FRISCO, Texas — The Back 4 More gang would not be denied Saturday at Toyota Stadium, while Illinois State was denied the final component of its dream season.
Behind the arm and legs of quarterback Carson Wentz, North Dakota State claimed an unprecedented fourth straight FCS national championship with a 29-27 victory over the Redbirds before a crowd of 20,918.
"It was a tremendous football game played by two very good teams. I told our players you didn't lose the game, you ran out of time," ISU coach Brock Spack said after the best season in program history ended at 13-2. "We did enough to win the game the second half, but they made some big-time plays at the end to win it."
ISU quarterback Tre Roberson sprinted 58 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:38 remaining for a 27-23 edge that was the No. 7 Redbirds' first lead since 7-0.
The No. 2-ranked Bison (15-1) took over at their own 22 and used a 32-yard pass from Wentz to RJ Urzendowski to quickly advance to the Redbird 38.
After two incomplete passes, NDSU picked up an ISU safety blitz off the edge and Wentz lofted a 33-yard strike to Urzendowski to the Redbird 5.
"Quite frankly, it was a terrible throw," said Wentz. "RJ made a heckuva play. The kid is something special."
Wentz took a keeper left and stretched into the end zone on the next snap with 37 seconds remaining. Collin Keoshian blocked the extra point, giving ISU a chance to win with a field goal.
ISU moved out to its own 44-yard line before NDSU linebacker Esley Thorton intercepted a Roberson pass over the middle. The Bison ran off the final eight seconds and erupted in celebration once again.
"Our guys had great resolve, and it was a great team we were able to beat," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said. "It was a game of making plays, and we were fortunate to make one more play. There's no question the best two teams in FCS were playing today."
ISU was in deep trouble after John Crockett's 7-yard touchdown surge extended the NDSU margin to 20-7 at the 7:28 mark of the third quarter.
Just as they did in a 21-18 semifinal win over No. 1 New Hampshire, the Redbirds rallied from a double digit second-half deficit to forge ahead.
Roberson ducked a pass rush and threw to well-covered tight end James O'Shaughnessy, who cast aside two Bison defenders at the 29 and motored 41 yards for the touchdown.
Adam Keller's third field goal, a 24-yarder, handed NDSU a 23-14 advantage with 11:20 to play. In an 84-yard drive highlighted by a 47-yard Roberson jaunt, O'Shaughnessy outmuscled a Bison defender in the end zone to snare a scoring pass on third-and-goal at the 3 at the 8:05 mark.
A Keoshian sack helped the Redbirds regain possession, and Roberson broke free up the middle after a fake to tailback Marshaun Coprich and outraced the NDSU defense to paydirt for a 58-yard touchdown.
"It was a simple zone read," Roberson said. "The end came crashing down on Marshaun. The tackle sealed the end so I was able to run. My job was easy."
But the Redbirds could not make the final 98 seconds disappear without incident.
"My emotions are running wild. This was my last collegiate football game," safety Dontae McCoy said. "The taste of defeat is never good. It's always a sour taste. But we can't take for granted being in this position."
ISU had assumed a 7-0 lead on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Roberson to Jon-Marc Anderson at the 5:28 mark of the first quarter.
The Bison grabbed control with a 41-yard Keller field goal and a 6-yard scoring pass from Wentz to tight end Luke Albers for a 10-7 margin that stood until halftime.
Wentz was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after passing for 237 yards and rushing for 87.
"This is really special," said Wentz. "When the clock hit zero, I had so many emotions I couldn't say anything."
Roberson ran for a career-high 161 yards and passed for 157. Coprich surpassed the 100-yard mark for the 14th time in 15 games with 106 on 16 attempts.
McCoy and linebacker Pat Meehan paced the Redbird defensive effort with 12 tackles each. ISU had 424 yards of total offense to 452 for the Bison, who possessed the football for 37:15 of 60 minutes.
"This has been an unbelievable season for us. These guys have made history," Spack said. "Our team is a great group of kids and great seniors. We have high character men, and I couldn't be prouder of them."