HARRISONBURG — North Dakota State University head football coach Chris Klieman wasn’t going to let one loss change his team.
After the Bison suffered a 27-17 loss to James Madison University in last year’s Football Championship Subdivision semifinals, Klieman said that they simply went back to the drawing board to keep the program at the same high level it’s been at for five years.
The Bison, which won five straight FCS titles until last year, play JMU in this year’s FCS final in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday.
“It was business as usual,” Klieman said of responding to last year’s loss. “It’s so hard to do what we’ve done for five consecutive years that (if) it wasn’t broken, we weren’t going to try to fix it. We just went back to work and did what we typically do in the winter, typically do in the spring and summer. Lo and behold, we’re back here again. I don’t think you can reinvent the wheel because you lose a football game.”
Klieman said that they watched film of the JMU loss after it happened and then quickly moved on and focused on this season.
Klieman said that they have created a successful culture at the school, which has been a big key to the success of the program.
“Our guys understand how to win,” Klieman said. “They know how to win close games. They believe in the system. They believe in each other. We’ve had a lot of former guys that have come back and talked to the guys about doing it for the guy next to you and doing it for the guys that have put the jersey on before you. That’s hard to find in college football these days, is sustained success for that long a period of time.”
The Bison have a record of 96-8 over the last six years.
Klieman said his team has learned how to handle the pressure of winning and keeping a strong tradition going.
“We try to embrace the target that’s on our back every week,” Klieman said. “You’re going to get everybody’s best shot. Every game for us is a conference championship or a playoff implication game.”
Klieman said that success breeds success. He said his team is confident in close games that they will find a way to win in any situation.
“I think having success in close games doesn’t matter if it were this year or last year. We had a number of guys that went to the University of Iowa and beat those guys in a last-second field goal, and a number of those guys are playing for us this year,” Klieman said. “You have that successful endeavor like you do in a game like that or Youngstown, beating those guys in overtime at their place, you know, the guys just think they can always find a way to win.
“I think that’s the mark of a championship team.”
The Bison have had another solid season. They have won five games in a row since a 33-21 loss to South Dakota State on Nov. 4.
North Dakota State averages 40.3 points per game, allowing just 11.5 points.
Much like JMU, the Bison have had to deal with injuries throughout the year.
North Dakota State running back Lance Dunn suffered a season-ending injury in his seventh game. He was replaced by Bruce Anderson, who has 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Klieman said having depth is always key to being successful at a high level.
“We have a lot of depth here,” Klieman said. “We try to keep working on that depth by doing our double reps in the fall and having a lot of guys get a ton of reps. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for somebody being hurt. So the next guy has to be ready to play.”
Klieman said he expects the experience his team has to help out for this weekend’s game.
He said his told his players to enjoy every minute of it.
“We’ve mentioned a lot as a coaching staff to the guys that this is the best time of your life. Enjoy the journey,” Klieman said. “We’ve had a number of our fifth-year seniors that are going to play in probably somewhere in their mid 50s for football games, between 53 and 57, 58 football games, which not many college kids can walk away and say I played in 50-some football games and had an opportunity to play in three National Championship games.”