North Dakota State returned to its familiar throne atop the subdivision with a 17-13 victory over defending champion James Madison before 19,090 at Toyota Stadium on Saturday, but not before the Bison gave a nod of respect across the line of scrimmage to a Dukes program that had stopped their run of five straight national titles last season.
NDSU tied Georgia Southern for most national titles in the FCS.
The Bison have won 14 national championships in football with the first eight coming in Division II before NDSU transitioned to Division I.
It's the first time since 2011 and the first time since the FCS playoff field expanded to 24 teams that the top two seeds will face one another in the title game.
The Bison outgained James Madison 264-241 and held the Dukes to just 93 yards rushing. This isn't the first one of the season. "I think both teams would say this is the most physical game they've played in all year".
Top-seeded JMU is trying to become just the fourth school ever to win back-to-back FCS championships.
NDSU 17 JMU 3 - Pedersen makes a 32-yard field goal with 39 seconds left in the second quarter. They trailed infrequently while winning 26 consecutive games, 14 of them this season. I'm so proud of the guys.
"They made the plays and we made too many mistakes". D'Angelo Amos returned Koonce's punt for 37 yards - the second-longest return of his career - to put the Dukes at the NDSU 14-yard line. The Bison then ran out the final 58 seconds.
NDSU 17 JMU 6 - Ratke makes a 21-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in the second quarter.
Special teams gave James Madison an opportunity to win the game late.
"We compare him to (South Dakota State wide receiver) Jake Wieneke", Bridges said of Stapleton. The Bison's first drive notably showcased the return of junior running back Lance Dunn - arguably NDSU's most lethal offensive threat, who hadn't played since October 21.
Houston expects to get a pretty solid shot from NDSU (13-1) on Saturday, and wouldn't be surprised if the game turns out to be one for the ages. "We're excited to get on the road and join the fun down there", said Schmitz. The Dukes also finished 14-1 with the loss.
JMU - Marcus Marshall has 11 carries for 30 yards and 1 touchdown.
James Madison scored its only touchdown early in the third quarter to cap an 8-play, 33-yard drive, but it consistently squandered similar field position in the first half.
NDSU - Easton Stick was 13-for-22 with 130 yards and 1 touchdown. "I promise you, everybody in that locker room thought we were going to". To add insult to injury, a fight broke out after the play and JMU was taxed with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"Many times you see a dropoff over time, but [NDSU coach Chris Klieman] has done a great job keeping that program at that championship level, and that takes a lot", JMU coach Mike Houston said.