Bison receiver Shepherd hits rare 'home run' against James Madison defense
FRISCO, Texas—Darrius Shepherd had one chance to make a big play Saturday afternoon, Jan. 6, at Toyota Stadium and the North Dakota State junior wide receiver delivered.
Shepherd hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of NDSU's 17-13 victory against James Madison for the Division I FCS championship. For Shepherd, it was his first touchdown catch this season and also the biggest offensive play in a game dominated by defense.
"We needed to hit the home run," Bison head coach Chris Klieman said. "Not many teams hit a home run on those guys."
Shepherd finished with 74 yards on six catches to lead the Bison in receiving. Entering the championship game, Shepherd had 35 catches for 485 yards—no touchdowns. That zero changed on the biggest stage and helped NDSU win its sixth FCS championship in seven seasons.
"Such a big moment, just a lot of ups and downs this season, but it's just so special to have that play happen," said Shepherd, who is from Blue Springs, Mo. "It was a good play call."
Shepherd's big touchdown catch the gave the Bison a 14-3 lead with 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the first half. Those proved to be the game-winning points and the final touchdown the Bison could muster against a stingy JMU defense.
"We thought that look could be there," Shepherd said. "It went just how we planned it, it was an incredible play. The execution was just perfect."
On the play, Shepherd lined up in the slot to quarterback Easton Stick's left. Stick took a shotgun snap and faked a handoff right before lofting a pass to Shepherd, who was breaking toward the sideline. Shepherd caught the ball in stride and he broke free from the James Madison secondary and raced into the end zone.
"Got the coverage that we wanted, and really was all on Darrius running away from that back-side safety," Stick said. "Offensive line protected really well. Lance (Dunn) sold the fake well. Darrius was able to run underneath and get us in the end zone, and that was a huge play for us."
Shepherd said the key was for the Bison offense to stay patient in a game dominated by both defenses. NDSU finished with 264 yards. The Dukes were limited to 241 yards.
"You have to keep waiting for that moment and keep believing that you are going to make that play," Shepherd said. "We kept our heads down and we kept pushing. We knew that the defense had our back. We had to keep relying on each other."