FORT COLLINS, Colo. - When head coach Jim McElwain saw FCS defending national champions and No. 1 ranked North Dakota State on the schedule, he knew it was going to be a game that was going to test his team.
In Colorado State’s home opener of the Bold New Era, the Rams fell short, losing to the Bison, 22-7.
“I will give NDSU a ton of credit,” McElwain said. “That’s a good football team. They came in here and took the game from us. They’re a well coached football team and you can see why they were a championship team last year.”
CSU won the coin toss and elected to receive hoping to give the home crowd something to cheer about early in the game and that’s exactly what the offense did. On the game’s opening drive, and only the third play of the game, Garrett Grayson connected with tight end Crockett Gillmore for a 69-yard touchdown to electrify the 23,567 fans at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium.
But NDSU responded quickly, showcasing why they are deserving of their high ranking. In a preview of what was to come, Bison cornerback Marcus Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to set up NDSU’s first touchdown of the day, a 6-yard touchdown run by Sam Ojuri with 12:02 left in the first quarter.
The scoring continued early on in the game. With the Bison driving into CSU territory thanks to a 64-yard punt return by Williams, CSU was able to force a turnover on downs on a 4th-and-goal from the one yard line, the second time in as many games that the defense has done so. On the very next play though, freshman running back Tommey Morris was stuffed in the end zone for a safety, giving the Bison a 9-7 lead and the ball.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage,” McElwain said. “When you control the line of scrimmage, you have a good chance of winning the football game.”
With NDSU leading 16-7 late in the first half and the Rams looking to score, Williams again made an impact for the Bison, this time on the defensive side of the ball. With Grayson scrambling to his right, Williams was able to intercept the pass to help set up a Bison field goal as time expired in the first half, giving NDSU a 19-7 lead at intermission.
In the second half, CSU’s defense was able to hold the Bison offense at bay, but were still not able to get back into the game. NDSU relied on heavy ball control, totaling 81 plays compared to 48 for the Rams.
Shaquil Barrett anchored CSU’s defense recording 15 tackles, including a six-yard sack.
Grayson led the Rams with 171 yards on 13-of-24 passing. He threw one touchdown and one interception, and was never able to get comfortable against the No. 1 FCS defense in the nation.
“We didn’t do a great job of protecting him,” McElwain said of Grayson. “I thought they did a really good job of just playing harder. He never really got his feet set, but I know he’ll learn from that.”