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Delta State headed to first-ever national championship game

By By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
Sunday, December 3, 2000
CLEVELAND Thirteen down, one to go. The Delta State Statesmen showed the North Dakota State Bison a thing or two about playing in cold weather, and in the process gained a berth in the NCAA Division II National Championship by putting down fifth-ranked North Dakota State 34-16 in front of a shivering, but lively, 6,900 fans at Travis E. Parker Field.
Saturday's title game against Bloomsburg, Pa. a 58-48 winner over California-Davis in Florence, Ala., is the school's first-ever.
With the game-time temperature hovering in the high 30's and winds gusting to more than 20 mph, the Fightin' Okra had to generate some heat of their own.
They wasted little time in doing so.
After safety Rory Bell recovered a Bison fumble just two minutes into the contest, the Statesmen were in business. Junior quarterback Josh Bright, who carted home the Conerly Trophy this week as the state's top college football player, directed a quick three-play, 31-yard drive that was capped by a 26-yard bullet to former East Mississippi Community College standout Tanny Flowers for the opening score. Billy Dorgan's PAT kick made it 7-0.
Lamar Gordon, who averaged 153 yards per game and is a finalist for the Harlon Hill, got 140 yards on 34 carries.
And before the Bison knew what hit them, DSU struck again. After NDSU was stuffed on three straight plays, Travis Stevenson bled through and blocked Aaron Peterson's punt at the Bison 19. He scooped the ball up at the 10 and trotted in for the score. Dorgan's kick quickly made it 14-0.
The offense flashed plenty of that as well. Former Meridian High Wildcat Jason Franklin bolted past his defender and caught a nifty Bright pass in stride for the dazzling 74-yard strike.
Dorgan's boot hit the left upright, but the crowd was rocking and with a 20-0 lead with 3:32 left in the opening quarter, the Statesmen may have thought things to be well in hand.
The Bison quickly answered, scoring three times in a marathon second quarter, behind the legs of heralded Bison running back Lamar Gordon and third-string quarterback Jason Jordan. The Bison's top two quarterbacks suffered knee injuries in last week's 43-21 quarterfinal win over Nebraska-Omaha.
With the score 20-16 at the break, the third quarter turned into a tug-of-war. Every point in the semifinal contest was scored with the wind, and NDSU did not have it.
After the Statesmen defense rose up yet again in the fourth, Bright methodically carved up the Bison defense and ground out the clock with nine-straight running plays.
Then, with three minutes left and DSU's rabid throng smelling a trip to Alabama and the title game, Bright executed a perfect bootleg and broke through for the 11-point lead to erase all doubt.
Next week, DSU looks to take the raucous crowd with it to Florence, Ala. to take on Bloomsburg, (PA.), but the seniors were all in agreement that the last moments at the Okra Field were special.
Hopefully for Franklin and the other 12 seniors, the end next week will be similar.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. E-mail him at State headed to first-ever national championship game Delta State headed to first-ever national championship game