It's really special. To be out there yesterday at our walk-through and see 200, 300 former players be around, that's what makes this place so special. It's not just the past six, seven years. It's been going on a long time. We're all really fortunate to be at this place. And to go out on top for the seniors, like Marquise said, that was the goal. So happy for those guys.
Q. Lance, walk me through the process of coming back this week. How did that kind of come about? When did you know this was going to happen?
LANCE DUNN: I'd say around playoffs, first round. I started moving around, running and stuff. I knew then it was feeling pretty good. I knew I was going to have a chance. Then just when I got back after break, I started practicing, and it felt good. They gave me the go. I came out here and did whatever I could to help the team win the game.
Q. Did you know this whole week you were playing obviously?
LANCE DUNN: Yeah, I knew.
Q. Two quick ones, if you don't mind. Easton, can you kind of break down that touchdown pass to Darrius.
EASTON STICK: Yeah, really good scheme by Coach Messingham. It was something we put in right away when we were looking at stuff. Got the coverage that we wanted, and really it was all on Darrius running away from that back side safety. Offensive line protected really well. Lance sold the fake well. Darrius was able to run underneath and get us in the end zone, and that was a huge play for us.
Q. And maybe Nick, just speaking as a senior, you've been talking about the legacy in this program. There's a responsibility to that, maybe some pressure. How do you balance that?
NICK DELUCA: I wouldn't really call it pressure. I think it's more of -- it's almost a good problem to have, but it's an expectation to get back to this game and to get back to the National Championship. So we take that on as a responsibility, and it's something that we have set as a goal every year. So we're really excited we were able to get it done this year.
Q. Is this the most physical game you think you've played in this year? As a quarterback, what's the challenge of not cracking when they're pressuring you and making you try to throw it away? What was that like?
EASTON STICK: That's a really good team. They were able to do some things against us today. Credit to our offensive line because they kept battling and moving guys and doing a good job protecting.
When you play good people, they're going to make their plays. That's what they did today. You've just got to stand in there and trust everybody, and my job is to get the ball to the play makers. Offensive line did a good job, and I got the ball out, and those guys made plays with it. Feels really good going out on top.
Q. Easton, what's going through your head when there's four seconds left to make sure the clock is completely gone?
EASTON STICK: We're trying to figure out the best way to get lined up and keep it protected. Coach and I were going back and forth, what our best possible scheme was there. I just made sure, number one, catch the snap, and I found the clock right away and wanted to get down as soon as it was hitting zero. That was a special feeling. Seeing all our guys run out there and knowing we finished the right way for the seniors. That was a good feeling.
Q. I was just wondering what it's like to have fans travel, not just from Fargo, but across the country, and what effect does that have on you? I know at the Fargodome it's amazing, but here in an open-air stadium, what's it like? I'll ask Nick.
NICK DELUCA: Yeah, it's unbelievable. When you look out in those stands and you see all the green and gold, it's just a test to our fan base and the tradition and everything that this university stands for. Obviously, in the Fargodome, it's an unbelievable experience when those fans are cheering loud, and they do it down here in Frisco too. It's unbelievable.
Q. Marquise, could you take us through exactly what went through your head on that interception.
MARQUISE BRIDGES: Well, I know they had beat me on that play like a couple plays ago. I was just trying to play it. To be honest, I understand the coaches are what make all this happen, man. Without them, I wouldn't have done half the things I did today. The coach is always coaching us up. That's all I could think about.
Q. Easton, was there more of a game plan for you to be more mobile? There were a lot of QB draws in this one.
EASTON STICK: It's always part of our plan. But we knew coming into it this was the last one, so we were going to do everything we could to put us in a position to win. So, yeah, it was a big part of the plan.
And guys did a really good job getting people moved and just finding ways to convert on third downs and second and long, stuff like that. Just trying to get back into a manageable situation.
Credit to the offensive line, tight ends. Those guys continued to bust their butts today.
Q. Easton, what went through your mind this week about how you stepped aside two years ago with Carson playing, this opportunity?
EASTON STICK: If I'm honest, I haven't really thought about it too much. This is about this group of seniors and their opportunity to finish it the way they've always wanted to.
So coaches put together an unbelievable plan. We trust them. They've been through this. So we trusted them through the process and let the seniors lead us. It feels really good to go out on top for them.
Q. Nick, apologies if you already answered this, but what did you guys do as a defense to shut down JMU's running game?
NICK DELUCA: We really had a focus to make them one dimensional. We put a lot of pressure on the D line, and they took it upon themselves to give a big push and limit their run game and force them to go into the passing game. That's what we executed, so it was a successful game plan.
Q. This is for Marquise and Nick. Just on Tanguay's interception or what you saw on that play.
MARQUISE BRIDGES: I don't even know what happened. Next thing I know, I saw Tanguay trying to step on somebody. Every time we needed a big play, he got one. He did it right there.
NICK DELUCA: Any time you see that 300-pound guy running the ball, you want to get out of his way probably. It was a cool, exciting moment for him in the last game. No better way than to go out on top.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, congratulations. Go celebrate.
Q. Coach Klieman, when you were going into this game, what did you think was going to be the difference maker, and did that flesh out today?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: I think we needed to hold the football and control the clock. We held it for 37-plus minutes. That's Bison football. We rushed it 48 times. Even though we didn't have a bunch of big plays in the run game, we were able to hold on to the football.
And then the explosive play battle was going to be key. We had one huge play with Shep for 50 yards and a touchdown. And then red zone success. We talk about it all the time. Field goals won't beat you, and it didn't today.
Q. Can you describe an aspect to your team that gets overlooked.
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Our resolve, character -- something you can't quantify as far as statistics on things. That's the neat thing about being in that locker room with those guys, is they're going to battle for each other. They're going to battle for the guy next to them. They're going to battle for the 250 alums that came out and watched them and came out and cheered them on on Friday.
Resolve and character is hard to beat. It's a credit to our institution. That's what President Bresciani brings. That's what Matt Larsen brings.
Bison pride and NDSU, we always talk, we're different. If I could tell you why, I'd retire and make a million dollars selling it, but I can't tell you. It's hard.
But it's just different, and it's special. I'm fortunate. I'm the one that's fortunate to get to coach these guys and have the opportunity to lead this program. Shoot, I pinch myself every day.
Q. Coach, you guys make your money on defense. What did you say to the defense before the game? And what did you see out of that defense that allowed you guys to shut down JMU's offense the way you did?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Before the game, we talked about the same things. Make them one dimensional, like Nick said. Have a great pass rush. Keep Schor in the pocket. He's a great football player. And leave your legacy.
Once we started the fourth quarter, it was, hey, finish. Finish what you started. This was the fifth pattern that Kramer's taken you through in July, and it's 95 degrees, and it's hot. You finish what you started on July 30th.
Those guys never flinched, like Marquise said. We talk about it all the time. They made a great call and had a fake punt. We went out there and stopped them. Until they cross the goal line, there's no points. We said, if they don't score, they can't beat us.
Q. Just you brought up six National Championships at the FCS level, tying Georgia Southern. Can you put into words how difficult that is.
CHRIS KLIEMAN: I really -- it's unbelievably hard, especially when you think of -- I don't know. I think seven, eight, nine ACLs this year. 20 to 25 guys are going to have or have had season-ending surgery. We're going to have another six or seven probably go in next week for surgery. Everybody else faces that adversity too, so I understand that.
But just next man up. That's an issue. The next man up has an opportunity -- like Marquise. Do you think Marquise Bridges thought he was going to be here on a podium with his name in front of there? He was a wide receiver last year at this time. And now he's starting in a National Championship Game.
Josh Hayes is a true freshman that never started a game, and he started a National Championship Game as a true freshman. We hold those guys to 13 points, that's North Dakota State. That's Bison pride.
Q. Going off that, you held those guys to 13 points. What can you say about what you saw from Bryan Schor? How do you feel about him as a competitor and a football player?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: He's a great player. He's an unbelievable competitor. He's very much like our guy, Easton. Neither one of them get enough credit for the amount of games that they win. He beat you with his feet. He beat you with his arm. He scrambles. He does everything. We forced a couple -- we forced a couple of big turnovers.
They don't ever lose the turnover battle. They just don't lose the turnover battle. I think it was 3-1 there. We were plus two. They did a great job on a strip sack. The two turnovers that I know about, Marquise's interception and Nate's interception, happened at such critical times because they were in the red zone.
Q. Coach, no Allison today, no Wimbush today, but your secondary really held a good quarterback in check. What did you see out of those guys?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Great job by Coach Shep and Coach Klanderman. I think Coach Klanderman does a great job week in and week out with our defensive backs. We have the two best safeties in FCS, period. We have the two best safeties in FCS in Robbie Grimsley and Tre Dempsey. Those guys are great leaders, great football players. They're a calming influence on everybody. When you have those two upperclassmen that have played a lot of football with two young freshmen, they keep them calm.
I thought Marquise battled and competed. Stapleton is a great player. He went up and (indiscernible) the football. But I thought our guys did a great job of battling the whole game.
Q. Coach, you mentioned resolve. One thing that stood out to me after the semifinal was that Tre Dempsey said hours after graduating, that he wouldn't have a degree if it wasn't for this tradition and this program. What does it mean on top of you're producing those guys to graduate and then also National Championships with it?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Tre Dempsey is like a son of mine. Brought him in here as a true freshman, coached him as a true freshman. My family has gotten a chance to know him really well. He's an unbelievable person, absolutely love him. He's done everything for me individually as well as my family, and I'm so excited for Tre to have his degree, like a number of other guys, and have a chance to play championship football.
It just goes to show you you can go through a playoff system, still get a degree, and play in a National Championship Game like we're doing here at FCS.
Q. Chris, what do you think of getting your old buddy a title finally?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: I'll tell you what. I love Mess. Mess and I played Little League baseball together. You can't believe all the people in our circle, Mess and I, of people we grew up with. Some of them were in the back of the room to be able to say, hey, Mess, they've won five in a row. Don't screw it up. He was like, yeah, thanks. Don't worry about it. Everybody was heckling him and stuff.
But they brought you there, now don't screw this thing up. What a great job he did all season long. He continued to evolve the offense with Coach Riley as our run game coordinator, to keep adding things and adding his own twist. We designed that play, and Mess did a great job of designing that with Shep because that was a big-time play, and we needed that at a critical time for a big touchdown. To share that with Courtney -- and I'm friends with a lot of our staff members, just like I am with Coach Entz and stuff.
To share that with a childhood friend is pretty special.
Q. Chris, I wanted to ask you about NDSU tied Georgia Southern for the most FCS championships with six. I didn't get a chance to ask you about that. What goes through your mind with that?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: I do. I pinch myself. It's amazing. I came here in 2011 and didn't know what to expect, but everybody that I talked to, the people that I'm close to that played -- Ardell Wiegandt played here in the '60s. Ardell coached me, and everybody told me how special this place was. To be here for all six of those FCS championships, it's a lifetime dream. To be the head coach of three of them, boy, that's special.
Q. Chris, what are you going to take away most from this team this year? What's one or two things that stand out to your mind?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Just the amount of adversity we faced. Greg Menard went down. He's an All-American defensive end. He went down in the second practice with a torn ACL, and it's like, oh, boy, not again. Every year we've had an All-American get hurt or a guy like Carson or Nick or Nathan goes down, and we think, boy, when are we going to catch a break on that? Then you look at it and say, everything happens for a reason. You know, everything happens for a reason.
Greg went down just like -- I said to Nick after the game. He was injured last year, missed the season. That happened for a reason. And he had an opportunity to come back and finish it as a fifth year senior and gained his National Championship.
Q. Coach, you talked and talked and talked about Easton finally getting to start this game. Now he not only started it, he won it and was the MVP. How happy are you for him?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: I absolutely love that young man. Easton is an absolute stud. He's 34-3. Is that right? He's 34-3 with an National Championship. He's still going to be compared to his best buddy Carson. Carson sent both of us a text this morning. I know he's so jacked for him.
But he deserved the opportunity to play in this game. He played like a veteran. And he's right. He and I went back and forth on what to do with that four seconds. He just goes, Coach, don't worry. There will be no time left on the clock. Trust me. There will be no time left on the clock.
When you have a young man like that that just gets the game, and the amount of time I spend with him -- I know we talked about this. The amount of time I spend with him during the week -- and I know there's a 20-hour limit. But we spend a lot of time just visiting. It's cool to be able to see him take all that preparation and fulfill that dream of being a National Championship quarterback.
Q. I know you hate it every time I ask you, but with all the injuries, can you finally give us some enlightenment on who's going to play and who's not during this week?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Well, Lance I knew was going to play. I really didn't know on Wimbush. He tried to go. I think he played a few plays and just couldn't go. Jalen, we were trying to go all the way through this week hoping he'd have an opportunity, and he warmed up and just couldn't do it. Ty had surgery a couple weeks ago. I can't believe you didn't call Sanford Hospital and figure that out, but that's on you. Ty had surgery two weeks ago, I think before Christmas.
But you have to hold your cards. I didn't want to say anything about Ty because Ty is one of the most electric players in FCS. If you have to prepare for Ty Brooks, holy mackerel. If you knew Ty Brooks was out -- Mike knows that. Mike gets it.
I'm excited about the guys that were able to have the opportunity to play. It was great we were able to get Lance Dunn back.
Q. Chris, it's not just that you've won six national titles, but you've done it in seven years. There's something about this team's ability to close when you get here to this spot. I know you've talked about the toughness and the resilience and all that, but is there something to the execution of how you go about this business of coming down here and winning championships that's worked out for you?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Yeah, you guys don't be shocked about this, but I'm going to credit Craig Bohl on that. In 2011, it was my first attempt at it. I didn't know. I was just a defensive back coach, and Craig got us all together and said, you don't go to this game to compete in it. You go to the game to win it. If not, you're never going to be remembered.
I'll never forget that staff meeting and him talking to us as a staff and saying, you do not go and just be a participant. We all know that. But you go and win it.
We grinded those guys. You ask our players, we grind those guys through that three weeks. But we have the benefit of Matt Larsen and Dean Bresciani that provide us resources to keep those guys around so they can stay around.
We gave them a little bit of a break, but, boy, to have those guys a full week after we played that semifinal game. We practiced Monday, Tuesday, signing day Wednesday, practice Thursday, practice Friday. Everybody else is back home. But that's because we have an administration that allows us to do that.
So our guys, I think, are better prepared, and that's something that each year we go into it. Those guys, we talk about winter camp all the time. When we get through the semifinal game, we go, okay, winter camp. Here we go. Those guys know it's going to be walk-through after walk-through after walk-through and meeting after meeting after meeting, but we are going to know. That's how you hold JMU to 30 rushes for 93 yards and 14 of 32 in the throwing game, is because those guys were tired of Coach Entz going through rep after rep after rep, walk-through after walk-through after walk-through. We knew what they were going to do.
Q. Throughout the season, we've heard a lot about turning, flipping the script, turning the next page. Obviously, there's going to be a bit more down time between now and next year, but what's the next step to sustain this level of success?
CHRIS KLIEMAN: Enjoying it today. That's all I want to do is enjoy it today and enjoy those seniors. We talk a lot about family, and we're a tight-knit group as a football team. We have a really tight-knit group, a family. I'm excited because I have my wife here -- hi, Rhonda. All my three kids. Devin was MVP of the Friday game. I've got my parents here, got my brother here, got my niece here -- family. We have a tight-knit group family. We have an extended family. Every one of these guys here is an extended family, and it's awesome.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.
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